The German privacy paradox

As a group, Germans are more private than anyone I know. My German grandfather-in-law used to lecture me: “People do not need to know that.” Germans complain about Google Streetview taking pictures of them … in public. They’re going after Facebook on privacy. They say that Google Analytics violates privacy. They even enable convicted killers to expunge their names from Wikipedia out of privacy. And now they’re up in arms about airport body scanners.

Yet go into a German sauna, and there the Germans are, male and female, together, sweaty and naked. Germans protect the privacy of everything but their private parts.

I do think we have something to learn from their sauna attitude. On my last trip to Germany, I got addicted to the sauna — no, not to gawk and, since my surgery, certainly not to show off anything (as I’ve revealed, I’m in a chronic state of shrinkage, or should I say, Sternage?). When I first visited a German sauna, I had the surprise Americans have and just decided to go with the flow: When in München….

But when I was in a Davos sauna (a very cool one in a log cabin outside the hotel) with a bunch of sweaty and naked Russians, the door opened and an American couple almost came in, until the wife saw me and shrieked (I do hope it wasn’t for the reason above). She slammed the door and pulled out and we heard her husband pleading, “No, really, it’s OK, honey. Yes, it’s supposed to be co-ed.” She came in after all, hermetically wrapped in her towel (a violation of German sauna etiquette) and sitting as stiff as a church lady, looking only at the ceiling. It was not relaxing for her. I suspect it was not going to be a relaxing evening for her husband, either.

So what’s the more mature attitude about privacy and publicness and the body? I’ll vote with the Germans on this. And that makes me ask why what’s private is private — a question worth asking as we hear so much about privacy in the internet age. One way to pose this question is to ask what harm could come from something private becoming public.

Start with the Germans: What’s the harm of being naked — especially when everyone else is? As I’ve written here before: In the company of nudists, no one is naked (I’m still trying to convince my editor thats a book title). So you have breasts and I have a penis. Surprise, surprise, surprise. Perhaps you could blackmail me because of the current state of mine, but when I went to a public sauna in Munich, I saw every possible body flaw. Even the Germans know there’s no harm in revealing one’s body.

What’s the harm that can come from revealing something else about oneself, as adults fear young people are doing in excess in Facebook and the web? The issue, I’ve long said, is not privacy but control: We have a right to control our information and how it’s used. But all this talk about privacy could make us withhold more than ever; it could make us downright antisocial. So I’ll ask again, what harm will come from publicness? Where’s the line?

* I don’t want to reveal anything about myself that robs someone else of their control of their privacy. So even though my current state of things may be obvious, I’m not going to talk about my sex life because that would violate my wife’s privacy. I wouldn’t make all my email or phone conversations public — as if anyone should care — for the same reason. I should pull no one into my glass house.

* I’m hinky about revealing what I make – most of us are. But why? I suppose I fear someone trying to scam me or beg me for money. But teachers don’t make much. You can easily find out what professors at CUNY earn since, if you live in New York, you’re paying me (up to $90k is the answer). I’ve revealed what I make from my blog (average of about $15k). For some reason, the publishing industry likes to leak what is paid for book advances. I reveal my consulting and speaking gigs. So you could probably come close to guessing my income. I have no reason to publicize it but I also am not sure what the harm is.

* I don’t want to reveal anything that would enable someone to steal my identity for financial ends or to impersonate or attack me or my familiy. So, of course, there’s no gain to be had and much harm to be gained from revealing passwords, account numbers, addresses, and the like.

* No one wants to be embarrassed and so we don’t want to reveal embarrassing things. But who to say what’s embarrassing? It comes out of our fear of what others will think of us. So others do. As a journalist, I’m embarrassed to make mistakes, but I’ve had to learn in blogging and Twitter that correcting mistakes enhances credibility. It’s not the mistake that matters but what you do about it. And, yes, the argument is made that young people will regret putting their drunken party pictures online when it comes time to apply for a job. But I say that as we shift generations, the bosses will have their own embarrassing party pictures and they will find themselves in a state of mutually assured humiliation. In What Would Google Do?, I hope that this stand-off might yield a more tolerant society.

What else? Is it possible to say that anything else is fair game for public sharing? Put that way, and it smacks of exhibitionism: My life is an open blog. So I prefer to turn the question around now and look at the benefits of publicness that we lose when we make something unnecessarily private. I’ve said that revealing my prostate here brought me great value: support, links to sources of information, incredibly candid and helpful previews from patients who’ve gone before, and the opportunity to spur others to check for the disease. Without revealing my cancer in public, I’d have received none of that benefit. I also argue in WWGD? that there’s value in the aggregation of our knowledge: if we all chronicled what we were doing 24 hours before the onset of my other condition, heart arrhythmia, would doctors find new patterns? If we all shared and could analyze our repair records for our Toyotas, would we surface dangerous flaws earlier? Not revealing such data may indeed someday be seen as antisocial.

So the Germans inspired me to ask about the line between private and public and why it’s there: merely cultural convention or self-interested reason? Fear or legitimate concern? And what is the cost of privacy?

They also inspired me to come home and try to install a sauna.

[Photo: mag3737]

: LATER: In the comments, Howard Weaver nacks me for saying “merely cultural convention.” I didn’t mean to belittle but to separate whether the cause of a convention is purely cultural or whether here are practical reasons (e.g., women in some culture hide their laughs out of convention but there’s nothing obvious bad that is going to happen to you if it is seen; but someone taking my credit card data can have real impact).

The more important point I meant to emphasize is that, of course, decisions about what’s properly private and public often are cultural and it’s fascinating — using the Germans and their saunas as a starting point — to examine those differences and use that to make us question our own assumptions. In the comments also a Scandanavian points out that there, you can indeed look up what your neighbor makes

: The other point I should make is about those body scanners. Some say that it’s different choosing to take off your clothes in a sauna vs. being denuded in a machine. Yes, but my point is that if we all as a culture saw exposing our (formerly) privates as no big deal, there’d be less of a hubbub about using the machines and perhaps we’d be safer as a result. In the U.S., we giggled about the guy with the bomb in his underwear. That embarrassed laughter could, in the extreme, cost lives.

Similarly, at Davos, I spoke as a patient at a dinner about prostate cancer and I said that our skittishness about talking about things having to do with the penis (or fingers up our asses) is keeping men from the doctors and killing some of them. Privacy can kill.

  • Jeff, I’d sauna with you in any state of dress or undress, as we routinely did in Scandinavian saunas and Eskimo sweat lodges in Alaska.

    But isn’t it disingenuous to talk about privacy and embarrassment as “merely cultural convention.” Culture is hardly “mere.” It’s the organizing principle for our social lives, and moral authority comes only from cultural norms. They can and should change, but unless one subscribes to a religious code, they aren’t separate from what you call fear and self-interest.

    • Fair point, Howard. By “merely” I didn’t mean to belittle; I meant that it came out of convention instead of hard real need — e.g., not revealing my credit card data comes from not wanting to enable someone to rob me; hiding my laugh if I’m a woman in certain countries come from cultural convention but I can find no tangible bad effect that would come. That’s what I meant. (And thanks for the appendix below).

  • Hmm, there definetly is a paradox in our attitude towards privacy. As you suggest, control might be the key to this phenomenon. Even in a sauna you mostly have your towel ready to hand – just in case your boss or other creepy people come in. Problem on the web is: once information is online you will have trouble taking it back…

    That doesn’t mean I’m against Street View, though. I think it’s quite useful and don’t understand all the fuzz.

    Cheers from Germany (still wearing my clothes).

  • I hit the return button too quickly: Also intended to thank you for this post, for raising a hugely important question, and for your model of candor and openness.

  • Arno Schmidt

    In Deutschland gibt es eine lange Tradition von Versuchen des Staates die Privatsphäre der Bürger zu beschneiden. Während der Zeit des 3. Reichs waren willkürliche Durchsuchungen an der Tagesordnung. Familien, die Sonntags in die Kirche gingen wurden fotografiert.

    Mit dem Ende des 2. Weltkriegs haben die Deutschen radikal mit dieser Form des Staatswesens (man könnte des als Vorläufer des modernen Überwachungsstaats bezeichnen) gebrochen.

    Eine derartige Tradition gibt es in den USA nicht. Bis zum 11. September 2001 hatte der Staat wenig Interesse am alltäglichen Leben seiner Bürger.

