Thursday, December 2, 2010

Publicity is Cheap, Privacy is Expensive

When I was 18 years old, publicity was hard to come by.   Media outlets were limited to newspapers with very high editorial standards, television with few channels and very limited news time, and a few high profile news magazines.

My first 15 minutes of fame came in 1981 when I was interviewed by Dan Rather for a CBS Evening News spot on entrepreneurialism in the Silicon Valley.  In 1982, I appeared in Newsweek, as a student correspondent at Stanford, writing about religion, politics and the culturally important trends of the day.  In 1983, I appeared in US News and World Report in an article about the emerging importance of software.

Today, blogs, wikis, forums, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Google enable fame and publicity without editorial control.   Use your phone to take a video of a squirrel doing something amusing and a few minutes later you've got publicity and thousands of people watching your work.

The democratization of information is a good thing.   It enables freedom of expression and instant access to news and information.   Of course, it's hard to tell fact from fiction, opinion from news, and accomplishment from self promotion, but it's left up to the consumer to turn data into information, knowledge and wisdom.

The downside of a completely connected world is that publicity is cheap, but privacy is expensive.

How much effort does it take to not appear on the internet, not be tracked by vendors maximizing sales by analyzing your browsing behavior, and not be findable from the innumerable legal/property/licensure records available on the internet?

In 1981, publicity was expensive, and privacy was cheap.

30 years later, publicity is cheap, and privacy is expensive.

In another 30 years, it will be interesting to see how the concept of privacy evolves.

My daughter's generation shares everything about their day on Facebook.   Maybe the concept of privacy will disappear for most aspects of life, except for those items, like medical records, which are protected via regulation and policy.  

My advice to my daughter about privacy is simple - content on the web lasts forever, on the internet nobody knows you're a dog,_nobody_knows_you're_a_dog, and share what you will such that no one gets hurt including you.

To discover just how "expensive" it is to preserve your privacy, here's a great WikiHow about deleting yourself from the internet.

30 years ago I had to wait for a call from Dan Rather.   Today, I just press Post.  How we balance the expense of publicity and privacy is a question that society will need to continuously evaluate as we become more and more connected.


Alan said...

Freedom is priceless.

UNC Chapel Hill "reality" check on the famous New Yorker cartoon:

The privacy issue issue is in flux. Companies like Google and Facebook are pushing loss of privacy as fast as they can go because that's how they make money. Users of the technology haven't really come to grips with the consequences of this yet partly because the consequences aren't immediately obvious. People tend to focus on what's immediately salient. Put there's plenty of evidence people care about privacy (it's certainly not dead as McNealy, Zuckerberg and Schmidt would have you believe). A certain level of privacy--control of information about yourself is crucial to a free society. The balance of power needs to be reset to take back some of the losses of individual control brought about by recent technological changes. The battle over this is in its early stages at the moment.

Yesterday's FTC Report:

Other critical reads:
Ohm, Paul. 2010. “Broken Promises of Privacy: Responding to the Surprising Failure of Anonymization.” UCLA Law Review 57:1701-1777.

Schneier, Bruce. 2010. Security, Privacy and the Generation Gap, HEAnet (Ireland's National Education & Research Network) National Networking Conference 2010.

Solove, Daniel J. n.d. “A Taxonomy of Privacy.” SSRN eLibrary. (Accessed March 26, 2009).

Solove, Daniel J. n.d. “'I've Got Nothing to Hide' and Other Misunderstandings of Privacy.” SSRN eLibrary. (Accessed March 26, 2009).

Solove, Daniel J., and Chris Jay Hoofnagle. n.d. “A Model Regime of Privacy Protection (Version 3.0).” SSRN eLibrary. (Accessed March 26, 2009).

Anonymous said...

WikiLeaks takes it to a new level -- completely challenging the notion of privacy. I've also told my children that in the world I grew up in you can constantly evolve and remake who you are, be different people to your friends and your employer, but the content that stays on the web means that in some sense you are always that kid in high school and college with the big bottle of vodka in the photo; you are always the same person to everyone. It's almost like you don't get to outgrow yourself. How does that affect how you think of yourself and how you control the image of who you are as you grow? Don Draper (Mad Men) would have had a hard time if he lived now.

Keith W. Boone said...

Somebody asked me if I worry about my childrens' use of the Internet. "Aren't you worried that they will post something that could hurt their job chances in the future." What we digital immigrants often fail to realize is that the HR director hiring my daughters will be in the same boat as they will, having grown up as a digital native with his/her own facebook, twitter and whatever may come accounts.