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Giving Up On Privacy

April 12th, 2011
privacy, publicy

Many people have a strategy for dealing with online services: don't put anything up that you would be ashamed of if it became public. They don't trust those services to actually keep their information private. I agree, but I don't think they go far enough: I don't trust the future to keep anything private.

Sometime around middle school I gave up on privacy. I'd just read a book, I think it was david brin's kiln people, that while science fiction and not specifically about privacy, described a world in which cameras and other sensors were ubiquitous and their recordings were publicly available. Computers were also fast enough to process all this data into strong public records of where people had been. I remember realizing that during my lifetime the amount of privacy one could expect would decrease dramatically.

I decided that the best response to privacy disappearing was not to become attached to it, not to rely on it. So if there was anything I was considering doing where if it became public I would be hurt, I wouldn't do it. This corresponded almost exactly with things I shouldn't have been doing anyway, so it wasn't too hard. [1] I also decided that if everything was going to become public anyway, I might as well take advantage of it by making things public on my own. My schedule has been public as long as I've been keeping one, and I have facebook set to make everything available to anyone.

[1] I realize that this is not practical for everyone right now. Having done something bad is not the only reason people might want to keep something secret. People avoiding abusive ex-spouses come to mind. I do think that as locations and activities become more public we will need a solution to protecting people from abuse that does not rely on hiding their location and activity. Here the loss of privacy may come with its own solution: if the abuse is better documented it would probably be easier to get a restraining order. If location based restraining orders can be automatically checked (automatically alert the police if this person comes within X distance of this other person) then keeping locations secret may become unimportant. I don't know how we will work this out, but I think we will have to, and I think it will be a solution that removes some burdens from the abused person (keeping their location non-public).

[2] There are a lot of things people are worried about being public, such as pictures of them drinking in college. They worry that employers might not hire them. Or parents that worry that the foolish things their middle schoolers write on the internet might come back to haunt them. Right now, their concerns may be correct. Longer term, our society has some adjusting to do to a world where more information is public. People need to learn that college drinking and foolish middle-school behavior don't indicate that a person is a poor applicant, and as they start getting that information about everyone this should become apparent. Applicants with very little information available might come to be the ones that employers and schools worry about: what are they trying to keep us from finding out about? We've already done some of this adjusting. Our president admitted in a book use of illegal drugs when he was younger, not a big deal. Putting photos of people, video recordings of contra dances, etc online without checking with the subjects has become acceptable in response to greater ease of recording and posting stuff online. What's acceptable changes along with what's easy.

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