    Die Amerikaner haben meiner Meinung nach noch nicht erkannt, welche Gefahren in der ausufernden Überwachung und Datensammlung stecken. Ich hoffe, dass sich eine Bürgerbewegung bildet, deren Ziel es ist die “Datenkrake” Staat zurückzudrängen.

    (Sorry, but in english this would have taken too long for me to write).

  • Hi Jeff!

    One reason for this german privacy paradox might be the experience with East Germany being a Surveillance State. And that was not a long time ago, until at least 1989 (furtheron we don’t know), so it’s still in the very heads of many Germans. Maybe the Americans were so lucky to not experience it in the near past. Or maybe in the US the surveillance wasn’t as obvious. But there is no reason, that things like that can’t happen again.

    And, the problem is not being seen naked.
    The problem was, and is always, a problem with power (also economic power) and information asymmetry. I mean, there is no problem with power itself, but there is always the danger of abuse. And many recent events showed that fear of this abuse isn’t unjustified.
    The Germans going after Analytics and Facebook is out of this reason. It’s the, maybe justified fear of abuse of the power coming from the information asymmetry.
    Information is power in today’s world. That’s the real problem with privacy, that’s the real problem with information.

    Getting seen naked is only a question of being a prude. Power and information asymmetry can be a question of (economic) survival.


    • Perhaps, but my grandfather-in-law left Germany in 1923 and he displayed an attitude toward privacy all my German friends say is typical still.

  • The Sauna example just hits the nail. I find it almost amusing to see friends from the States reveal half of their on Facebook but a simple relaxing time in the Sauna is already “too much” for them.

    “Andere Länder andere Sitten” as we say
    For the Munich Sauna’s I especially reccomend the “Bayerischer Hof” rooftop spa :)

  • My wife and I went to the (rather famous, I’m told) Blue Lagoon in Iceland over New Years, and there are signs up telling people to shower – specifically naked – and wash specific areas before entering the pools.

    As in, if you dont, you will be kicked out, or atleast frowned upon sternly.

    However, it made it really easy to spot the english and americans – they either queue for the one shower which has a door on it, or keep their togs on and try to wash everywhere (which isn’t easy, and they are very specific about where to wash – especially around your ‘bits’.

    I used to be quite body conscious, but now, the only person I care what they think is my wife – I’m not body conscious around her, but I do, of course, want to look my best :)

    BTW, Jeff – every time you mention “hyperlocal news” on TWiG, we have to drink. But, can you give some examples of these hyperlocal sites? Just a post with some links, even if it’s not hyperlocal to _me_.

    • I’ll try to get you drunk this week.
      Lots about hyperlocal and our work on new business models for news at
      Sites include Baristanet, West Seattle Blog, Sun Valley Online,….

  • Emrys

    Nice comparison :-).

    As another German, I think the key difference is that a sauna is a closed environment. Everyone in there follows the norms. As soon as someone inside or outside the sauna would start doing something like staring, making silly remarks the whole system would collapse.

    In the online world, there is no closed environment and you do not have direct control of what the other participants of that environment can do with things you make public. Even worse the online world (just like traditional media) thrives on private things being made public.

  • This is an interesting post as it draws together many aspects of privacy. I’d probably never made any connection between sauna etiquette and Google streetview. However, there’s nothing specifically German about our saunas, they are following the Finnish tradition. All Europeans are amused by American saunas.

    In fact, I have my own sauna anecdote. During my first time in the U.S. in my early twenties I visited the sauna in my hotel in Atlanta. Naked, I didn’t know about any other custom. After five minutes on my own the sauna door opened, and a male hotel guest in swimming trunks stared at me, then closed the door and left. I found this rather odd, both the staring and that he must have been oblivious to having forgotten to take off his trunks before entering the sauna. It wasn’t until much later that I realized this guy must have been VERY embarassed by looking at ME.

    Now as for Google and the privacy issues: the debate in Germany is absurd and hysterical. It is part of a widespread ignorance, fear and loathing of the web, symbolically directed against Google. The web changes equations, winners can be losers and losers can be winners. Germans don’t like game-changers. What makes it so dangerous (and harmful for Germany’s technological future) is that politicians are trying to outbeat each other by Google-bashing. That’s why it was good to read a sensible editorial voice in “Die Welt”. (German).

  • Moritz

    What is more, it’s not only the fact that this is about power instead of being prude, it is especially about what you mentioned yourself, Jeff: self-control. The thing is that with Google Analytics, Facebook & Co, most users simply don’t have the know-how to execute such self-control in a sufficient way even if the system behind allows such a self-control (which of course usually it doesn’t). So from a macro-point of view, we don’t only have to think of the technical side of privacy, but also the educational part of it which is showing people how to effectively protect their privacy. Making the mistake yourself (e.g. posting the party-pics on your blog while applying for a job) is one thing, being analyzed and surveyed without even noticing it (hence not doing any mistake actively) is another..

    Being a German myself, pls allow two more comments:
    a) yes, considering our experiences in 20th century (Nazi-Regime + Stasi & Co) I believe Germans are the ones most experienced with the bad consequences for society a lack of privacy actually has. So we might have a point there which others of course can’t understand to that extent
    b) you might face some questions when speaking of a “German Sauna Tradition” while speaking of a Sauna in Davos… ;) (btw, the tradition actually is rooted in Finland and the Baltics, where people even drink beer and sing together while being beaten up with a green bough)

  • Tim Torgenrud

    You note “don’t want to reveal anything about myself that robs someone else of their control of their privacy” and, while that sounds common sense and rational in general, does it hold when you drill down on what various services and companies have done with their offerings on the web? When you give a service your contact list, you are giving out information about someone else’s contact habits (I’d say it was your hear-say assertion about their contact habits until you look at what Google Buzz is starting to offer). Have you now impinged on someone else’s privacy control? The service you are working with (Google) might be different than the service the other end of your conversation is working with (Yahoo, Hotmail, AOL, corporate email/chat server) and how is the privacy of that activity assertable and manageable on both sides of the data chain of that activity?

    I like the comment above on power being information – I’d add that I suspect that that is going to further become power is information over time and right now the privacy controls for managing information over time across data space aren’t ubiquitous enough for folks not to have reservations yet still need to do business and maintain their livelihood on the ‘tubes’.

  • g d gustafsson

    In the Nordic countries, it is taken to a very open perspective. We can view anyone’s tax and salary data online.

  • Thomas

    Didn’t read the other comments. The point is: nobody can abuse the information he collects by scanning my gorgeous body in the sauna. Some people may see me naked – okay. Next? All are leaving the sauna, going home and will propably never see eachother again.

    But by crossing the border of your country, as I did one year ago, I had to leave some very private information including all of my fingerprints and a picture of mine. That data is now stored in some large data centers in the basement of some of your many secret agencies and I don’t have a chance to get control over that data anymore. It’s los. And if the fate wants it so, I will regret to did that trip some day.

    I remember that some years ago a magazine has been published by CCC (Chaos Computer Club) in Germany which included a nice feature – the counterfeit print of one finger of our Interior Secretary in that time, Wolfgang Schäuble (a really big fan of your kind of politics in the States).

    You get the point? No? Okay, don’t worry ;-)

  • stuxfux

    i’m sorry, it’s in german, but an example for information abuse:


  • Bernd

    I’m German myself and I really do not see a privacy paradox. If I get naked in a sauna I choose to do so and I would not do it if they were taking pictures. But if someone forces me to walk through a nude scanner than that is something completly different especially if they also have all my personal details thanks to my passport. As you said it is more about controll. I want to decided who knowes what about my. My goverment or any other organization or company has a need to know how I look naked.

  • UGK

    Davos ain’t in Germany. And getting naked because you want to or because you have to are different issues. Very simple!

    • Well, of course. But in what I read on the topic, German-speaking Switzerland operates under the same conventions as Germany and I found that to be the case.

  • steffen

    Dear Jeff,
    this might be in interesting answer to your post:

    Basically it says that there is no paradox, because attending a sauna with a bathing suit is a matter of prudery and speaking out against those airport scanners a matter of defending civil rights. I have to add that I would not enjoy attending a public sauna at all.

    Regards from Hamburg, Germany

  • masamedia


    you really have to adjust your prejudices agains Germans and Germany. I’m sorry if I misunderstood somethimg, but this blog entry is surprisingly disappointimg.

    1. “She came in after all, hermetically wrapped in her towel (a violation of German sauna etiquette)”. There is no such etiquette. You may wear what ever you want to protect your most intimite parts.

