Privacy is dead - get over it.

People demand online privacy as if it were some god-given right. Privacy is an abberation of recent history, a transitory phenomenon that is evaporating quickly in the hot light of technology. Privacy is dead - get over it.

Today's musing is prompted by this quote seen in The Pointless Privacy Debate

In response to criticism from a british [sic] privacy group and European Union data overseers, Google recently announced it would anonymize data it retains on user searches after 18 months... The EU applauded the move as it had lauded Google's agreement to comply with its 2005 directive requiring service providers to retain all identifiable records up to two years. Huh?

When it comes to consumer privacy, lawmakers can't seem to contain their frustration and even outrage with businesses that retain detailed, personally identifiable data. Yet when it comes to investigating crime—terrorism and child pornography being the favorites—they just as passionately take the opposite position. Consumers are equally ambivalent: We're creeped out to find photos of ourselves showing up in Google maps, but infuriated when the movements of alleged terrorists and other criminals through public spaces aren't captured or stored.
…You give away far more "private" information in exchange for small discounts at the grocery store or pet store every time you use your loyalty card. And that's not necessarily bad. The data is valuable to retailers and manufacturers, and you're willing to sell it.
…Maybe it isn't a debate at all, but a negotiation.

What is “normal” privacy anyway? Scott McNealy of Sun Microsystems said that consumer privacy issues are a "red herring… You have zero privacy anyway… Get over it" . Expectations of total privacy are a Twentieth Century phenomenon, that emerged as we moved away from communal housing and village living. There is no reason why they can not be rolled back again. Privacy is a transitory modern phenomenon amongst the wealthy developed nations – it is the exception not the norm across cultures and history. The issue is that it takes time to change something so conservative and personal.

Privacy is gone. If your alter ego in some online community is a diaper-wearing goat-fondler, people are gonna know, just as in the village of old your predilections would soon be revealed.

The difference now is that you exist and interact in the online world as streams of information. Nobody has to record it, nobody has to disseminate it. You do all that by the very act of existing online. To think that this flow of data can somehow remain confidential is patently absurd.

Equally absurd is the idea that people have a right to online privacy. The only people who have anything to fear from such loss of privacy are those who have something to hide. If your political beliefs are not to your employer’s tastes; or you are tupping the wrong person; or you have a penchant for bukkake; or you are running a tax-free business on the sly; then don’t do it online. Do it in the privacy of your own home’s four solid walls, like we did before the internet. Don’t do it by broadcasting a stream of personal data across an open network to the other side of the planet on servers managed by people you don’t know, then act surprised when word gets out.

Technology in general and the internet in particular have destroyed privacy – get over it. If you want to hang on to some shreds of your privacy, retreat into your home – don’t go online. And expect to kiss goodbye to all last vestiges of privacy as the 21st century unfurls.


If you do stuff online


TechCrunch's Michael Arrington put it this way:
"If you do stuff online, people are tracking it and putting it into a database and trying to sell you stuff based on that. There’s not much you can do about it except not be online. And it’s not all that bad, really, to get ads for diapers when you’re having a baby, or ads for cars when you are looking to buy a car. Life will go on."

The abandonment of privacy on social networks

An interesting aspect of the decline of privacy due to the connected world is the generations growing up who apparently don't WANT privacy. From Wharton

A generation is growing up with social networking web sites such as Facebook and MySpace, casually posting accounts of their lives for their friends -- and the world -- to see. Few of these users realize that the information they post, when combined with new technologies for gathering and compiling data, can create a fingerprint-like pattern of behaviour... "The way privacy has traditionally been defined is being challenged," ... "Our kids today will give everything [in terms of personal information] away, but it's not at all clear how this will shake out in the long run," says Wharton marketing professor Peter S. Fader. "Privacy is a moving target."

...individuals' notions of privacy are malleable depending on the context of an interaction. ...people are more likely to divulge key personal information -- their photo, birthday, hometown, address and phone number -- on social networking sites than they would on other web sites.

.."People [say] privacy [is] important to them, yet they engage in behaviors that indicate a remarkable lack of concern,"

more about privacy

read more about privacy and the concept of Big Uncle, or "benevolent security"

Food for thought

There is a novel by Arthur C. Clarke entitled "The light of other days." While is it is clearly science fiction, the story is based on what happens to society when technology is created which effectively destroys all secrecy and privacy, past and present.

Clarke cleverly challenges the reader's notion that privacy is inherently good.

The novel looks at the philosophical issues that arise from being aware that anyone could be under constant observation by anyone, or that they could observe anyone without their knowledge. Corruption and crime are drastically reduced; nations discover the true root causes of international conflicts; and religions worldwide are forced to reevaluate their divine histories.

Food for thought.

Big Uncle

Food for thought indeed. I will post again soon on "Big Uncle", Big Brother's flip-side. I'm a believer that people get the government they deserve, one that reflects their own group values. We must recover honesty and decency (and quality) as core values. In my view this has nothing to do with US Moral Majority fundamentalism, or 20th Century Political Correctness, or US "peacekeeping", or any of the other recent movements that reflect awful distortions of those values.

