March 13, 2010    /    by

What's Next for Privacy?

 I read a very interesting CNET article yesterday entitled, "Why no one cares about privacy anymore." I urge you to take five ...

 I read a very interesting CNET article yesterday entitled, "Why no one cares about privacy anymore." I urge you to take five minutes and read it. If you have ten minutes more, continue on and read the comments.

 Here's an interesting excerpt:

  "Norms are changing, with confidentiality giving way to openness. Participating in YouTube, Loopt, FriendFeed, Flickr, and other elements of modern digital society means giving up some privacy, yet millions of people are willing to make that trade-off every day. Of people with an online profile, nearly 40 percent have disabled privacy settings so anyone may view it, according to a Pew Internet survey released a year ago. The percentage is probably higher today." 

Or how about this intriguing interview with appeals court judge, senior lecturer and author Richard Posner: "As a social good, I think privacy is greatly overrated because privacy basically means concealment. People conceal things in order to fool other people about them. They want to appear healthier than they are, smarter, more honest and so forth." That isn't a defense of snooping as much as a warning of the flip side of privacy--concealing facts that are discreditable, including those that other people have a legitimate reason for knowing."

 There is no doubt that many young people have different views on these topics than the baby boomers. One key question revolves around the defaults in "opting-in" versus "opting-out" of various privacy settings. Like so many other aspects of technology, anonymity can be used for good or for evil.

 So why do I mention this now? There are thousands of implications to thought-provoking questions on privacy. We build laws around protecting medical records, family data and more, but what if people freely give away very personal information about themselves? How do we know where someone obtained personal information about someone else? Should we be building laws, rules and regulations for the most private person in society or the majority or multiple different systems for different viewpoints?

 Yes, these are hard questions to answer. But as these articles and interviews point out, many leaders are forging forward without asking for permission. No doubt, they are pushing the envelope, asking for forgiveness when necessary, but not slowing down.

 As a security and privacy advocate, I am in no way suggesting that we can ignore nor diminish the importance of protecting legally protected records. We all know that credit cards, social security numbers and medical records are legally protected. But we can also expect to see cases where medical records were freely shared by patients on social networking sites. Our challenge will be to deal with those who want to share and those who don't and to give them options - which is harder than a one size fits all.

As we write or modfiy our polices on social networks at work, protect our sensitive records, build cloud computing with new interfaces and engage our citizens in the 21st century, the definition of privacy will be constantly changing. Government technology professionals need to be aware of the various perspectives.

What are your thoughts on where privacy is going?