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There are only two reasons to have privacy and both of them involve dysfunction. You might want privacy because...

1.       you plan to do something illegal or unethical.

or

2.       to protect you from a dysfunctional world.

I think we can agree that if the ONLY reason for privacy were to make it easier to get away with crimes and unethical behavior, society would be better off without privacy. So let's ignore the first category because it is only useful to criminals and scumbags.

The second category is more fun. My hypothesis is that in every situation in which you can think of a legitimate use for privacy you will find that the root problem is a lack of information about something else. My hypothesis is that if you fix the root problem, society no longer needs nor cares about privacy, and that is the best situation of all.

For example, let's say you have a medical condition and you would prefer that your employer not be aware of it. Is that ethical behavior? I would argue that it is unethical to withhold that information if you have a reason to think it will impact your employer in the future.

But let's say you know your medical condition will NOT impact your job performance but you fear that your boss will discriminate against you anyway. That situation feels like a legitimate use for privacy. But imagine a world in which all employees know the track record of every potential boss, sort of like Yelp for managers. If you add that information to the mix, potential employees will avoid bad managers, or at least keep the bad ones under control, and that removes some need for privacy. No boss wants a Yelp-like review saying he fires people because they have treatable cancer.

You can also alleviate some of the privacy risk in the employment realm by having better information about job openings. In the United States, we have plenty of jobs unfilled because of an information gap. If we solve that situation with better information an employee with a medical condition will have more options. Perhaps a work-from-home job would be a better fit for both the employee and the employer.

Let's pick another example.

Suppose you have some non-mainstream sexual preferences that you prefer to keep private. I would argue that this is an information problem not a privacy problem. If you remove the magical thinking about our bodies and our alleged immortal souls, we are nothing but moist robots pushing buttons and seeing which combinations feel the best. I think you can educate away any shame about people's sexual preferences. The ubiquity of Internet porn is making that happen now. Twenty years ago if someone asked you if you watched porn you probably lied and said something such as "I don't need it." Today if a male says he doesn't enjoy Internet porn at least occasionally he is presumed to be a liar.

Now let's assume that in exchange for losing your privacy about your non-mainstream sexual preferences you improve your odds of satisfying those itches by a factor of ten. Once the world can see your preferences, people who match up with it will be drawn to you. Now instead of dressing as a "furry" in the privacy of your home, you can easily find likeminded people in town to join you. Your loss of privacy makes your life far better, at least on the weekends. It seems to me that gays have followed this path, cleverly giving up their personal privacy in order to gain power, respect, legal rights, and access to potential partners. The history of the gay rights movement is probably the best example of privacy being the problem and not the solution.

Most of you fear losing privacy to the government because that invites abuse. But here again the root problem is a lack of government transparency. I'm a little bothered that the government records all of my conversations, but I agree that it might make me safer. However, the fact that the government didn't tell me it was taking my privacy is unforgiveable and in my opinion impeachable. As a practical matter, I don't see how a dysfunctional and corrupt government can heal itself and become more transparent. But in principle, I think you can see that adding transparency to the government process would remove a citizen's need for privacy.

If a government employee decides to snoop into my personal data, I want an automatic email that gives me a link to see everything about that employee. If he sees my stuff, I can see his. And he will have a hard time getting a job once he is known as a creeper. So here again, adding information to the system reduces my need for privacy.

My larger point is that society should not be looking for ways to maintain privacy. It should be looking for ways to make privacy unnecessary. We will never be free until we lose our unnecessary secrets and discover we are better off without them.

I know this sort of topic gets massive down votes because you don't want to risk losing privacy. But please do me a favor and rate this post on the entertainment value alone. I'm trying to gauge how interesting this topic is to you. Thank you!
-------------------------

Scott Adams
Co-founder of CalendarTree.com

Author of this book

 


 
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+7 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 11, 2014
One of your most thought provoking posts Scott. I think of myself as a very private person and you've forced me to consider why. In person, I'm very open and candid. Ask me anything and chances are I will give a complete and truthful answer. But online and in public I keep a low profile. After thinking about it, it occurs to me that my issue is not privacy, but rather surveillance; i.e. the gathering of information about me without my knowledge or consent. It's the one way nature that makes it an "invasion of privacy". I want to know who, what and why this information is being collected and I want the opportunity to make corrections and supply context.
 