    2. “And now they’re up in arms about airport body scanners.” Yes, and it’s good that way. Comparing a German Sauna to Google Street View or Body Scanners does not work. There is no paradoxy! You compare apple and oranges – unsolicited to forced from outside. I’d rather say: Your comparrison does not make any sense.

    Maybe someone should write an article on exerggarated paranoia and moral values of another specific country.


    • 1. Not according to what I read on the wall of the sauna.
      2. We disagree. I think they are linked and I added the post about that just now.

      • masamedia


        2. …in that particular Sauna. There is no general etiquette. There are mixed, male only, women only, with or w/o “undress code” ;-) Everyone is free to choose the Sauna style he/she prefers.

        Jeff, my point was: Privacy is a valuable right in free societies. Like democracy it’s a “hohes Gut” that former generations were fighting for. Yes, we can “gift” it away to authorities and companies that make money with it. Is it worth it? At least we must think about it – esp. in the long run. I think it’s important to defend privacy.

        Life’s not a Sauna. ;-)


        • No argument. But I also argue that publicness brings its benefits and so we need to examine what is private and why and sometimes making something private loses us the benefits. That’s why I’m trying to dissect this in real terms.

        • Tilmann

          Hi Jeff,

          Thanks for your great post! Being German, but having lived in the US for a number of years, I can vouch: your perception of the “German paradoxon” is not at all a “Jeff exclusive”, but very common among Americans.
          Ok, I think we made our point, that this elaborate American prudery induces a healthy dose of amusement to many Europeans (and I do understand, that you’ve been with us on that point all along).

          As it comes to the “privacy could cost lives”-issue, I dare to say, that a majority of Germans also don’t share the American approach to feeling safer. Most of us don’t believe, that the Iraq war made the world a safer place – in fact, quite a many think the opposite is true. Opinion polls regularly show about 80% of Germans are opposed to our troops fighting in Afghanistan. US initiatives to beef up air travel security are perceived in that context. Which might explain some of the opposition against body scanners. We just don’t believe in producing the most radical of enemies all over the world and then trusting technical means to keep them off our planes and our shores. That extends to what we feel comfortable with ending up in databases about us. Sure, withholding international money transactions from US scrutiny may help a bad guy to do his evil. It may also help protecting my liberty to travel despite occasionally sending money to folks with arabic sounding names. Keep in mind, you are arguing with a people, that can well read traffic accident statistics, but choose to enjoy warp speed on the autobahn :-)

          While US and German stereotypes and real differences on these subjects may not dissolve any time soon, we should not miss out on a great opportunity for very beneficial raisin picking triggered by your post. While most Germans easily agree, that sharing our data should be voluntary and deliberate, our skepticism often does not stop there – we lack a culture of sharing our knowledge. It is no accident, that this very channel – blogging – is an American invention. There is no German term for it. Dictionaries translate it to something like “Internet Tagebuch” (diary), and indeed, we are much more accustomed to entrusting our deep thoughts to “Dear Diary…” – preferably a paper book with a lock on it. Even when we google (sic!) for somebody else’s knowledge or experience on German pages, one of the most promising search terms is the English “how to”.

          As debatable as such stereotypes always are: When it comes to Google, Germans are very fast adapting consumers, but we have an anti-social attitude to consider each and every bit of our knowledge as a competitive advantage best kept to ourselves. And we mistrust the fools giving it away for free. Open software? Naaa, that can’t be good. Within corporations, there is a big communications gap between “need to know” and mere gossip. “Probably beneficial to others” is no valid reason to share and there is rather repercussion than reward for it (“don’t you have anything better to do with your time?”). Granted, on that scale, some US corporations act very German, too.

          The push button conditioning, I grew up with:
          Have a problem? Don’t expose it – somebody will use it against you!
          Had a success? Keep quiet – it will cause envy! (rather buy a new Beamer for people to know…)
          Made a mistake? How embarrassing. Talk about it? Good lord, no!

          Consequently, we’re not only entitled to our own mistakes, we’re conditioned to make the same mistakes every one by himself. And certainly, I’m the only one on the planet with my particular problems. You guess it Jeff, with your openness about your cancer, you’re my personal hero!

          Your post reminds me, that controlling your own information should go both ways: deny and share deliberately.

          Feeding my personal data into the collections of google, facebook or the NSA? I’d rather stay with the German reluctancy. Posting knowledge, observations and thoughts out to the public? Yep, we can learn a thing or two from “you Americans”.

          Thanks Jeff!

        • Tilmann,
          What an incredibly helpful comment that is. “We lack a culture of sharing our knowledge” is the first explanation I’ve heard for why blogging didn’t take off in Germany — and I ask Germans every time I’m there. You’ve cracked the code for me.
          Vielen Dank!

        • Fritz

          Dear Jeff,

          I don’t think that blogging is an achievement of a “culture of sharing knowledge”. Most of the blogs available are made for marketing, self-expression, populism or even defamation. Copying and publishing false or imprecise information never was easier and seeing how people treat each other on platforms like Youtube makes me quite pessimistic about this culture.

          As a positive example the quality of the most Wikipedia articles surpasses many dictionaries, as the community corrects itself. German is the second most used language on Wikipedia. There is a culture of gaining and sharing knowledge in Germany … also from the historical point of view (Gutenberg, Luther, Brothers Grimm, Humboldt and many more).

          When doing professional or even scientific research, Web 2.0 generated content can give great input… however, if you don’t go to the library or university and spent the time to study the primary sources, your so called “knowledge” is unfunded and therefore useless. It needs more than an internet connection and Google to optain knowledge.

          I absolutely agree that Americans are better in adopting new technologies and benefit much from their positive attidute towards them. However, they fail at filtering and estimating risks and threats.

          Best regards,

  • Jeff,

    There is no paradox here.

    Nakedness has nothing to do with privacy. The ability of powerful interests to exploit records and information is what privacy in Germany is all about.

    Please remember how many Germans suffered through 1933-1989. That’s why they care about information privacy.

    Privacy is not about what you are comfortable revealing. It’s about what you are uncomfortable revealing. That list is different for everyone and different in every context.

    Please check out this wonderful book on the subject:


    • Siva,
      Carrying over the Twitter version of this conversation…
      Yes, of course, the years 1933-1989 have an impact; I thought that was so obvious it didn’t need saying.
      My grandfather-in-law came over from Germany in 1923 and he exhibited this cultural convention in ways that my German friends tell me is still the case. So much of this predates those years, I think.
      I am using my comfort as one illustration only, of course; the point is that we each — as individuals and as cultures — need to examine our lines of privacy and publicness (and the dangers and benefits of each) in a time when those lines change because of new technology and because cultures span new lines (e.g., young people universally v. old people in France).
      Thanks for the link. My I note the wonderful irony that you link me to Google Books?

  • Pingback: Google Buzz – mein zweiter Eindruck –

  • mike

    People in germany -especially in EASTERN GERMANY- had made very bad experiences with being observed by a “big brother”.
    Living in fear for over 40 years makes you sensitive, you can trust me.
    Germany is special: in other countries the government is working for the people (maybe in yours?), but in germany it was inverse for a long long time (and many people think still it is), so people dont trust the government organisations, and they dont trust major companies that trying to catch information…

  • Pingback: Privacy can kill, openness can heal |

  • Okay, since I never went to the sauna, does that mean I don’t have to walk through the body scanner? Or do you want to say that since a small group of people have no problem with something completely different as a sauna, no one should have a problem regarding a body scanner? Or in another way: since some people have no problems sitting in the sauna can we force everyone to strip?

    I agree with some of the bashing regarding Google. It is way overboard, but as many I have the feeling it got more to do with money than with privacy. The discussion is crazy at best. But to me, Google and the others are no problem, because we all can decide to use Google whenever we want or use a different service.

    I also think that your hope for a more tolerant society is a little bit naive. Even if a boss has some drunken pictures online, it’s not him who’s applying for a job. It’s someone else. So, in many ways it’s a issue of power. He can use such pictures against the other guy. The other guy can’t, because, what could he achieve with it? Nothing. And I am quite sure that such boss will interpret the same embarrassing picture completely different. His picture? Yeah, not okay, but who cares. The applicant? What a stupid ass! This is an issue of perspective.
    Do you really believe that information of this quality won’t be used? What about medical information? What about possible brain scans to read someones mind?

