: Clay Shirky has a fascinating essay (as usual) about DNA as our new identifier and the privacy issues that result.
Shirky says that DNA technology will soon allow us to get unique and reliable identification (call it your bioID) for under $1 and once that happens, there no longer will be a need or desire for or threat of one organization (government or business) building one big data base with everything everyone knows about us. That’s because DNA will allow every holder of information to suddenly have the first universal ID code for each of us and they can cross-reference and merge data bases easily. Personal data, like the fodder of Napster or Kazaa, can be distributed, stored anywhere and can be brought together at will without issues of technology or reliability.
This is a different kind of fight over privacy. As the RIAA has discovered, fighting the growth of a decentralized and latent capability is much harder than fighting organizations that rely on central planning and significant resources, because there is no longer any one place to focus the efforts, and no longer any small list of organizations who can be targeted for preventive action.
: At the same time, look at the NY Times today saying that Americans seems to be much more willing to let the government compromise our privacy than let businesses do it.
The answer, it appears, is that many people believe the government will invade only someone else’s privacy. Privacy for me, they seem to be saying, but not for thee.
Right. If I am not a terrorist, I do not fear what the government may gather on me in the process of getting the terrorists; I damned well want them to do it; I support all information gathering if it catches terrorists and saves lives. Easy equation. This, of course, assumes that I trust government. When it comes to terrorism, I will, because the standard, today, is easy and I know I fall outside it. In the ’60s, it would have been a different matter; I organized Moratorium marches and thus I would fear what the FBI would keep on me. When it comes to pornography, adults also need to fear what will be defined as offensive and illegal. This slope is greased, of course. But still we all need to note that data gathering in defense against terrorism is, right now, a matter of national concensus.
In terms of business, I say that privacy is overrated; today’s extreme interest in it is the product of buzz and paranoia. Glenn Reynolds said almost as much at the blog conference (below): He said that creating a weblog changed his view of privacy because he now finds that data about his readers is interesting and useful and not harmful to those readers; he likes to know who’s reading his work and how many and where they come from and what they link to. Business has similar interests in being able to sell targeted and thus effective advertising (if we cannot do that, folks, online content will die!). If Dell knows I’m in the market for a Dell and gives me a good discount, it’s even to my interest to have them collect data on me. No harm.
Of course, there are limits to privacy. I do not want people to limit my free speech or those of others or chill either side of that equation by making me or my readers fear what either of us are reading or writing. That is a limit. I do not want companies or the government to know about my personal life.
But when it comes to safety, I will gladly give you data to (a) make my life more convenient at the airport and (b) support efforts to gather data to gather terrorists; it is a patriotic act. When it comes to advertising, I don’t mind if you target me.
Privacy is overrated.
: By the way, if you care about privacy from any aspect, I recommend my friend Janice Abrahams’ blog, PrivacyParts.