SPOT-ON Writers:  Nolan  |  Klosky  |  Holt  |  Schmidt  |  Martinelli
Jackson  |  Spinney  |  Weeks  |  Kaul  |  Rodriguez  |  Allbritton

Archives for Modern Life

You Have Zero Privacy — Enjoy It!

Apr
23
2009

Oracle Corporation is the apparent winner in the $7.4 billion race (power walk?) to buy Sun Microsystems. I’m not a tech industry analyst, so I don’t have a lot to add to the conversations taking place over the financial or industrial implications, but the deal does bring to mind the now infamous words of former Sun CEO Scott McNealy, who said in 1999, “You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it.”

That quote has echoed down through the years since it was first uttered and it is either praised for its insight or decried with varying degrees of fervor depending upon your view on the subject. For my part, I think McNealy was spot-on – and dead wrong. You have zero privacy — enjoy it!

“Zero privacy” was McNealy’s way of pointing out that the then-nascent issue of the Internet’s impact on consumer privacy was merely accelerating the pace at which an individual’s personal information could be gathered, accessed, processed, and put to use by the organizations already using and abusing names, addresses, telephone numbers, and credit profiles. And he was absolutely right. Our personal information has always been part of the currency required to transact business, but the democratization of commerce in the Internet age opened a vast array of new opportunities to access and put that currency into circulation.

Yet pronouncements of privacy’s death, it turns out, have been hoist by their own digital petard. That same democratization has given individuals – you and me – more control over that information and more say in the privacy of our personal information.

I am a big believer in the marketplace of ideas and have full confidence that, as a whole, regular folks are smart enough to make their own good decisions. Others disagree, and have made it their life’s purpose to urge state and federal governments to layer more and more legislation on top of an already byzantine regulatory landscape that seems to have only one purpose: protecting people from themselves. Thanks, but I like to make my own decisions.

Crusaders like the Center for Digital Democracy and its director Jeff Chester seem to never be satisfied until their vision of how the world should be has been foist upon an ignorant and ungrateful nation. Their weapons – volume and hysteria – are brandished against corporate American in the mistaken belief that there is evil lurking behind every successful business plan.

The Federal Trade Commission recently issued a repudiation of the demands of overzealous privacy advocates like Chester when it allowed the online advertising industry to self-regulate rather than issue a set of rules that would likely be obsoleted by the inexorable march of innovation by the time the rules were ratified. The guidelines, drafted under the Bush Administration and issued by the FTC this past February, were delivered with a stern warning when Commissioner Jon Leibowitz said, “This could be the last clear chance to show that self-regulation can – and will – effectively protect consumers’ privacy in a dynamic online marketplace.”

Companies like Google and Microsoft, popular targets for the advocates’ ire, have been pretty good citizens in spite of what has been implied. But under the Obama administration Liebowitz’s lingering threat might be enough to keep companies from taking too many chances. Taking chances is what innovation is all about – it’s in the DNA of many tech companies – so it’s anyone’s guess who wins this fight.

(more…)

Posted by Mike Spinney at 10:00 AM | Permalink

spinney
Mike Spinney's bio | Email Mike Spinney




Get Our Weekly Email Newsletter




What We're Reading - Spot-On Books

Hot Spots - What's Hot Around the Web



Spot-on.com | Promote Your Page Too

Spot-on Main | Pinpoint Persuasion | Spotlight Blog | RSS Subscription | Spot-on Writers | Privacy Policy | Contact Us