“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.”
I see captains of American industry waiting around for a parting of the skies and a booming voice (echoing from somewhere in the vicinity of Washington, D.C.) to tell them everything’s going to be alright. The only thing they need to do is show the proper obeisance (while begging for their stimulus check).
Relying on nostalgia when American consumers demand quality, these so-called captains of industry act as if they have a right to access the wallets of the American taxpayer because of their own collective failure to perform the basic functions of their jobs, namely, manage a profit-making company profitably. If we can’t build cars for which Americans are willing to pay their hard-earned money, their logic goes, we’ll just pull an end-around and take their money via Washington.
Barack Obama is on the cusp of inheriting a nation where many of the conditions that fomented McVeigh’s terrorism not only remain, but have been exacerbated by nose-diving economic conditions and piqued political rhetoric. There’s already fear that the federal government is going to come hard after the Second Amendment — a short-fuse issue for those on the extreme political right.