Guest post on privacy and privilege

11 June 2010 by Jennifer

Back in February, Jon Harley wrote a blog post I liked. I think it has some interesting connections with some of the other things I’ve been writing about, and it wasn’t already on a public bit of the web, so I asked if I could republish it here. Thanks Jon!


by Jon Harley

Lately, the heads of global corporations that make money by publishing information have been speaking out strongly against personal privacy.

“If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.” – Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google

“People have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people. That social norm is just something that has evolved” – Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook

“privacy risks are older people risks” – Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn

Each of them is white, male, probably straight and christian, and staggeringly wealthy, therefore unlikely to come into contact with anyone hostile to their way of life, or if they did, well-equipped to deal with it.

This apparently concerted effort to redefine social norms is sickeningly self-serving. All their companies stand to profit from being able to present as much information as possible without having to expend effort protecting the privacy of the “data subjects” as UK data protection laws call them.

I’ve never been much of a fan of privacy. In a conflict between freedom of speech and privacy I’ll usually come down on the side of free speech. I strongly believe in “coming out”, not just because a life without lies and deception is a better life, but also because role models are tremendously important.

But coming out of closets is a good example of why privacy is important. Coming out should be a gentle process and should only be undertaken when the individual is ready and won’t be harmed by it, either emotionally or physically. For those in some professions and neighbourhoods, that time can be a long time coming. They should not be outed just because it’s more convenient for Google and Facebook.

There are other things that people may not want everyone to know, besides being gay, lesbian, bi, trans, poly or kinky. There are situations where it’s risky, or at least prone to discrimination, if you’re female, have coloured skin, have a disability, or are a certain age. We have a secret ballot so it shouldn’t be easy to discover political views without our consent, and we have freedom of religion so it shouldn’t be easy to find out our religion if we choose to practise it in private.

Most of which tends not to bother rich, straight, white, conservative, christian people. Social norms probably are changing fastest amongst the most privileged people in our societies. But that makes it all the more self-serving for some of the most privileged people on the planet to be pushing the idea that privacy isn’t valuable to anyone.

Appreciation, criticism & new ideas all welcome...

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