Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Private and the public

Lately the topic of “Privacy” has gotten again more attention. Facebook’s recently announced and then reversed change of its privacy policy has generated a lot of chatter in the blogosphere. It seems that there are two different points of views that prevail in this discussion. One is that personal information should be protected as much as possible since personal information belong to a private space of a person and should be protected by all means (dominant thought in most European countries). The other point of view is that industries should self regulate themselves to a large degree, since every other attempt of protecting privacy will hinder innovation and increase the level of unnecessary bureaucracy (dominant thought in the US). 

Some of the smarter discussions around this topic notice that there seems to be a significant difference between the attitude of younger and older people. Younger people seem to be much more comfortable in sharing personal information (think Facebook), whereas older people are much more reluctant to share this kind of information. The heated discussion seem to follow pretty strictly these different age groups. 

One of the smartest contribution to this topic is Kevin Kelly’stalk from 2007 where he outlines the argument that the core of the issue is not the questions of private versus public space. He observes/predicts a fundamental shift of the meaning and purpose of private and public space. Private becomes public when the benefit of transparency (transformation of the private into the public) outweighs the downside of entering the public. He argues that the ultimate development of one Internet machine in the cloud, containing all relevant public and personal information, will be an uniquely public space without the traditional borders between private and public. This virtual space will have conquered previously private defined areas, but with such tremendous benefits that there is no reason to complain. Transparency and its benefits will outweigh privacy concerns. 

One might disagree with Kevin Kelly but his reasoning demonstrates that the discussion of privacy is not as simple as it seems. It entails a more in-depth dialogue about the kind of technology based and enabled society we will be (or want to have) in ten or twenty years


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