    Where do you draw the line and tell everyone “up to this point and no further”? I draw this line very close. This is my decision. You may go further. But please don’t force me to do the same.

    • peter

      thanks for your comment. I think it’s even more severe.
      Informations ARE collected and they ARE used and sold. If you apply for a job, it’s clear that the HR department scans you profiles in the social networks. But that’s just the beginning. A complete industry is bulding up for collecting data from social networks and correlate them with all kinds of data.
      This is sensitive and valuable data. In Germany all insurance companies already share their data about their clients (means: you and me). If you loose your insurance, it’s very hard to get a new one at another company – and you do not know why, because you have no control what’s being stored about your person, your health, the people in your environment.

      And insurances, the police, the government, intelligence services will buy all kinds of data about you. Where the data comes from? Who cares? The data is there, black on white. 80% of this information may be right and 20% may be wrong. Who cares? Sure – you care, if you do not get your health care, your job etc.)

      But the most important is (we always forget that): We’re just at the beginning of the computer age. Computing power and storage is growing exponentially. In about 20-25 years a simple desktop computer will have the computing power and the capacity of our brain. 20 years later it will reach 1000 times more than our brain. A custer of 1000 will then have the 1 Mio fold computing power of a human brain.

      We have had a bad experiences with control in Germany (the Nazis and the STASI used it execssively). And if someone knows too much about you, you are always in defense and in a disadvantage. That makes us sensitive here in Germany. History shows us that governmental systems have a limited lifetime. Today we have some kind of democracy. Will this last forever. Even Hitler’s assumption of power was a lawful act (sounds funny but it is). And with the computing power of tomorrow the data collection and correlation of the STASI will just be peanuts.

      Thre’s explicitely an etiquette here in Germany what you should wear (or better: not wear) in a German sauna. The reason is again control. May I explain it in an example:
      I somebody (dressed) stares at you while you’re sitting undressed in a sauna, it’s harder to defend yourself (ok, you can do with words). If the other one is undressed, you just stare back and smile. I call this parity. And as long as all are naked, it’s not embarrassinging.

  • Carsten

    First off: your metrics on privacy differ greatly from germans: your thoughts, feelings, personality is considered at least as private as the body, but usually higher.
    Therefor You focused on the aspect of being naked, Germans focus on the impact of free will.

    Body scanners do not leave you a choice: You are required by the state authority to present yourself naked towards the state, no regards if that respects your personal feelings about being naked. So it is a strong matter of government (not of being naked).

    Going to a sauna is a matter of free choice. I do know Germans that don’t go there exactly for the reason of being naked to others. But they are hardly forced to go there. And a lot of public sauna have gender days, especially for female, so there is an alternative if you care.

    Body scanners are pretty obvious about invading your privacy. But the power and usage of information held by companies like Google and Facebook is not.
    I once read an excellent article about privacy and the bottom line was that privacy is less about what information someone holds, but rather what he does with it.

    Open up what happens to your data, in a manner that people without college degree can understand, then your fine, because people are again free to decide if they want to allow that.
    Right now nobody knows what these companies do with your data, maybe tech and marketing experts have a clue, but not the average user. And the average user can not even imagine what is possible. But without knowing the consequences of a decision it can hardly be considered as free will.

    • Ah, there it is at last: FREE WILL! Getting the chance to CHOOSE what to do!

      Waited for that, totally agree, thanx ;o)

  • I spend most of my working hours thinking about technology’s impact on health & health care, so I immediately zeroed in on your experience sharing details about your health issues. Since you have a wide, strong network of readers, it was probably somewhat easy for you to have a pop-up CaringBridge-like network of supporters and information-gatherers once you revealed your diagnoses.

    I’m curious: did you join any condition-specific groups? Did your doctor (or any other health professional) recommend any online resources? You’ve written about the transparency and opportunity in Google Health and PatientsLikeMe, as well as the resistance among doctors to consumers doing their own health research. I’d love to hear more about what you think about this transformation of expectations in health care — for some people anyway — and if you see other dangers/opportunities in social sharing of health information & data.

    Of course I have a motive for my question: I’ll be at the Health 2.0 conference in Paris in April, talking about patient online communities with a panel made up of 3 Americans, 1 Italian, 1 Brit, and 2 Germans. I’m gathering stories & examples of cross-cultural attitudes & experiences to add to the discussion we’ll have online (such as on and then at the event.

  • Eric Gauvin

    My vote: no paradox.

    I don’t see a connection between the kind of privacy you’re describing and nudity.

  • It might not all be as paradoxical as you think: Have you had a look into the book IBM and the Holocaust, and how IBM’s punchcards stored a lot of information about Germans? You will find that a government knowing too much about its citizens — like their beliefs — can be disastrous (or speed up disaster) if the government turns evil.

    [Disclaimer: I’m German. :) I’d also like to say we’re not a homogenous group.]

  • Thomas

    What’s so paradox about it? When I walk in a sauna, I know what I expext. By entering the room, I actively and by free wish accept the rules that come along with saunaing, I know what’s common sense and I participate, because I want to. “Free will” is what we call it and it’s one of the most valuable achievements in democrazy. Why give it away for something so unimportant as a streetview in my internet???

  • Thomas

    One needs to decide himself, when and how he goes public. If he can’t, it’s a harassment. Going out in public, mix with the crowd is wonderful! Going to a crowded bar, for example. To enjoy the noise, the lifeliness: great. Going back home, in retreat: even greater. And that’s also what it’s about: home is safety. Is a place to “hide and recover”. There are places for everything. The option to change situations by changing places is wonderful.
    Besides: when I’m watched like on a stage, I’d call myself an actor. And actors get payed for their performances!

  • Thomas

    Google Streetview is just another step to complete control. I find the principle of a peep show much fairer. The girl inside knows she’s being watched. It’s her job. She even gets payed for it. With streetview the financial profit is only on googles side. And then, last but not least: it’s against the law! The according law says: if you publish a picture (or a film) you took from anyone, you have to have his written permission!

  • As you mentioned it’s all about controlling who has your personal information and what information they have about you.

    Its one thing to publish your data on facebook or other websites, it’s another if companies collect additional information behind your back from third sources.

    … and for the body scanner. They will not add any security to air travel.

    This is a short from a german TV show, in which a professor is scanned with a body scanner carrying multiple chemicals and explosives that are not detected by the scanner:

  • Dagoba

    when my late american father came for the first time to Germany after being stationed here with the army during world war II, he wanted to meet some of his old german friends. As it was summer they invited him to join a remote beach at a bavarian lake – where they practised nudism. Though they were all between 70 and 80 years old, he was suspicious that they would celebrate an orgy. Actually I did not blame the aged outdoor freaks but him for his dirty imagination. He never got the message though.

  • >Privacy can kill.

    That’s exactly the point: It’s my and only MY decision whether privacy or life is more important to ME. I don’t want others making that decision for me.

    >I should pull no one into my glass house.

    But that’s what happens all the time, when people tag me on a Flickr picture someone else has uploaded, just to give one very simple example.

    I’m not saying there is an easy solution for privacy on the Internet. But blaming it to the Germans for having a “privacy paradox” seams a bit too easy for me.

    I think it’s important to find a balanced way of giving and taking. Users living in total privacy should not expect to get any information from others. If I want, let’s say your birthday, I need to reveal my own birthday to you, too. Here probably is the real paradox: Some people are expecting to get every information from others without revealing their own. But I suppose that’s not a specific issue of Germans.

  • Pingback: Wochenschau |

  • Adam

    Hej Jeff,

    With the point that someday the chief will have drunken pics on facebook is very good. But you take a oneside view on privacy. Because naked or not naked is one point. We have to take it beyond that. If someone has a full profile of you. Your GPS Data, Emails, Pictures, Contacts, Amazon, Ebay, Search etc. with this data is very simpel to manipulate people. Your government can control you better and i hope you dislike that.
    The next point is that everybody has stuff that will not share with others. And I don’t want to know all this stuff about other people. On the other hand when everyone shares everything with community, the person with a bit of privacy will be suspect.

    Gruß aus Deutschland.

  • There is no paradoxon here in Germany. Noone is forced to join a Sauna, and it should even be possible to find Saunas where you can wear whatever you want (but it makes no fun with anything on :). You have the control about what you do. And everone knows whats going on (at least if you are familiar with the habits), and it’s accepted because everybody in there is there for the same goal, which is relaxing.

