OPINION: The privacy bargain
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Privacy as a basic “right to be let alone” has been the subject of rarefied legal debate and less complex arguments from laypeople who insist, at the extremes, that they are entitled to own all their personal information, or that they “have nothing to hide” and wouldn’t care who knew the most intimate details of their lives.
With the spread of social media and cloud applications, this debate has a new fervour. Google repurposing personal data for its Buzz venture and sniffing wi-fi, limits on Facebook users’ control of privacy settings – every incident of this kind brings enough howls of protest to persuade us that people still value their privacy.
On the other hand, it is often said the new generation think differently and are keener on sharing information than keeping it private.
Some people have simply given up the struggle to stop their information getting everywhere.
Privacy is dead, we are told. I might feel inclined to believe it, were it not for the impression that the loudest voices in support are the very marketers and pollsters who stand to gain from that attitude. I suspect a little social engineering.
Another view, which I find more persuasive, is that when we make use of a service like Facebook, we enter a commercial bargain. Something very useful is provided to us free of charge and in exchange we cede something of our private selves to the providers, to be sold for whatever they can earn.
I put this to Privacy Commissioner Marie Shroff. She suggests the bargain accepters are not as numerous as I believe, and in the wake of the Facebook and Google embarrassments, privacy champions are becoming a majority.
However, what if she is wrong? If most of us see the services offered, say by a cloud computing operation based overseas, as of so much benefit to our business that we are willing to relax our information controls; and when we put a clause in our contracts asking customers to sign away some of their privacy with a tick in the box, we find they too are willing to allow us to give it away, because they value the service we provide.
There is a risk that the Privacy Commissioner and her staff might then be seen as the villains, keeping us from using new technology to smooth our businesses and lives because of their legalistic obsession with an abstract value.
The privacy-huggers might or might not outnumber the “honest bargain” brigade – I don’t have the statistics.
Yet, it is hardly a unique dilemma. Humans often strike bargains that appear wrong to others, such as participating in embarrassing reality television shows. Many would argue for their right to make such an individual trade, but others would suggest a universal moral value or standard of behaviour is imperilled and we owe it to humankind not to let the side down.
That takes us back to the first question; is privacy a standard of that calibre? Do we risk it being eroded by growing individual consent to invasion? And should we have laws to discourage that process?
Or should everyone be “let alone” to make up their own mind?
Young people are willing to give up their privacy because their lives revolve around puffing themselves up and revealing their extreme persona as a way of establishing themselves in their community and gaining mana. They probably want privacy for the secrets inside their heads that they would never say to another person, but they want their public persona to be seen and admired.
In 10 or 20 years time will those same no-longer young people want their information from today being readily accessible on the net? Today's 40 somethings have a hard enough time looking at faded still photos of them wearing the styles of the 80s or 90s. Imagine if anyone they knew could look at not only those but videos of them carrying on like drunk/stoned pillocks at their 80s teenage parties.
Today's teens are likely to come to regret the decision to publish.
Posted by Bruce Clement at 15:58:26 on April 1, 2011
Many people place a reasonably high value on privacy in the physical world, and are quite particular about the information they reveal in everyday conversation. Yet those same people will quite happily reveal their most intimate secrets to Google via their search history and Facebook via their messages and photos etc.
Part of the problem is that people have the illusion of privacy on the internet ("On the internet, nobody knows you're a dog") and this leads them to behave in certain ways they wouldn't otherwise. In reality of course, you have far far less privacy on the internet than in the brick and mortar world and it's often very easy to work out exactly what an individual has been doing online.
So it's not so much the privacy bargain that is the problem, it is that many people don't fully understand its terms. This is likely to keep the regulator interested for the near future anyway!
Posted by Ben Winslade at 17:35:34 on March 31, 2011
Posted by Anonymous at 21:34:36 on March 28, 2011
In answer to your question, I would like to see use and reuse of data being safeguarded by an individual 'opt-in' process, rather than growing individual consent creating an 'opt-out' erosion of indivudal choices.
I would be interested to see the debate split personal data ( which is arguably the Facebook commercial agreement you outline) from corporate and governmental data (which is information gathered about us, that organisations have a potential duty to safeguard on our behalf).
There is great potential in the cloud (either in NZ or for overseas ones), both for cost saving and for NZ exporting companies, and there are solutions that can be implemented to increase privacy if needed.
We have also commented on Privacy on the Gen-i blog - http://bit.ly/fkTP2D
Posted by Tom LeGrice, Gen-i at 16:21:58 on March 28, 2011
Posted by Anonymous at 12:38:14 on March 28, 2011
Posted by Anonymous at 21:29:59 on March 28, 2011
The thing that is "out of whack" about the equation about people giving up their privacy is that there is not an alternative choice other than use it or not.
This is at the heart of Google's "free" model. It is free because they gather the info and "sell" it to advertisers.
We need an alternative to "its free or don't use it"
That answer is micro payments for using the service.I personally would much rather pay 1 cent a search on Google and keep my privacy than get it for "free" and be bombarded by advertisements, but we don't have that choice.
Posted by Ian at 11:55:08 on March 28, 2011
Posted by blake at 7:09:11 on March 30, 2011
Posted by Anonymous at 12:16:45 on March 28, 2011
Its as much an allusion as being free. We are in final stages of a 300 year old plutocrian plans.
We the plebs, had nothing to hide until post 9/11 when we were told we had something to fear. Learn to fear we have!
Anonimity was the final straw to be broken. The new generations have given it away for any new gadget that sparkles, has bells and includes an opt out for downloadable whistles. We even get FREE cookies!!!!
Privacy went "like taking sweets from a baby"
Posted by anonymous zero at 10:08:31 on March 28, 2011