Wednesday, July 27, 2011

What the Murdoch Phone Hacking Scandal Highlights About Privacy Rights...

Following up on my previous examination of Internet privacy, L. Gordon Crovitz just wrote in the Wall Street Journal how the Murdoch phone hacking scandal, being such a clear violation of privacy, really serves to highlight just how ambiguous privacy is in other areas.

In the phone hacking case, there was little outrage when celebrities and royalty had their voicemail compromised, perhaps because these people have chosen to live public lives. But when the hacking reached private people, such as the family of Milly Dowler, the young murder victim in Britain — with messages erased that gave false hope to the parents that the girl might still be alive — everyone was outraged.

It's certainly true that society has different expectations of privacy rights for individuals who choose to lead public lives versus those who wish to remain private. The problem is that, in the Age of Facebook, everyone chooses to lead public lives to some extent.

How do we reconcile this? Approaches that only seek to strengthen privacy seem to miss the big picture - they're certainly part of the equation, but they fail to account for the larger complexities of the issue. In other words, to use Crovitz' analogy, if all we focus on is how it should be illegal for the media to reveal the guest list at a prominent socialite's dinner party, we're in denial about the fact that the hostess of the party will probably blog about it in advance and that the guests will likely send Twitter updates while it's under way.

Focusing on that reality is the real challenge in the contemporary Internet privacy debate. And Crovitz has it exactly right...

The modern expectation of privacy is not that people will always want to remain anonymous. Instead, they expect to have a choice about how they both control and share information about themselves. Privacy should be about individual choice, not based on a predetermined definition of either confidentiality or transparency.

Thus, when we talk about enhancing "Internet privacy rights", what we should focus on is not how to protect, protect, protect at all costs. Rather, enhancing privacy rights actually means enhancing the choices that individuals have in deciding what information they want to share and with whom they want to share it with.

More options - and more easily understandable options - for the average social media user. Sounds like progress to me.


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