    With the body scanners, it’s much different:
    – no “symmetry”, the officers are not naked
    – force: no way to enter a plane without being scanned
    (My own opinion is more liberal: you are “naked” in another way here, especially in a way which I wouldn’t consider hurting my privacy. I for myself would only fall into the criticisms if everyone would be forced to really get naked.)

    With google street view, I would argue like that: The cars only take photos of the “open” sides. So they can’t hurt privacy, because they only see things which the people living there decided to show to public. Every time and every place in public there is the risk to be seen and recorded, wheter it will be the google cars or police cameras or anything.

    I do agree with your point that being open could heal you, help you, improve you, give you astounding and valuable feedbacks. In fact I have similar experiences. I also think that lots of Germans keep too much about what they don’t give to public (yes, talking about salary is one of these points).

    But most of these situations come from “symmetry” situations similar to the Sauna, where people with similar intentions meet. I can’t imagine a officer at the airport saying “you have to loose weight, you are too fat” is the kind of experience which really helps you. Or a guy calling you “I saw your house at google street view, you should paint it!”

    The solution can’t be that you are forced to open all these aspects. Everyone has to hold control of his privacy.

    (Sorry for my flat english ;-)

  • Matthias Ulmer


    three answers:

    1. to keep it simple, it´s the question of opt in and opt out. It is obviously different if I decide to go naked into a Sauna or if Google puts me naked in a Sauna and gives me the possibility to go out if I don´t like it.

    2. More complex: You are puzzling over an interesting cultural point. Germans and nakedness and Germans and information are two special topics. I think its wrong connecting both topics with us Germans having been Nazis and having suffered and changed. It is a much deeper cultural difference, which goes back to the reformation and the protestantism and even deeper in a general relation between I and nature/environement in the early medieval times.
    You could draw a map about windows covered or uncovered by curtains or a map about graveyards wich look like forests or like towns and you find patterns similar to the distribution of religion an cultural habits in Europe. Very interesting topic, but finally without any result.

    3. To answer very very easy: yes, Germans are completly stupid in any question about data privacy. Shake your head and open a bottle of read wine. You can´t change them, they stay stupid about that.

  • Kiki

    Privacy is a matter of choices that should be up to an individual to make, not to a government or corporation. While I certainly recognize how valuable information given by individuals, made available to find and use by governments, communities (e.g. public libraries) or corporations (e.g. Google) can be, it should be my choice whether I want to publicize my personal information on the net and elsewhere.

    I can see how people do object to having their homes and castles photographed and made available for anyone to see. Firstly, they are not being asked about it but rather have to actively opt out. That’s bad netiquette on Google’s behalf and in complete contradiction to their usual business model: people giving up their personal information and thus accepting tailor made ads in exchange for the company’s tools they want or need, like Gmail etc. Everybody who deals with the devil knows what he’s in for and can decide for himself. It’s the same with the German publishers, who are accusing Google of “stealing” their newsfeeds and making money off their content. That’s ridicculous and hypocritical, of course – if a publisher doesn’t want Google to index their site, they can easily say so in their robots file. It’s not as if Google forces them to publish anything.

    However, if Google puts my house on display, I have nothing to gain from it but much to lose: Burglars are an obvious threat, but I also might simply not want to get ads from companies selling lawn furniture or swimming pools because they see that I don’t have either, despite living in an area where both are common. Others might simply say “Google makes money off me and I want my share of that”.

    Whatever the reason, it should be up the individual to choose, not the corporation. My reasons, as silly or paranoid as they might look to you, are mine and yours to respect. In fact, a simple “I do not want that” should suffice. Why should I be forced to explain myself to Google and others?

    You write “if we all chronicled what we were doing 24 hours before the onset of my other condition, heart arrhythmia, would doctors find new patterns? If we all shared and could analyze our repair records for our Toyotas, would we surface dangerous flaws earlier? Not revealing such data may indeed someday be seen as antisocial. “

    That’s not even a good theory, everybody knows that people do lie online. Everybody lies is not only a good House-ism but probably the only truth out there. People lie about their age, sex, income, what they had for lunch – you name it. Anyone who takes anything made public on the web by others at face value does so at their own risk. So you’ll need to verify their claims. Maybe by installing mandatory cameras and microphones in their homes? Where do you draw the line?

  • Pingback: Transfer()

  • Pingback: Warum auch Datenschützer nackt in die Sauna gehen()

  • Pingback: Privatspähre-Paradoxon in Deutschland | Yasni Blog()

  • Marina

    Davos ist a german town?
    Don’t tell this the peolpe of switzerland. :-)

  • Wunderbar! Loved the parallel, as I’m German and have marveled at the way you Anglos are attached to their trunks too – and you’ve got a point about Germans and Street View and Facebook as well. Yet I’d like to draw your attention to a couple of problems I have with the analogy.

    1. The point about a sauna being a protected sphere, rather than a public one, has already been made. There’s another thing. I can be pretty sure that the personal information is volatile – people I meet in a sauna tend to forget about the biometrical details of my private parts (I hope). And they’re not machine searchable either.

    2. The creepy thing about Facebook is that the company aims to create a data ghost of everything I do. I know about the potential marketing value of using such a data ghost in a behavioral model, which bothers me because (a) that means that someone is bound to use this technology – and misuse it – and (b) these guys are making money of me – without me getting any of it.

    3. This is a one-time decision – while I can decide to skip going to the sauna next time, once my data is in the public sphere, there is no getting it back. The issue of control is very important here, and indeed one key decision in German privacy law states that there is a citizen’s right of control over one’s data. I guess that judgement just was in our national character. It is quite evident that the Supreme Court which made that decision had large corporations and the government in mind, not a dynamic environment of interoperable public datasets and APIs. Pretty old-fashioned mindset we’ve got there.

  • Pingback: Google, Privacy, Germany()

  • Jeff,

    thanks for this great post. In fact I agree with the idea behind it and the meme as comparison between privacy in a sauna and privacy on the internet. But only because it is a great starting point for a conversation. The comments on this post show, that the argument worked the way it should.

    But coming back to being nude in a sauna in Germany, there is a simple other reason why we love to be naked while sweating and refreshing in this wonderful invention from Finland. It’s all about hygiene. It is seen very insanitary wearing a bathing suit or such thing in there. Think of sweat flowing into this clothing and then flowing to the wood of the benches. The other reason is that only naked the sweat on the body parts that are above the towel while sitting on the bench may flow freely and cool your body. As nature intended it to do. No towel means better cooling. Easy, isn’t it?

  • Struppi

    the main different between showing my penis in the public and make a big company able to get as much data from me as they want, is that the first I can control myself – I can show what I want and I can see who see me.

    But I never can see what google (or another big comapnies) do with my data I am not even able to see what they really know about me.

    And yes, I now google dashboard, I checked it yesterday, they said I was serching for “dicke Frauenärsche” (fat bottom girls) but I never did.

    After this, I start to use another search engines.

  • Stephan

    Hello Jeff,

    It may seem as a paradox on first sight, but i don’t think this holds on a closer look. “Datensparsamkeit” (=data austerity?) is a basic principle of german data privacy, which has nothing to do with privacy, or lack of it, in a public sauna.

    Its here to avoid gentrification, for one example, and to avoid ubiquitous dragnet investigation. Its here to avoid false positives in giant official databases. Its here to avoid abuse. Its all about big brother. Whats that got to do with sauna?

    Thats why we, in consent with european fellow citizens, do not want to expose our international money transfers to US authorities, as can be seen in the current decision of the european parliament on that topic. Thats why we do not want to share passenger data with american homeland security.

    As for google streetview: this discussion might have gone over the top a little, maybe, but i do not think its a central topic among german net activists.

    best regards,

  • Good read.
    I’m actually close to ditch what I call the online burka. Why should I try to hide who I am online? Do I try to in the real world? However it’s a matter of control. And I say it’s only a matter of time until representing who you are online like offline is normality.

  • tonycrouton

    Oh man, you did not understand it. Comparing a visit to the sauna with an interference in fundamental rights is stupid. Or are we being forced to go into the sauna? Huh?

  • cm

    Why call this a paradox? Outside of Germany, who is to call that a paradox? Everywhere in the world has its conventions that seem strange to outsiders.

    To many it is strange that USA crows about the First Amendment yet only manages to rank around 30th or so in press freedom rankings.