A decent community with a decent government has little to fear from the fall of privacy.

The fall of privacy is a big issue for those actively trying to overcome corrupt government - this is the only genuine problem I see with the coming changes. Even decent people living quietly in a corrupt nation should have nothing to fear if they have nothing to hide.

Absolute nonsense

"Even decent people living quietly in a corrupt nation should have nothing to fear if they have nothing to hide."

This is obviously false to anyone who spends more than a second thinking about the abuses of the past by those in power over those who have none. Power corrupts, as any student of history knows all too well. Any time there has been a class of powerful people, there have been malicious, maladapted individuals who have no problem destroying the lives of innocents without conscience. This is the unarguable reason that individual privacy should be sacrosanct, not to protect criminals, as it is so often misconstrued.

Privacy is not inherently good or bad

I think you missed the point.

What if privacy was abolished? As abhorrent as this sounds, think about the end state for a moment. This idea has something important to say to us about the way that society is changing. The openness and intimate details of the MySpace community, for example, may be a sign of things to come, rather than the aberration of misguided youth. Maybe it is us elders who don't quite get it.

For the right price, any life is an open book. We may not like to admit it, but our illusions of privacy are tenuous. As governments and businesses record more and more of our actions, nobody lives an unexamined life. Each of us is monitored, filed, stamped, indexed and numbered every day.

Historically, problems arose when privacy was abolished in one direction. Individuals used privacy as a means of resistance against oppressive (and opaque) regimes. Individuals used privacy as weapon when governments controlled information and all channels of communication.

But what if it worked both ways? What is privacy was abolished for everyone, including all governments?

If we have no privacy, then all the secrets we keep are open for public scrutiny. If everything is open to public scrutiny, then society as we know it is irrevocably changed. The problem is how society copes with new ways of seeing the world, and this is the problem we face with the new online world… and we’re only just beginning to find out what’s next.

defense against evil government

"For the right price, any life is an open book. " Quite. You have no privacy now. If a corrupt government wants to destroy you they can tap your phones, read your mail, interrogate your friends. If they are friends with the Yanks they can read your email, listen to your international phonecalls and know your website preferences (ever heard of Echelon?).

Heck, if a government wants to destroy you, they don't need any of that. They invent charges, plant evidence, create witnesses... The most direct of them just send the cops round to disappear you. As an argument for the existence of privacy, "defense against evil government" has no substance.


You've been reading too much Robert Ludlum.

I'm a Skeptic not a conspiracy theorist

Hey I'm a Skeptic not a conspiracy theorist. But any objective examination of the activities of the regimes of Pinochet, Marcos, Hussein or Muggabe or dozens of others show us how the experts do it.

The activities of J Edgar Hoover and Richard Nixon tell me Yanks shouldn't feel too comfortable either. What do you suppose the FBI dossier on Michael Moore looks like? And wanna bet Bush hasn't seen it? Moore has no privacy right now.

You could argue the ultimate violation of privacy happened when the US flew an unmanned aircraft into a sovereign African state (Sudan as I recall) and rubbed out an Al Queda leader by dropping a Predator missile on him as he got out of his 4WD to take a leak in the desert. Is nothing private?


I can think of nothing is worse than having a guided missile fall on you while performing a seemingly private afternoon micturition.

the whole world could be watching via Google

New Zealanders have a long tradition of public urination - something to do with trees always handy and unpopulated country roads. I'd like to think I can do so without some CIA operative watching from a satellite. Mind you, nowadays the whole world could be watching via Google.

How far is too far

What if you're doing something unlawful in the privacy of you home? What if those intentions are very harmful? What would you do if you thought you next-door neighbor might be a terrorist?

Taken for granted

Many of us still take our privacy for granted, even as we become more reliant than ever on telephones, computer networks, and electronic transactions of all kinds. Some will argue that if we are to retain the privacy that characterized face-to-face relationships in the past, we must build the means of protect it today.

What privacy is inherent in the past?

What privacy is inherent in the past? What privacy is there when

  • whole families sleep (and even bonk) on a common "bed"
  • "toilet" means behind a tree, or in a communal pit
  • what walls exist are thin brush or a layer of hide - all conversations (and other sounds) are heard
  • writing is available to few or no members of the society
  • your mother-in-law lives with you

Go back a few centuries and/or away from modern urban centres, and there is no privacy.

Privacy was a social function

"Go back a few centuries and/or away from modern urban centres, and there is no privacy."

Certainly not privacy in the sense that we have perverted the use of the term nowadays, but in the past there was a personal accountability attached to 'private' events that an individual may have seen/overheard/been involved in. Abuse of this knowledge was not condoned as it would rapidly lead to the destruction of fragile social frameworks that were more critical to survival then than now.

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