Out with Privacy, In with Publicity

The recent launch of BostonTCrush is stirring up some questions of privacy, but the real problem may be the general lack of privacy concern that allows for sites like this to thrive. BostonTCrush is the Boston installment of the popular London based site Tubecrush that encourages subway goers to snap and upload pictures of unassuming riders, which are then shared on the site where people can comment on or rate their attractiveness. BostonTCrush is in the likes of the Craigslist Missed Connections or the college crush site Like A Little, but rather than using words, users are taking out the guesswork by uploading a picture of their crush instead.

Does This Push Legal Boundaries?

  The site may not be crossing any legal boundaries, but the news media is outlining commuter’s privacy concerns. This doesn’t seem to be a concern to the majority, as the founders say they have only had 12 requests to remove photos total, out of more than 900 photos featured on the London and New York site combined. Founder Stephen Motion also said, “The general feedback on the street is something along the lines of, ’I’m going to be riding the Red Line tomorrow at 9:45. I hope I get BostonTCrushed.” While some commuters have shared privacy concerns, the vast majority of commuters don’t seem to mind.

  In an interview with New York Times Steve Smith, the head of the photography department at the Rhode Island School of Design comments on this decrease of concern regarding privacy ethics, saying, “My students today aren’t really as engaged by those questions or issues as they were back in the late ’80s and early ’90s,” he said. “It seems like its O.K. to take pictures of people again, in a way that it hasn’t been for a long time.”

Sacrificing Privacy for Attention

  Are we allowing our Constitutional right to privacy to erode in our quest to grab our 15 seconds of online fame? The increased use of the camera phone has likely helped the cultural attitude shift, but the pervasiveness of social media and the growing desire to “go viral” can also be to blame.

  The integration of social media into our daily lives has made the request of personal information just a step in the journey to online clout. Foursquare users can get celebrity type status by giving up their current location; Facebook is now asking for cell phone numbers; apps like Find My Friends auto-checks you into locations; and Gmail is choosing who can contact you by adding people to your “Gtalk” list. In looking at social media trends, it is apparent that sites like BostonTCrunch, SubwayCrush and TubeCrush aren’t the only ones offering clout and convenience at the expense of user privacy.

A Trend in Desensitization

  In a Boston Globe interview, BostonTCrunch said they are not currently accepting any photos of women because they, “Don’t want to encourage behavior that would threaten or make anyone uncomfortable.” They do plan to feature women on the site this spring once they “make sure the tone of the site had been set and established,” said Motion. It seems this mindset is a common trend in the social media world, as sites like Facebook and Google+ make sure a certain “tone,” or trust in the program “is set and established” before expanding and becoming more invasive.

  The real issue here isn’t just BostonTCrush, this is just the most recent example of how comfortable our society has become with the lack of personal privacy. As 2012 unfolds, it will be interesting to see how much farther sites like this can push the privacy limits, or if a limit still exists at all.