Some Animals Are More Equal When it Comes to Digital Privacy


In a recent conversation with a colleague, it suddenly struck me that while I see lots of products and services (and budget dollars) supporting IT security, there are almost no products or services supporting privacy.  Why is that?

Security is about protecting corporate data.   But let’s look at the other side of security – privacy.  Privacy is about protecting the use of personal data.  Is my personal data any less important than a company’s confidential data?  It shouldn’t be.  According the U.S. Supreme Court we’re both “persons”.   I’m feeling an Orwellian paranoia swelling up.  Not the 1984 kind, but the Animal Farm kind.


In a private company, anything marked confidential is confidential.   On the Web, things are much less clear.   Is my phone number confidential or public information?  What if I have an unlisted number?   Is my location confidential?  What about my name or email address? Sales people get sued over taking customer lists when they leave a company, so why would anyone or any company in their right mind think taking my address book is okay.  And to add insult to injury, they profit from it.  Really?!


Most people get that Web content is not free.  It is implied that the price of free content is ad presentation.  Most people are fine with this, as study after study shows.  But the reality is that most people have no idea with whom their data is shared.    And the way the Web works, most websites use other people to serve their ads or track analytics – a “3rd Party”. The “First Party” uses your data to deliver a relevant service, per their Privacy Policy, but they loose control over it once the 3rd Party touches it.  The Do Not Track initiative’s intent is to put the days of hiding behind first and 3rd parties to an end.


While commendable in it’s intent, DNT is proving near impossible in its implementation.  The cost to countless businesses to change their infrastructure and business models may prove too much for a multi-stakeholder initiative – many of whom are the people who either profit from cross-site tracking or have the greatest expense to adapt to the new standard.  Organizations such as the ACLU and the Stanford Center for Internet and Society, are working hard to keep the task force on point, but once you throw in the legal and cultural differences from country to country and the task seems daunting.


The fundamental problem with digital privacy policy today is that I DON’T GET TO CHOOSE what is confidential to me.  The choices are being made for me.  They are being made by corporate persons who carry more political and legal influence than us lesser human animals.  The definition of what is private to me versus you is simply not considered.  For most people, the privacy outrage is not based upon hiding something bad or wanting to be paid for our data, it’s is simply about having a choice.  We want and expect our rights to be respected, represented and protected.

Until each Web user has a clear choice over what data is shared, with whom, corporate persons will be more equal than you and me.

Posted in: Choice, Privacy, Uncategorized

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