    Personal freedom is supposedly a big thing in USA, yet being gay seriously erodes any chance at any elected position. Many other countries don’t care about the sexuality of their elected representatives, CEOs or military.

    Very few people outside the USA can comprehend these discrepancies.

    And I’m sure you and many readers shake their heads at some things that us New Zealanders do.

    In many parts of the world, being naked has nothing to do with privacy. That is part of your US world-view and you won’t understand other parts of the world if you try to view them through American eyeballs.

    • Don’t you see that I am poking at the American paradox; it’s we who have problems with our bodies and I make fun of that and the lady in the towel as our representative. I am skewering exactly what you ask me to skewer.

  • Stephan

    defining paradox: A sauna being ” a very cool one” – that sounds like a paradox to me. (scnr)

    • Eric Gauvin

      nice one…

  • Jeff, I highly support your attitude that everyone should be free to share whatever information about him/herself that (s)he wants to share. I understand your attitude that more openness is for the better. And I’m totally with you when you say “I don’t want to reveal anything about myself that robs someone else of their control of their privacy.”

    This is where I think your argument is flawed. Everyone should have the right to have control over what we reveals about himself and to what extent. Yet we increasingly see this right violated by the likes of Google and Facebook. You say you don’t understand why Germans (the Swiss, too, for that matter) make such a fuss about it – when they are in fact merely protecting their right to have control over what information they share. Which is what you claim to be essential later in your article.

    • On one of the links, I discuss the nature of “public.” What happens in public is public and to share and make that available is not a violation of privacy, I argue; if we allow that to happen, we will kill journalism and the ability of reporters to report on what happens in public; we will hamper speech. That is part of this discussion. Thus I don’t think Google taking a picture of you on a public street is a violation of privacy; it’s public. Facebook gives you the controls to decide what you want public (one can well criticize how well they do that, of course!).

      • I wasn’t thinking of Street View so much (I don’t see it as completely unproblematic, but would not make too much of a fuss about it). Rather, I was referring to Google making visible the people you email with most frequently in Google Buzz. Or Facebook collecting tons of data of people who are NOT registered with Facebook (thanks to address book synching by people who are on Facebook). It’s paradox: To regain control over their data, people would be forced to join Facebook first. These are issues that need to be addressed as Google and Facebook are pretty strong in changing the way we think about privacy and how we are able to keep control over our data.

        Datenschützer (do you have a word for that in English?) in Germany and Switzerland might be panicing a bit too much, but I think their overall point is more than valid.

  • Pingback: opt in « LinkedInsider Deutschland()

  • otto

    In my opinion it’s about choice! And beeing naked in the sauna and wanting privacy isn’t a paradox, it’s your choice! I don’t want a company to decide for me what to share and what not to.

    I’m not against sharing at all, but I want to decide what to share and what not. And I think it’s not fair to be demanded to live total publicly or otherwise be deemed as beeing antiquated. Maybe I just don’t want to report the state of my penis to the whole world. I don’t mind others doing it if they want to, but thats their (or your) choice ;).

  • Somebody Out There

    There is something very simple: if you have no body, you have really no problem with nudity. If you have no brain …

  • mindcontrol

    How can you oversee the connection between privacy of personal data and the methodic misuse of power which happened twice in Germany during the last century? The Nazi- and Stasi-Regime didn’t even have the possibilities of data mining the internet provides today but both dictatorships were based on accumulated knowledge about every single person in the country. History has shown enough that ‘man is evil’ – there will be forces that misuse the huge amounts of personal data which is gathered by the massive, unmindful use of information technology.

    ‘Knowledge is power’ (Francis Bacon), so privacy is an important factor for the balance of power between the state and the people. Maybe a reading of Nietzsche (‘The Will to Power’) could shed some light on the darker nature of man. To avoid a reiteration of history, it is the political responsibility of each citizen of a modern state to know what can happen if you don’t care about your personal data.

  • Privacy

    Nobody is urged to go to a public sauna, if he don’t like being nake in the public. But you will loose participation in the global world if you deny body scanners.

    Today the procedure at airports is more harmful and humbling than the former control at the border between western and eastern Germany

    An absolut security is impossible – even giving up all human rights.


  • LX

    Hi, Jeff. I have no problem with anyone seeing me naked while being in a public sauna. Try taking photos in this german sauna and you will most probably be bodily thrown out. It may be a public place, but nothing that happens there should be drawn to the broader public.

    Yet I do have a problem with corporations and government services seeing everything there is to know about me “naked” – because I am sure that sooner or later someone will find a way to abuse this informations against me.

    Greetings, LX

  • jhohn

    You are so typical American!

    Nothing more to say.

    • A touch of anti-American bigotry there, eh? Helpful.

  • jan

    hi, i am from germany.
    very good text. it is ok to be naked. ok, not outside, it is pretty cool today.
    it is only ok to be naked if everyone is. if you would try to enter this sauna with a bathsuit you would realize that this is the deal.
    if my neighbor knows everythink about me and i don`t know his name, i would call him a stalker.
    your wife can know your creditcardnumber and you can know hers and thats no problem
    so if the gouverment or google or someone else knows me it is no problem if i also knows everything about them. but i do not know.
    so let us all fly naked, no big deal. to be touched and scanned and profiled by someone i do not know is humilating.
    but on the other hand, that is life, others are more powerful than us.
    so i end with a german proverb:
    the german people will never start a rebellion, because then they would have to walk on the lawn and that is forbitten. (lenin)

    ps. hope my english is not as bad as my teacher had always told me…

    • Konnor

      Nien , deine english ist gut :)

  • peter arnett II

    Yeah privacy kills – why not talking to your very own doc bout dick ? ashamed ?- make your tests & everything could be fine – medical system is anyway wrong wrong wrong – did read I.Illich ? (& understood ?) – german lacks are incredible indeed , but they lemme enter 10 times easier than any US-airport would do – and underwear-bomber ?? what a lousy one, i heard so many better (since jet-fuel lol) – i feel sorry for your citizens having just corrupted medias – hows about – weapons of mass deception ??? right on right on ! nice all in 1 line = 1 connection G00.-FB-Ns – still wonder why americans invaded europe – if not makin it another disneyland – lol tobacco , hollywood , TV & nuclear nightmare diplomacy – us in southeurope also dont have any words / translation for blog – its an ugly word anyway and i try to avoid it whenever i can ( while bloggin hehe ) -!! Publicness has only Benefits for WEAK pple declaring themselves as unaware , incompetent and obeying – same as all Religions . Aware pple giv a darn about sharing their golden (unrepeatable) time with mediocrity . chew this O’Neill –

  • Pingback: Dan's Netzlog » Blog Archive()

  • Pingback: Weekly 5-6/10 | [Gregel Dot Com]()

  • Pingback: Öffentlichkeit ? Privatsphäre? | Mathias Richel()

  • Hmm

    Well, what if I don’t go to a Sauna? Does that grant me the right to stand up against body scanners?

  • Pingback: Offen wie ein Buch « kadekmedien's Blog()

  • Pingback: Social Privacy: Wie haltet Ihr es mit der Privatsphäre bei Facebook & Co? » t3n News()

  • roland

    What seems to be missed by most posts is that people do not want to show their sexual arousal in public. I find the openess good but I would not want to offend by clearly wanting another woman. For me un aroused is not sexy as such a plane full of scanned fully clothed reaching its destination in safety is small price to pay. Sitting naked in a sauna with a partner when a sexy lady comes and sits opposite is not a relaxing experience.

  • Pingback: Steve Jobs vs. Bild´s “Seite 1 Girl” | nowNthen()

  • Pingback: Data Without Borders Episode 13: Money without Borders :: Data Without Borders()

  • I don’t understand why you consider the Sauna cultural convention a paradox on privacy issues. Everybody agrees on cultural conventions and moral standards on how to behave during a sauna visit. Co-Ed or not, prude or not, we would all consider it rude if, say, someone told others about the size of your private parts after he saw you nude in the sauna. It would be especially rude if it were sauna’s staff members doing so. In a similar vein, we also all agree that the staff members of a hotel should respect their visitors’ privacy. It would be illegal if a doctor sold our health data to anyone else for profit, but for sauna visitors and hotel stuff, it would only be “rude”, a violation of our moral conventions, yet these conventions work.

    For private data on corporate internet servers, there is no such moral code, yet. We have not really agreed on what we consider rude.

