On Privacy…

There has been a lot of debate around the issue of privacy on the web. Seth Godin’s blogged about it and Mitch Joel has opened the discussion on his blog too. I touched on it in my previous post and Chris M asked the question as whether it’s better to remain anonymous or go public with yourself. What’s acceptable when it comes to sharing? How important is privacy anyway?

Reading the posts and tweets and such, it appears that there are 2 sides to this discussion: voluntarily sacrificing anonymity, and the increasing lack of privacy.

Let’s be clear on one thing: privacy (as it relates to anonymity) means obscurity. Without an audience, you’re simply yelling into an echo chamber. Think about it: would Michael Jackson have been the superstar he was, had he carried on singing in his bedroom in Gary, Indiana? To become known, you need to be known. That means giving up anonymity. So you put yourself out there and expose who you are to the world. Most people it would appear are happy to do that, if reality TV is anything to go by.

But how much of yourself do you expose? Reasonably, I would assume as much as you’re willing to back up. Look if you’re going to post pics of you doing a keg-stand in the nude and tag yourself in it, you gotta be unapologetic about it. You gotta be able to take the repercussions.

And there will be repercussions.

Take a look at Ms B (JoJo’s mom from that horrendous show “Momma’s Boys”) and the backlash she received for her public display of bigotry manifested in her dislike of black women. Here’s a bit of it…

That’s not even the worst of it. The comments on that vid are vicious, and she’s going to have to deal with that for the rest of her life…or as long as Youtube exists. Ironically, she played the victim claiming she was misunderstood and that’s not what she meant blah blah blah… Daft bint. You put it out there, you gotta back it up. LESSON: as soon as you give up anonymity, you give up the right to privacy.

Speaking of repercussions, let’s quickly touch on the Facebook side of things. Again,we can all get our panties in a twist at the thought of them selling on our information to the highest bidder but folks, technically that’s all information you’ve tacitly approved to make public (by having it on Facebook or online in the first place). Yes, I know we only want our friends to see this stuff but how many of us know what our friends are saying about us online?

Realistically speaking, the only way to keep something private is to keep it to yourself, because once you interact, you can’t control your privacy anymore. And the digital world is the least private space ever created.

For instance, we always say we don’t want corporations knowing stuff about us. Well, if you have a credit card, a mobile phone or any digital device that interacts with any network, buddy you’re out of luck. You’re in a database somewhere. Yes, you are. That pr0n purchase that shows up on your credit card slip as “Bob’s Tyre Shop”? Sure, anyone who reads your slip may take it at face value but the computer that filled it in knows you like watching cheerleaders in compromising positions. So your bank knows. The data miners it employs know. And it’s recorded to be used as research.

You’re being watched.

In fact, in the US alone they’ve spent $370 million on a national network of surveillance centers that are located in over 30 states. “The centers will collect and analyze vast amounts of data on U.S. citizens. It will get this data by consolidating personal information from sources such as state driver’s licensing agencies, hospital records, criminal records, school records, credit bureaus, banks, etc. — and placing this information in a centralized database that can be accessed from all of the centers, as well as other federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies”. And of course, there’s the monitoring of Facebook, etc.

Innocuous stuff at first look. How much damage can be done to you from your school records? Most of us are OK with that level of public knowledge.

And then there’s the CALEA bill. Its purpose is to enhance the ability of law by “requiring that telecommunications carriers and manufacturers of telecommunications equipment modify and design their equipment, facilities, and services to ensure that they have built-in surveillance capabilities, allowing federal agencies to monitor all telephone, broadband internet, and VoIP traffic in real-time”. (Wikipedia)

Here’s the most tragic thing: we’re fine with all of this…well, until it bites us in the ass. It’s a lot like AIDS.”It’ll never happen to me”. Seth Godin says we’re ok with giving up privacy as long as we’re not surprised (I think he means shocked).

I disagree. We’ve given up privacy because we’ve never really understood its importance. We’re all about transparency. All the cool kids are doing transparency…only squares and evils (Freddie Mac, the KKK, North Korea, Al Qaeda) have something to hide. Our view around this complicated and important topic is over-simplified. And that’s dangerous because it’s not just online we have to worry about. It’s in our cars, our offices, our homes… There’s a knock-on effect and we’re note taking any notice.

The debate around privacy is no longer necessary because in the battle to save it, we’ve laid down our weapons to play Farmville instead. What we should be debating is how we can save what’s left and what’s going to happen when Facebook goes away…

Just not right now.

American Idols is coming and JLo is gonna be a judge. I need to sign up for the Facebook page and follow on Twitter and…


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