The inspiration for this post came out of this interesting story about Naveen Selvadurai, co-founder of FourSquare, and his decision to share his intimate data, publicly. Here is an obviously intelligent, forward looking guy sharing his personal, health related data. Part of me doesn’t want the world to know what I weigh, how much I slept etc, but if Selvadurai wants to share his data, go for it, it’s his data — and if enough people share their data then perhaps some interesting things begin to happen, new insights, new apps. It’s the beauty of sharing, and the beauty of open source.
The key, in this instance is that Selvadurai and others who follow him are sharing their data voluntarily and asking people to look, use and analyze. It is interesting to me that this story and others like it were all over the place the week prior to the emergence of the Verizon and PRISM scandals. Perhaps it was just uncanny PR, or perhaps it was some collective, cultural tipping point of concern about privacy that witnessed this convergence. Whatever it was, privacy, and its changing nature, was in the air — and it does not look like it will go away anytime soon.
There are many directions this post could go in, many of them political; but we’ll avoid politics here to stay on the privacy issue. A smidge of additional context, however, is needed. The Verizon and PRISM scandals came to light in the wake of the IRS scandal. In light of the latter, there is a general mood of unease about this government surveillance.
What we share on platforms like Twitter, FaceBook, LinkedIn and on blogs is what we choose to share — it is in the open, it is accessible, readable and nearly eternal it would seem (it lives in caches, somewhere). Naveen Selvadurai is free to share his personal API; and I can post pictures of my kids on FaceBook (I don’t by the way, it’s not what I choose to share). The key, again, is that we share what we share on a voluntary basis, and while we may have questions about what Google, FaceBook and Twitter do with our information we should also question what the government does with our data, and have a right to do so.
If we do something wrong, or are attached to wrongdoing, we can expect to end up mentioned in a warrant and be given the once over — government can compel that sort of thing, it’s what it does. But to end up as part of a warrant merely because the government wants to “connect dots,” is something else altogether. From what I have read, these programs are legal, based on the relevant law, and perhaps necessary given the world we live in, but to the vast majority of us who are law abiding citizens this does not feel right.
I’ll end where I began: is privacy overrated? I would answer “not at all.” We’ve just altered and redefined it. We share more than any other prior generation, for good and for ill. When someone starts poking their nose into our business though, looking at things maybe we don’t want them to — and not for fear of revealing nefarious dealings — because there are some things we don’t choose to share, that is when we remember that privacy is still important, even in an era when we voluntarily share pictures of naked keg stands…