Different Expectations.

May 16, 2014

WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange recently sat for interviews which were to form the basis of his ghostwritten “autobiography,” the final draft of which he objected to publishing on the ground it made too much information public. An “unauthorized autobiography” was thereafter published, over objection. Some cried hypocrisy: the man whose mission was to expose the secrets of governments was taken aback at the prospect of his own secrets made public.

In truth, there was no hypocrisy: individuals (typically) have a greater expectation of – and right to – privacy than governments, because individuals are not given power by the citizenry. Governments, conversely, are empowered by, and accountable to, their citizens – the private investigation of governments (by citizens, journalistic citizen apparati, or other means) is an important check on their power and a shield against over-reaching, as well as an alarm to corruption and waste (necessarily tempered by security concerns). Individuals, on the other hand, are answerable to laws, not to the population at large, and have thus a more pronounced expectation of privacy in their affairs. People elect governments, making governments answerable to people. The same is not true of Mr. Assange, who never stood for election.


100% Guaranteed Online Privacy Protector

December 19, 2011

Social networking monolith Facebook rolled out its “Timeline” application this week, allowing users to construct pictorial autobiographies online for the enjoyment and convenience of friends and family and complete strangers. The process involves organizing photographs posted and made available online, ranging from the recent to the prehistoric, and the depth with which the networking site can plumb its users’ digital pasts has privacy protectors off to the ramparts, cranking the alarms.

With Facebook’s Timeline application, they warn, private online data will be even less safe than it was before, when its only threats were Twitter, blogs, Google, Flickr, Photobucket, Tumblr, LinkedIn, MySpace, and the old-fashioned Facebook. The alarmists have, as pointed out in these pages once or twice before, overlooked – in their rush to the ramparts – the obvious solution:

If you don’t want people to know something about you, and don’t want them to be able to find it out, don’t put it online. Don’t post, tweet, chirp, hoot or do any other silly thing about it. Keep it to yourself. Contrary to apparently popular belief and reality television, not everybody needs – or wants – to know everything about everbody else, all the time.  

Accusing organizations like Facebook of invading our privacy, or paving the way for others to invade it, is a galactic abdication of personal responsibility. After all, Facebook didn’t put those embarassing New Year’s Eve photographs online for public consumption… we did. Making information available online and complaining when it’s found is like leaving the keys in your Mercedes and being surprised when it’s stolen.


Up In Arms, For No Reason

May 27, 2010

Social media empire Facebook is in hot water, again, for taking what critics allege are too many liberties with its users’ personal data. Specifically, the online networking site has seemed willing to provide, and may have provided, information about users’ tastes and preferences to advertisers.

Advertisers can use that information to target particular demographics more accurately. Patrons of Facebook are up in virtual arms (torches, pitchforks, and DSL modems angrily brandished) at the magnitude of this invasion of their privacy.

Problem is, Facebook users have no privacy to be invaded. By way of explanation, excuse a brief legal interlude: when deciding whether or not a warrant is required to search somebody, and especially to listen to or watch him without his knowledge, courts must determine whether or not that person has a “reasonable expectation of privacy” in the action that’s going to be spied on. If he can reasonably expect privacy in that action (say, bathing in his house with the blinds drawn and the door locked) then a warrant is required before police can watch him doing it. If the action is one in which he cannot reasonably expect privacy (say, talking loudly to a friend in a crowded bar), no warrant is required. Police can spy at will.

We have no reasonable expectation of privacy in information we willingly post to the internet. This is especially true when the information is posted via Facebook, the sole purpose of which is to help folks keep up with the likes, interests, and status of their friends. Facebook has long tracked its users’ friendships and social webs, using the information to suggest potential new online pals. Anybody with a Facebook account knows this. Further, it’s a rare news day that lacks for stories about identity theft, hacked government offices, cyber warfare, and the like. The internet is a glass house. Anybody can see in. And if you live in a glass house… don’t expect privacy.

Extinguish your torch, drop your pitchfork, and go back to your farm, irrate villagers. Put down the placards and cancel the pickets. If you’re concerned for your privacy, redirect all that righteously indignant energy into your keyboard: log into your Facebook account and, if there’s something there you’d rather keep private… delete it.

Imagine that.