The members of the Crikey team — along with thousands of others around the world — are glued to our computer screens today (or moreso than usual), watching hours of footage of bubbling, muddy water.

We’re watching ‘spillcam‘, BP’s live-stream of its ‘Top Kill’ operation, the oil giant’s latest attempt to curb the millions of gallons of oil still gushing into the Gulf of Mexico.

The live feed of the oil spill has been running for a week now, but when BP tweeted that it may kill the feed for Top Kill, the public backlash came thick and fast, with accusations of a cover-up and demands for complete transparency. When the company finally backed down and agreed to show the footage, so much hype had built around it that it has become the most talked-about online event since the WikiLeaks ‘Collateral Murder’ video.

And it’s pretty compelling stuff:


Okay, not because we love watching endless hours of bubbling sludge, but because it is all playing out alongside another big debate about transparency and the internet: the erosion of our personal privacy on Facebook and the Google wi-fi data breach, both of which came under fire from communications minister Stephen Conroy in parliament on Monday.

Some, including Facebook’s wunderkind founder Mark Zuckerberg, have been predicting the death of privacy as we know it. Yet just today, he has caved in to public pressure, agreeing to revamp the site’s privacy controls, so users can make sure their drunken party photos are kept out of the public gaze.

It’s the big contradiction of the internet age: on the one hand, we now expect — demand, even — an increasing level of transparency from our government and corporations. And the social web has given us the tools to hold them instantly and publicly accountable when they don’t comply.

But on the flip side of the web 2.0 coin, most of us clearly aren’t ready for our own lives to be so heavily scrutinised. Facebook is our own personal spillcam, but we’d rather keep it on closed circuit TV.

But can we continue to break down the barriers around big corporations and public figures without eventually exposing ourselves?

We’ll be watching — but we’re keeping our thoughts to ourselves. For now.

In the meantime, back to the sludge…

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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