Another burst of news about privacy online, with Ars Technica explaining that removing personal information from data isn’t enough to protect anonymity, and The Monitor giving an overview of how we’re losing our privacy online.
But these people seem to talk on and on about privacy with some seriously flawed assumptions. They assume that everyone agrees on what privacy is, and that everyone wants privacy in exactly the same way.
I’ve become enamored of the comparison between privacy and religion. Even without being religious scholars, most people have a basic notion of what the word “religion” means. And most everyone understands that different people can have very different views about how to practice their religion, or whether to practice any religion at all.
Privacy is the same way, isn’t it? There is some shared understanding of what the term means, but the specifics of the meaning and practice of privacy can be very different among different people (especially across generations). Some people don’t believe privacy is important at all, choosing to live without it.
Both religion and privacy deserve the protection of our laws, and for very much the same reason: the practice of these matters according to one’s own belief is essential for building and maintaining a sense of meaning in life. In simpler terms, a personal view of these things are required elements of the pursuit of happiness.
Our laws protect religion (and atheism) without saying that “religion” must include a single deity, or prayer at sunset, or robes or hats or ritual. It’s a mistake to think we should protect privacy by defining exactly what data people should consider private.
Breaking my tradition of linking privacy posts to ’80s songs, because this early ’90s song has perfectly apt lyrics:
Of every waking hour I’m
Choosing my confessions
Trying to keep an eye on you
Like a hurt lost and blinded fool, fool
Oh no, I’ve said too much