Almost like the seasons, every few months some public person, usually someone in government or from a company that profits from the use of customer information, makes a statement attacking privacy rights.
These statements can take many forms. One popular option is to state that given how people share information online now that it’s clear that people don’t care about privacy. It usually goes something like, “what with all the FaceSpacing and TwitTubing that people do nowadays, everyone knows that people don’t give a hoot about privacy!”
Another popular statement against privacy rights is to use the time honored “if you don’t have anything to hide than you don’t need to worry about privacy” argument. This was the tactic recently taken by Google CEO Eric Schmidt who in a recent interview with MSNBC basically said that if you don’t want people to know what you’re doing online than maybe you shouldn’t be doing it. (for more information on this read my colleague Clint Boulton’s article on Eric Schmidt)
So what Schmidt is saying is that only those who do bad things want privacy and everyone else shouldn’t worry about it. And if you’ve read my columns for any length of time, you know just how mad these types of arguments make me.
Just because I might tweet about what I ate today doesn’t mean I want the local supermarkets looking in my refrigerator. Just because I put that I’m not feeling well in my Facebook status doesn’t mean I want my employer inspecting my medicine cabinet. Just because I leave the shades in my house open to let in light doesn’t mean I want my neighbors or the police looking in the windows, even if I’m not doing anything wrong and am just sitting in my pajamas watching Battlestar Galactica.
And just because I use a search engine doesn’t mean I want that information shared with the world. It’s almost like Schmidt is telling businesses interested in Google Apps and other services to stay away, because if I’m a business user there’s a lot of sensitive company information I don’t want others to know.
Adding insult to injury, Facebook recently “improved” their privacy settings by in many ways making it weaker. Sure the controls for individual posts are nice. But at the same time they took away several security options, such as the ability to not share profile data with the Facebook API.
The biggest annoyance to me was that Facebook took away my option to show my friend list to my friends but not show it to any bozo who found my profile doing a Google search. Now some privacy opponents would say, what’s the big deal? It’s just your friend list. To which I would reply, if someone isn’t my friend, then it’s none of their business who my friends are. (and the recently announced “fix” to this problem doesn’t really fix anything but only forces me to choose to hide my friends from everyone or no one)
As other writers have pointed out, the comments made by Google’s Schmidt were a little ironic given that just a few years ago, when Cnet wrote an article listing private information they found on Schmidt by doing a Google search, Schmidt banned any employee of Google from speaking to Cnet for a year.
I’m willing to bet that when that Cnet article came out listing Schmidt’s salary, home address and other personal information, his reaction was something like, “What do they think they’re doing posting this information? It’s none of their business!”
To which I would say, Amen brother Eric, that is exactly the point.
Probably the most disturbing thing to me about these attacks on privacy by public figures is their regularity. Everyone knows that a favored tactic of special interests, political parties and demagogues is to say something so much that everyone starts to believe it.
I have a feeling that there are some people who hope that if they say that privacy is dead enough times, that people will stop caring about privacy.