Public Privacy

It’s not that I have something to hide; I just have nothing I want you to see.

The Girl (played by Amanda Seyfried) in the movie Anon

Privacy is a nebulous topic. The so-called Constitutional “privacy” of the United States is far more fluid than most people will acknowledge. In fact, based upon recent cultural shifts, it seems that privacy is becoming more of the what the cultural majority is willing to tolerate. And toleration is a key function of it.

As I write this, the US Government, along with a number of states, is suing Google, Facebook, and Amazon) regarding their potential to be a monopoly. There may well be a breakup of Google, Facebook, and even Amazon. Equally likely is that nothing will happen.

The last big lawsuit against a “monopoly” was against Microsoft. Arguably, Microsoft is stronger (yet, quieter) than it was during the lawsuit that it lost.

As the world comes to grip with being connected, we have governmental (US states) tactics that appear more along the lines of a totalitarian country than a “free” one. COVID may well either formalize privacy (and personal sovereignty) or completely destroy it.

On the other hand, the “right to be forgotten” that is “the law” in Europe is going to be interesting. It has already been used by people to selectively have their history scrubbed from search engines. Is it what the law intended? Maybe.

Then again, was the law written in an attempt to “feel good”, fix a perceived problem, fix a potential problem, or fix a real problem. What the purpose of the law, deeply affects both how it was written and how it might be interpreted.

(If you ever want to see what poorly written laws can do, see the actual legal text of the US Endangered Species Act, and the analyze how it was interpreted.)

As we move more and more to a digital world, how we view identity and privacy will be significant. We have the two easy (and polar opposite) extremes: Google/Facebook or blockchain.

Google/Facebook/Amazon is something we are all familiar with. Our internet tracks are everywhere. Plus, people add Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa (and whatever Facebook’s nameless AI is) to their homes and phones.

You may not have any of these in your home, or activated on your phones, but that doesn’t mean others don’t. In other words, you can be tracked (though, without them being yours, it’s harder than a needle in a haystack).

Blockchain technology adds a decentralization feature that anonymizes you, but yet still retains some structure that provides reputation. This means that while the blockchain may not be tied to you, it still retains a reputation of value. This, and related technologies, are decently developed. The reality is that the Google/Facebook/Amazon structure is too easy, and we’re lazy.

There is the very controlled method using privacy browsers, VPNs, and other tools and processes. Really, though, their clunky and painful to use. I use a number of them.

The quote from Anon really struck me. That pretty much sums up how I feel. Whether there will be a critical mass that feels the same and can get together to change the world is yet to be seen.