The "New Privacy"

There was a great session on Online Privacy on NPR’s Science Friday today, including a guest spot by Emily Vander Veer, the author of O’Reilly’s Facebook: The Missing Manual. You can subscribe to the podcast or download today’s episode directly.

The discussion here is yet another independent confirmation of the new definition of privacy that’s emerging in American culture. We used to fight for the right not to reveal information about ourselves. The “new privacy” is about fighting for the right to spread your personal information all over very public forums but still control how it’s used. It’s an almost Escher-esque redefinition of language. To quote my own earlier writing: “If you paint something on the city wall, don’t expect it to be hidden.”

Daniel Weitzner made a big point on the show of the parallels between protection for the kind of information we display on Facebook and legislation to protect medical and financial information. He missed a crucial difference: the medical and financial information protected by those laws prevents information that must be revealed in one context (to your doctor or banker) from leaking out into other contexts. But, if you posted your bank and credit card details and medical records on a public web site for the world to see, people might accuse you of being stupid, but they wouldn’t claim that we need tighter legislation on the use of information.

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