    Is it ok that Facebook aggregates data about non-members to profile them, without their consent or knowing? Is it ok that Google tracks our behaviour on wide parts of the web through Adsense and Analytics and combines it with our search history to create a profile of our interests? Of course everybody can take a photo of a house and publish it somewhere, but this is not the right analogy for a massive systematic database of photos of every street and every house in the city/country/world.

    And is it ok if these data are used against us?

    If the mail order company doesn’t take my order because of my streetview photo. If customs takes me for an extra questioning because my Amazon shopping history shows my interest in books that some automated or human profiler considered unusual. Or because I’m on a no-fly list nobody knows how to get off. If police makes me a suspect because someone in the looser parts of my social network graph had turned into a criminal. Or because my cell phone just happened to be close to the scene of a crime.

    We do not have a working etiquette on how to deal with such private data, yet. Especially not for how to deal with negative results from aggregated data that lead to real life disadvantages for people.

  • Pingback: » Was ist Privatsphäre? Gedanken zu einer hysterischen Diskussion()

  • Pingback: Jeff Jarvis: Das deutsche Privatsphäre-Paradox | Spreeblick()

  • Pingback: YuccaTree Post + » Jeff Jarvis und die Private Parts()

  • Sascha

    I don’t see any paradox in your story. The difference between a sauna visit and the other examples: You are free to visit a sauna, it’s only up to you! But You can’t say NO to body scanning at the airport (except if You want to stay on mother earth).
    You whole paradox story is based on one (personal) experience and doesn’t seem to be very obvious for me. Sorry!

  • Herman the German

    Mr. Jarvis,

    It is honorable that you have tried a view beyond your own nose.

    It is not about the benefits of public nudity, no speed limits on the highway, easy access to pornography for adults and beer drinking in public which might seem surprising to an American visiting Germany.

    Due to a different history and culture, most Germans are not pleased by the thought of being on the web without privacy.

    You might understand this better if you look closer at German laws which differ greatly from the ones in the United States, based in history and culture of each country. Germany has had the Nazi Third Reich, the Communist GDR in the Eastern part, and the current government which also tries to do everything barely legally possible to curtail the civil rights of its citizens.

    All three different conditions of the same country have created a strong aversion against “them up there” to trace and supervise everyone’s single move among many citizens. Still, you have to register within seven days if you move to a new address or get fined. Your new registered address is printed on your identity card. Without possessing a validly correct mandatory state-issued identification card, a German is nonexistent in his own country and subject to criminal prosecution.

    Also, for instance, there is no such thing as “Free Speech” in the German public or for German bloggers and website owners.

    There are certain things which must not be publicly (i.e. on the web and in the real world) said or doubted. This includes symbols, gestures and pictures, too. If one decides to do, it will be judged as criminal offense and the German citizen (or foreign national living in Germany) will be brought to court and fined, resulting in the usual follow-ups like losing freedom (temporary), money, the job and often enough even the computer.

    For a missing imprint with full name and address on a German website you will be made to pay a legal fine.

    By the way, the same applies to foreign passport holders staying on German territory.

    Every nation has its own ways of behaving.

    Regards, Herman

  • Pingback: re:publica 2010: Jeff Jarvis’ Penis und die Sache mit der Privatsphäre » t3n News()

  • Herman the German

    TRANSLATION of the opinion of:

    Arno Schmidt
    February 11, 2010 at 12:20 pm

    Germany has a long tradition of the state trying to curtail the private sphere of its citizens . During the the times of the Third Reich, random police raids were a daily occurrence. Families going to church on Sundays were photographed.

    Since the end of World War II, the Germans radically broke with this kind of political system (which could be called the precursor of the modern surveillance state).

    Such a tradition is nonexistent in the U.S. Until September 11th, 2001, the state showed little interest in the everyday life of its citizens.

    In my opinion, Americans have not recognized yet which dangers hide behind the surveillance and data collecting which is getting out of hand. I hope a civil rights movement will establish with the goal of repelling the “data hydra” state.

  • Pingback: re:publica 2010()

  • Pingback: Jeff Jarvis: “The German Privacy Paradox” (re:publica10) « BarbNerdy()

  • Roadkill

    I think the german paradoxon you described isn’t (from a german pov) because you’re mixing up privacy and feelings of shame, which are two completely diffenrent beasts in my book.

    And a word for Tillmann too:
    >Keep in mind, you are arguing with a people, that can well read traffic
    >accident statistics, but choose to enjoy warp speed on the autobahn
    We can probably enjoy the warp speed because we know the statistics and they say that that the autobahn is pretty safe. Not just compared to german non-autobahn but also compared internationally. The USA has twice as much deaths in traffic per million citizen.

  • Pingback: Öffentlichkeit vs. Privatsphäre? | Gedankendusche()

  • Pingback: ruhr:publica 2010 » Pottblog()

  • Pingback: Zürcher Presseverein » Schweizer im Zukunftslabor der Publizisten()

  • Pingback: oreillyblog » Das war die re:publica 2010()

  • privacy equals the personal decision to go into the sauna? only an American could come up with something like that. i am sorry, but this is just complete bs.

    your comparison is not the right now. it is not me going into the sauna equals google streetview or facebook, but me in the sauna being filmed by someone unknown to me who makes money of that movie vs google streetview or facebook. that is the comparison you should make and i bet if you would have asked how germans feel about that they would have balked just as they balk about google street view.

    germans have a couple of principles and data privacy is a key one (if you look into the countries history this might be understandable … people do not want others to know what religion you have for example). another principle is that your rights go as far as they do not interfere with any other person’s rights. so yes people can take pictures and post them on facebook but if another person doesn’t feel like they want to share that picture they have to have a means to know about the picture being shared and a means to have it removed.

    so next time please get your comparisons right. these half thought out ideas might be a reason that germans don’t like blogs.

    • I address much of this in my talk. I will put the video up as soon as it is available. I’m making a larger point about the opportunity to ask why what is private is private and what is public is public. You are missing that point.

  • Pingback: Mein re:publica 2010 Fazit | Gilly's playground()

  • Pingback: …schnipsel von der re:publica10 « grüne blogtüte()

  • Pingback: Peter Kruse auf der re:publica 10 » Vortrag, Gruppe, Jarvis, Beeindruckt, Prof, Peter » Mr. Gadget()

  • Pingback: re:publica10?–?Rückblick Tag 1 |

  • Pingback: Themenblog » Blog Archiv » Nackt im Netz()

  • Otto

    What most foreigners consider “the germans” is nothing more than a thankfully small “krakelende Minderheit” (squealing/screaming minority) composed of aging 1968er Hippies, Peace movement leftovers and otherself-proclaimed “Intellectuals”. They are ignored by most of the population over here and rightly so. What those people want is a Nanny-Society where everything is protected and controlled. There you will have the right of free opinions and free action – as long as it’s THEIR OPINION and THEIR ACTIONS.

    Joe Average over here functions quite different. We decide what we want to do and if those “Intellectuals” don’t take no for an answer – well the method used by the local IG Metall guys in 1970 still works today: Open window, grab Hippie, throw Hippie, close Window (They landed in a pond)

    And that works for all parts of my life. If I want to post pictures of me “mad drunk and resisting the guards” well than it’s my choice to do so. If I want to blog on the net – My choice. As the old saying goes “Each my find happiness by his own means” (Frederic II of Prussia). Sure, minors need some protection and some stuff is simply illegal but outside of that – let me decide and keep out of my life.

    Otoh some of the arguments from that minority are at least good, plain fun. Like “Thiefs will use Google Streetview to sniff out my house” – Get real and read how most burglaries happen (Hint: The average burglar DOESN’T research!). Some like the ever-present Nazi-Toothpick (Started out as a Nazi-Club but constant abuse has reduced it) are just plain booooring, similar to “Hitler week” on TV (around end of April/Early May german TV typically is swamped with movies/educational shows on “The bad, bad Hitler/Nazis”)

    So my suggestion is: DON’T listen to the big german forums or german “prime rate” media (Spiegel, ARD/ZDF etc) if you want the average german’s opinion on that stuff. Come over here, have some beer and read the Bild or watch RTL. That’s where Otto Normalverbraucher (Joe Sixpack) can be found.

