Wednesday, September 22, 2010

If I wanted privacy would I post this?


Seth Godin’s recent post suggested that we don’t really care about privacy when it comes down to it.   Because we use credit cards and phones which inherently allow someone to track our behavior and eavesdrop on us, we are admitting that we don’t really care about our privacy.  I don’t think that’s necessarily true.

I think we do care about privacy and would care about it if there was some way to achieve it, if we really understood how little we had.  The problem is, realistically, its getting harder and harder to achieve privacy and thus we essentially settle for the illusion of privacy.

To take Godin’s analysis to the extreme, we wouldn’t speak aloud if we cared about privacy, we’d practice moderating our expression and suppressing our tells if we cared about privacy.  Obviously, that is unrealistic.  Of course, every conversation has the potential to be overheard.  Rooms could be bugged, lip readers and body language specialists could be monitoring us and stealing our secrets.  But its unlikely, so we operate on the assumption that our conversations are private.  Similarly, our phone calls can be tapped, or eavesdropped, our credit cards could be monitored.  Nevertheless it feels unlikely.  Sure anyone can be eavesdropped at anytime, but surely not everyone can be eavesdropped all the time. 

That unconscious assumption may have been true for a time.  The volume of phone calls so vast that our privacy was protected by being lost in the noise, or protected by the ponderousness of the vast corporation controlling the service.  The same was true of the internet at first.  The sheer volume of traffic afforded some anonymity.  But not anymore.  Google, Facebook, and the like track, collect, crunch, analyze and sell vast sums of data.  We are no longer protected by the impracticality of eavesdropping. 

Because this eavesdropping has now been automated on a large scale, it goes on largely without our knowledge or awareness.   In fact there are ‘privacy’ features that we are provided.  But they only marginally protect us from each other, not from the systematic eavesdropping industrial complex. We’re settling for the illusion of privacy, because the impracticality has now shifted from the eavesdropper to the eavesdropee.