Privacy Is Not Dead.

There has been a growing trend of technologists, technocrats, and tech-focused writers decrying privacy as dead in the name of progress and money.  This sentiment has grown as social media and network companies have grown ridiculously profitable for their ability to generate, mine, and sell advertising data.  A great example of the  anti-privacy movement:

"The lesson here is striking: Control matters. Privacy doesn't. And as long as we're secure in the knowledge that whatever cool, new Web toy can be turned off, we're fine letting the world peer deeper and deeper into our lives." ~Farhad Manjoo, May 1, 2010, FastCompany 

Farhad makes the false assumption that privacy and control are separate and that privacy is largely an illusion.   Control is not distinct from privacy; rather it is at the very heart and nature of privacy.  In contrast to Farhad's view that privacy is an illusion, it is actually control which does not exist.  Very few of our new Web toys can truly be turned off.  Closing an account doesn't mean your data gets deleted, it means you simply no longer have access to the data you shared.  I am fine sharing things with friends, I am not okay with companies like Yelp having total access to information.


Privacy Is Not Dead; however, the ability to monetize data often overpowers the idea of privacy.  When data becomes the commodity being traded, the producers of that commodity will become exploited.  This new economy of data resembles a power structure long antiquated: social networking companies have become the landed gentry (land owners) and the end-users are the serfs.

What do corporations that trade in data think of privacy?  The New York Times's recent interview with Elliot Schrage, vice president for public policy at Facebook, can shed some light on the situation.  When asked about making the site opt-in Mr. Schrage's response was a mockery of privacy:

"Everything is opt-in on Facebook. Participating in the service is a choice. We want people to continue to choose Facebook every day. Adding information -- uploading photos or posting status updates or "like" a Page -- are also all opt-in. Please don't share if you're not comfortable. That said, we certainly will continue to work to improve the ease and access of controls to make more people more comfortable. Your assumption about our assumption is simply incorrect. We don't believe that. We're happy to make the record on that clear." Source: NYT

Facebook does not operate on an opt-in model, they run a totally obfuscated opt-out privacy model. It seems Schrage doesn't understand the differences between opt-in vs. opt-out.  This is the most glaring of answers I found to use as an example but I encourage you to read the entire article over at NYT to see the complete disconnect between corporate and user expectations.

Those in a position of "power" have decried privacy as dead because it is antithetical to their business ventures but they are also confused as to who really holds the power and control. 

Dana Boyd, an ethnographer working for Microsoft, delivered a very succinct statement at this year's South by Southwest (SXSW) festival.

"No matter how many times a privileged straight white male technology executive pronounces the death of privacy, Privacy Is Not Dead. People of all ages care deeply about privacy. And they care just as much about privacy online as they do offline. But what privacy means may not be what you think.... Fundamentally, privacy is about having control over how information flows. ...When they feel as though control has been taken away from them or when they lack the control they need to do the right thing, they scream privacy foul." Source: IT World


There is another word for control: choice.  It's a key element in the Fair Information Practice Principles.

Always remember you have choice and control until you let your data out.  As a user, you have a choice as to what information you share to what social media/networking sites.  You control your data purse strings.  Your ultimate choice is to change the equation of data power.  As Mr. Schrage said, "Please don't share if you're not comfortable."  If you're no longer comfortable with privacy abuses, stop giving away information for free. I'm not saying to stop using social networking and media sites.  By all means, continue to do so.  But if you stop sharing all of your likes, dislikes, favorite books and tv shows, the marketability of your data goes down and social networking sites costs go up.  Once that equation is flipped, maybe these sites will start taking user privacy seriously while also making money.