Wednesday, January 19, 2011


On the subject of privacy, I completely agree with Google CEO Eric Schmidt when he says “If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place.” According to an essay published in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “The term 'privacy' is used frequently in ordinary language as well as in philosophical, political and legal discussions, yet there is no single definition or analysis or meaning of the term.” Even on the website, the term “privacy” is defined by using the word private, creating a circular definition that really doesn't describe the true meaning of the word.

In my opinion, the public perception of privacy is that it is freedom from interference and intrusion by others. People often make the mistake of thinking that they are entitled to 100% privacy, no matter what they do. Looking back to childhood, everyone has a story where telling secrets on the playground typically became a disastrous mistake by recess as that one trustworthy person told two people, those two told two more, and so on. This is the case in adulthood as well, especially with social media sites such as Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, and photo sites such as Flickr and Photobucket. Individuals post their entire lives on these websites, in some cases expecting them to stay private or limited to a select number of individuals they allow to see their pages. However, upon revealing themselves on the internet, people fail to realize that the information is there forever, often archived even though a post or photo may be deleted.

Danah Boyd at the keynote speech at SXSW states “Fundamentally, privacy is about having control over how information flows. It's about being able to understand the social setting in order to behave appropriately. To do so, people must trust their interpretation of the context, including the people in the room and the architecture that defines the setting. 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.” Boyd goes on to dispute the statement by Schmidt, referencing the failure and public outcry against Google Buzz. Indeed, Google's handling of Buzz was a mistake. The company should have made the service “opt-in” as opposed to sharing public data before users knew what was going on and allowing them to “opt-out.” While Boyd brings up several valid points, many of which I agree with, the onus is ultimately on the public to be educate themselves on what privacy is and how to protect themselves. With the speed of social media, camera (super) phones, and related technologies, keeping things under covers is a thing of the past. Based on those facts, it is completely reasonable for Eric Schmidt to make a statement like that and even represents a commonsensical public service announcement for those who expect otherwise.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for including that quote from Ms. Boyd. She eloquently expressed an idea I thought our conversation on privacy was missing; when we argue for privacy we are not trying to control information about us. Rather we are trying to control the context in which that information was created. And like you pointed out, our fight for control over context is not new but technology has extrapolated it's impact and increased our ability to control it (or to think we can).