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See-Through Privacy

Dec
2
2004

This week’s eWeek column is about privacy. Danny Weitzner, a long-time friend of mine from the Old Country, has come up with an interesting idea about transparency and privacy and how maybe – just maybe – hiding in plain site is a good idea.


The fight over privacy drives experienced political types crazy. First, it pits tech folks who claim not to like junk mail against lots of folks who do. That Crate&Barrel catalog you got in the mail today? Technically, that’s junk mail. And it’s a safe bet you got it because you’ve shopped there or someplace very much like it. Places like Crate&Barrel pay most of the post office bills. You think mail is slow now? Just wait. I’m also surprised to talk to privacy advocates who don’t realize that American Express – to use just one example – has been happily selling information about their credit purchases since they started wielding the card. No, it’s not a coincidence that folks who eat out a lot get restaurant adverts in the mail.
Then there’s the practical aspects: If you’re an adult, you’ve probably given away most of your juicy financial secrets. You do it every time you fork over your Social Security number. And you probably don’t think about it very much. So what, exactly, do you regard as private? The answer undoubtedly varies from person to person. So do the solutions. Which is, in a nutshell, the biggest obstacle to decent privacy laws.
So Weitzner’s idea of a transparent system – one that lets information that wants to be free, open to anyone who’d like to see it – makes some sense. It’s a recognition of the current state of affairs. It’s also a nice psychological trick. Public records aren’t scrutinized as much as you might think – take it from someone who’s spent a few hours with some not-so-out-of-the-way-databases. Danny’s idea about openness and transparency flies in the face of the control-at-all-costs mentality of most tech folks. But it does — in an innovative way — start to create a civil society on line, one where folks can know one another by sharing risk as well as reward.
Anyway, you can give Danny’s idea a look at his blog and tell him what you think. I’ve paraphrased what he’s up to and I’m sure I haven’t done it justice and it’s an interesting idea, particularly if you tease it out to include the vogue for social networking and co-operating on-line.

Share  Posted by Chris Nolan at 4:02 PM | Permalink

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