On privacy, or Why facebook is not your friend

I have long believed that privacy is an illusion, a sort of opiate for the masses. “Trusted” companies have collected our  credit/debit card records, telephone calls and text messages for years. Now it’s the archiving of facebook, twitter and foursquare updates, blogs posts and comments…and on it goes.

On the one hand we expect a certain degree of privacy, on another hand we willfully give it up and on a third hand (warning: this post is not anatomically correct), we cry “foul” when we feel our privacy has been violated. Like 99.9% of all matters internet related, none of this is new. Ma Bell always knew who you called and Visa always knew what you bought and where and when you bought it. The magnetic stripe on the back of your driver’s license probably knows who you took to the prom, for God’s sake.

Living your life online brings the fear (hysteria?) of privacy loss into sharper focus even though, in many cases, we ourselves are to blame for that loss. I would argue that “they” have long known lots more about you than you probably want to think about. Haven’t you ever watched “Law and Order”? Cell records, swiped ID cards, 7-11 debit card receipts- that’s how Jerry Orbach poked holes in your lame alibi and Sam Waterston put you away in the second act.

facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg recently, in a very offhanded and arrogant  manner, declared that the new default (non) privacy settings on facebook reflected new “social norms” and so “we just went for it.” Let me translate that for you:  a service that is used by 350 million people worldwide just made a profound change, a complete 180,  in how your information, posts, pictures, comments, videos, etc. are protected and they didn’t even bother to check with you first. They just “went for it.” (Read more here)

Awesome, dude.

Of course, you can go into your privacy settings at the top of your page and revert back to the way things were. But how many of you reading my little blog are hearing about this change for the first time? Further, one of the founding principles of facebook that kept us all coming back was that you could rightly assume that your updates, pictures and stuff were only being seen by your “friends” (another word that facebook has rendered meaningless, but that is another blog post).

This is not an anti-facebook rant, regardless of the what is contained in the previous paragraphs. I will say, however, facebook is dead wrong about this policy and may suffer the consequences. Their misguided and tin eared policy shift is akin to positing “if you don’t want someone to see you doing something bad, maybe you shouldn’t do it.” Uh huh. This illogical rejoinder is most often utilized by governments in the former Soviet Union, North Korea and more than once by the previous crew in Washington (and probably the current one, too). Privacy does not just mean secrecy, but that reductive logic is part of the price we pay in these anti-intellecutal times we live in. This “argument” in defense of “openness” renders context meaningless.

As regular readers of this blog already know, I am big fan of the author Chuck Klosterman. I read something the other day in his book “Eating the Dinosaur” that encapsulated the current state of affairs and maybe, just maybe, helps share the blame for this so-called “loss of privacy.”

“…I’m not sure that we aren’t seeing the emergence of a society in which almost everyone who isn’t famous considers themselves cruelly and unfairly unheard. As though being famous, and the subject of wide attention, is considered to be a fulfilled human being’s natural state- and so, as a corollary, the cruelly unheard millions are perpetually primed and fired up to answer any and all questions in order to redress this awful imbalance.

I fear that most contemporary people are answering questions not because they’re flattered by the attention; they’re answering questions because they feel as though they deserve to be asked. About everything. Their opinions are special, so they are entitled to a public forum. Their voice is supposed to be heard, lest their life become empty.

This, in one paragraph (minus technology), explains the rise of New Media.