Redefining privacy

This was originally going to be a comment on Paul Clarke’s post about privacy and social networks — you might want to read that first.

I think we’re a short way into a process of redefining what “privacy” is and means, and which parts of it are important, and which are less important.

I think that the benefits of a more open approach — where things that once would have been considered private no longer are — are widespread, in all sorts of ways — from personal convenience to companies figuring out how to sell us more stuff.

Ultimately, most people value some aspects of their privacy so little that they are willing to let Facebook pillage their address book, for the convenience of it, or just out of curiosity. And because there are lots more of those people, the rest of us are going to be pulled along with them.

And while it may be the case many of those people only make that decision because they are ignorant of its consequences, not all of them are. And many will put the risks into the same kind of category as leaving their bike unlocked outside the corner shop, or hiding the house keys under a pot-plant — small risks, but with potentially big consequences.

I’m certainly in the group that is concerned about data privacy, but I don’t see a way out of this. All the “education” in the world is unlikely to help, because it’ll sound like nerds preaching about pedantic trivialities.

And even when really bad things happen really publicly, people won’t change their behaviour — at least, not beyond some initial hand-wringing and media panic. Because human beings suck at making rational decisions where the taking of a series of small risks for a series of small rewards carries with it the potential for big bad consequences… later… maybe.

So, since I’m going to be dragged along with this croud anyway, I feel like I may as well leap in feet-first and enjoy the benefits.

Because I’ll be exposed to the risks either way.