Note — Feb 16, 2020

A World Without Privacy Will Revive the Masquerade

Interesting thought experiment, starting from Sun Microsystems’ former CEO Scott McNealy who said twenty years ago, “You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it.” The author, Jonathan Zittrain, then presents two “very different extrapolations [that] might allow us to glimpse some of the consequences of our privacy choices (or lack thereof) that are taking shape even today.” A Pseudoworld which will happen if the legal frameworks for protecting privacy aren’t updated, and a Transcriptworld where “the law[s] were tightened up with more accountability for bad actors in an attempt to make us feel more comfortable sharing.” Looking at the two makes it clear why we need some kind of midpoint, and need to take action.

Pseudoworld has a lot of clear drawbacks. It requires personal vigilance to avoid identification, with lingering problems if one’s mask should slip. It portends daily social interactions that tilt more toward the configuration of a confessional booth—or a 4chan message board—than an exchange of pleasantries with a store clerk bearing a name tag, or an earnest discussion thread on Facebook with each participant’s home town, relatives, educational history, and favorite book voluntarily one click away. […]

Transcriptworld is a lousy place even assuming, as we have so far, that government’s primary role there is to make sure that people don’t doxx and harass one another. And when government doesn’t embrace the rule of law, Transcriptworld provides the soil—fertilized by commercial data processing—in which to grow the authoritarian nightmares we’ve come to call Orwellian. […]

Privacy defenders have perhaps inadvertently encouraged the same sense of inevitability by speaking in generic apocalyptic terms. But this fight is not simply about keeping particular facts about people out of the public eye. Privacy now is as much about freedom, the freedom to maintain a boundary between ourselves and those who want to shape us.