  • Pingback: re:publica 2010 | Blogging meets the real world | Meshed Conference()

  • Pingback: Große Gedanken bei der re:publica (Teil 1) « Musiol Munzinger Sasserath()

  • Pingback: re:publica 2010! Die Messe zur Netzwelt – Blogschau - Die blog auf dem politik, von das Politik experien()

  • Pingback: netdefences » Blog Archive » Internet and statehood – the battle over informational asymmetries()

  • Pingback: Street View in Bielefeld – Unendliche Geschichte |

  • Pingback: re:publica 2010: US-Blogger Jeff Jarvis über Privatsphäre, Öffentlichkeit und … Genitalien | 13. Stock Online Relations()

  • Pingback: | Re:publica 2010 Nachtrag()

  • Pingback: Die Burka der anderen | fxneumann · Blog von Felix Neumann()

  • Pingback:

  • Pingback: republica2010 – Willkommen in der Subkultur | Public Correlations()

  • Hi Jeff,

    I think there is a point to what you’ve written here. Namely, we should in fact think about the necessity of defending our right for privacy. Now, what I don’t understand is the point you’ made about future generations. This in fact a difficult question and maybe most of the actions protecting privacy today might be considered antisocial tomorrow. So, there is a possible conflict between future generation needs and my own personal needs today. In fact something similar already happened before, for example with nuclear energy which many people today consider to be antisocial while the inventors probably hoped to solve the energy needs of all human beings. Now, I think maybe the flaw of their vision was that they didn’t take into consideration the existing human society in which some ruled over many. If I take our society structure and put it into your reasoning for a more relaxed handling of privacy I have one very heavy reason for controlling the amount of privacy I release into the web. Our society is based on growth and growth needs profit. So, profit is a very strong incent for large, powerful corporate business institutions to use information about me in order to gain more profit and fuel growth. The future distopia that might unfold here is a society in which maybe alchohol or otherwise addicted individuals are lead into temptation by precise, personal marketing strategies. The probability of this scenario becomes clear if we take a look at how much effort and money is already spent to influence consumer decision processes. So, in this case we need to ask ourselves whose needs are more important. Personally, I tend towards a more restrictive privacy control because profit and growth are financial and not moral values driving most of human effort at the moment.

  • Pingback: Facebook, Jeff Jarvis und die Erbsünde in der Share Economy | Werbeblogger – Weblog über Marketing, Werbung und PR » Blog Archiv » Facebook, Jeff Jarvis und die Erbsünde in der Share Economy()

  • Hansen

    About blogging in Germany:

    Keep in mind that under German law, the blogger goes to jail for comments his readers made in his blog.

    When these comments are legally punishable, the blogger will be in serious trouble if he does not erase these comments himself immediately.

    Illegal comments are libel of a person, publishing private data of a person, damage to someone’s reputation, spreading national socialist ideas, doubting what the government declared as facts about national-socialist crimes and a few more. There are existing laws which outlaw any public utterance of this kind.

    “Freedom of Speech” means something different in the German lawbooks than in the American ones. Each to their own.

  • Pingback: Facebook: The Privacy Issue « Get Me Info!()

  • Pingback: DIE ZEIT Debate with Jeff Jarvis()

  • Pingback: Privacy is overrated «

  • Pingback: Kommunikation – zweinull » re:publica 2010 – Studienreise und Klassenfahrt re:loaded()

  • Pingback: Die Vorbereitung des Verlusts der Anonymität « … Kaffee bei mir?()

  • You probably were in the wrong sauna. In the Therme Erding and many other locations happen it clearly more loosely.

  • Pingback: 123people zegeviert in Duitse rechtszaak en mag foto tonen in zoekresultaten Gratis online persberichten posten – PR Post – Public Relations 2.0 |()

  • Pingback: Das Deutsche Paradoxon | NeueWerbung()

  • Pingback: Das Deutsche Privatspären Paradox | NeueWerbung()

  • Pingback: Faszination Social Media: Die Relativität der Privatsphäre « kadekmedien's Blog()

  • Pingback: Eyes wide shut | NeueWerbung()

  • Pingback: » Wie haben die Menschen im Heute gelebt?()

  • Pingback: Buchmesse 2010 eBook Roundup » Debatte »

  • kerim

    There is no paradox.
    Its just a question of “control” or “ownership of data”
    When you enter the sauna it is your choice to do so. You are in control and you are responsible for your acts. Nobody is allowed to take pictures there or use them in any way he wants.

    If you want to participate on facebook you are not really in control of your data. You do not really know what happens with the data and who might use it or where it might end up. Just a short while ago you were not even able to have your data deleted from facebook.

    Same for google street view. I want to have a choice whether people can see how and where i live.

  • Pingback: German Google Analytics users could face fines in privacy row()

  • Pingback: German Google Analytics users could face fines in privacy row | Ace Campaign()

  • Pingback: WG002: Nichts Persönliches! | Wikigeeks - der Podcast mit gesellschaftlichen Netzthemen()

  • People worry about the most frivolous things. Nudity is one of these things as is privacy either way it simply doesn’t matter. If someone sees me naked am I going to care? Probably but only because society says I’m suppose to. Am I going to care if Google takes my picture? Probably not because in American society most people probably would feel the same way.

  • Pingback: Jeff Jarvis: Public Parts «

  • frank burnsf

    I don’t get the anecdote —

    She slammed the door and pulled out and we heard her husband pleading, “No, really, it’s OK, honey. Yes, it’s supposed to be co-ed.”

    Certainly she must have known it was coed, since she was entering with her husband, right?

    • There’s a punchline I didn’t know at the time that I end up writing about in my book.

  • such a great post, i m German too so i know what the german paradox means :)

    • Next well, I’m planning to post an excerpt about Germany.

  • “However, they fail at filtering and estimating risks and threats”


    I don’t look at this “culture of sharing knowledge” like risky at all. When I read something on the web, if i don’t know the autor well enough, I double check the information. Even printed books can be imprecise. I think that checking the reliability of a source it’s up to us.
    It’s true that bloggers sometimes can be imprecise or false or simply born to advertise a product. Anyway, I like our current culture of “sharing knowledge”. Often, I really feel like I’m a world citizen, even if i live in a small town, because I can read different realities in a click. Also, it can happen that, surfing the web, I run into something I didn’t know, something I’ve never thought about and… I learn. Or I can start learning from that point, looking from more information, thanks to that little input. It doesn’t matter if it was accurate or not. That element pushed me to search for more and that’s what really counts to me.
    I like to think there are more advantages than downsides in this culture.

    Kind regards,

  • Pingback: Medial Digital» Medienvisionen Neu » “We ain’t seen nothin’ yet” – Jeff Jarvis’ neues Buch “Public Parts”()

  • “We lack a culture of sharing our knowledge”
    I think you’re generalizing too much. Maybe you just know some people that act this way, but the german people I know are the most generous ever!

  • Pingback: Für die Öffentlichkeit | hildwin()

  • Pingback: » Grandfather Nerd 1.0: Jeff Jarvis entdeckt „Gutenberg The Geek“()

  • Jeff,

    Thank you for this thread, and for your related discussions on, by which I suppose I mean This Week In Google. It made for interesting conversations on my last two trips to Munich. Earlier this year, I noticed a small yellow sign in a friend’s bathroom which indicated that Germans certainly have the ability to laugh about the larger privacy issues. I certainly burst out laughing! My friend even gave me the sign after I commented on it!

    It reads:

    Aus hygenischen Gründen wird diese Toilette videoüberwacht.

    Which translates to “For reasons of hygiene, this toilet is under video surveillance. My apologies if I bungled the translation!

    I can send you a JPEG if you would like it.

  • Pingback: Will German Politicians Adapt to New Trends in Digital Campaigning? | MSLGROUP BLOG()

  • zayiflamak

    Günümüzde erkekler çevreye bağlı sorunlar nedeniyle iktidarsızlık ve çeşitli cinsel sorunlar yaşayabilirler. Bu sorunlarını gidermek için çin topu kullanımı gerçekleştirilebilir.

  • Pingback: Chelsea Handler is no fan of Germany | IQ-Atrophie()

  • Pingback: Where Does Privacy in the Internet end? – On Global Differences And What to Learn from Prism and the Sauna | Big Data Experience()

  • Pingback: A Busman’s Holiday (or, different strokes for different folks) | What Freesat thinks()

  • Pingback: Schweizer im Zukunftslabor der Publizisten | Zürcher Presseverein()

  • Pingback: Queer As Turbofolk (Part V): In, Out, Shake It All About? | Balkanist()

  • Pingback: Webcam abkleben & Datensparsamkeit | IQ-Atrophie()

  • Pingback: Suzi Sperber()