 
Aug 11, 2014
What about competitive situations? Here's my game plan for next Sunday's football game.

[That's like the exception that proves the rule. You have to find an artificial "game" situation to make privacy even sound useful. -- Scott]
 
 
Aug 11, 2014
"I think we can agree. . . " Every time you include this kind of phrase in your blog, I know I'm going to disagree. It's one of your fun manipulations, along with the use of false syllogisms. Oh, wait, there are those here, too!

Once again (ad nauseum) you are conflating privacy with deception. You know that isn't true, yet you keep beating this dead horse. Let us reason together: privacy is defined as "the state or condition of being free from being observed or disturbed by other people." Please note that that definition does not include something like "the ability to lie through omission." OOH! I just realized you've hit the trifecta with this one: redefining words, too! Well played, old man!

I want privacy for one reason: because I want it. I don't want you, or the government, or any of our fellow citizens observing or disturbing me, regardless of the reason. You don't have the right to invade my privacy outside that which the Constitution and the laws that stem from it allow.

And you KNOW that, Scott. You have no more desire to lose your privacy than I do. You don't want cameras in your bedroom, nor do you want your financial and tax information made public. You want to be able to go to the bathroom without someone observing your bowel movements.

I think we can agree that privacy is an individual right; it is not granted to us by a benevolent government to be taken away at their whim. Since that is the case, then, it is a moot point to discuss whether or not we'd be "better off" if we lost it.

And losing it is a far different thing than voluntarily giving it up. If you really believe what you post, then (as others have said here), you go first.

You asked to rate your blog on the entertainment value rather than the content. I am more entertained when you discuss something new rather than return to old ideas that you've covered many times before, usually in a similar way. Here are some of your topics that I hope to never see again:

- Robots
- People are actually meat robots
- We're just a computer simulation
- There is no God
- Let's turn the US into "Canal-i-land"
- Energy being created from thin air
- "Theory" discussions (Global Warming, Evolution, etc.)

Topics I would love to see:

- New technology or discoveries and their potential impact on our world
- More movie reviews (I bust a gut every time you have one)
- Humor-laden blog posts

Now, before anyone gets their panties in a bunch, I realize this is Scott's blog and that he can post anything he wants. Granted. But, in effect, he opened the door by asking about the entertainment value of his blog.

[I think you just invented a new form of self-refuting argument. The best of its kind is any reference to Hitler. When the Hitler reference comes out, the person who uses it has surrendered reason. In the topic of privacy, as soon as bowel movement privacy enters the discussion you know the other party has surrendered reason. -- Scott]
 
 
Aug 11, 2014
[I know this sort of topic gets massive down votes because you don't want to risk losing privacy. But please do me a favor and rate this post on the entertainment value alone. I'm trying to gauge how interesting this topic is to you.]

...No.

You're trying to have it both ways, arguing against having privacy AND getting approval for the argument from the folks who don't buy it 'because its just entertainment'. Sorry. You're too consistent on this point for me to take it as such.

[I don't advocate a loss of privacy because there is no plan to make the transition risk-free. I just think we are fighting for the wrong goal. -- Scott]
 
 
Aug 11, 2014
I am very interested in the topic of privacy.
I agree with other posters that humans will always have a need for some level of privacy, or intimacy if you want. IMHO the biggest issue w.r.t. to this these days is that it is difficult to determine what level of privacy we are getting (e.g. Snowden made us realize that many activities were thought were private are in fact not).
 
 
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 11, 2014
"you", of course, includes institutions and organizations such as the CIA or State Dept.
 
 
Aug 11, 2014
As I've posted before when you mentioned this, if you are really believe we should do away with privacy, then post your private address and telephone number here.

[That shows a complete lack of understanding of my point. -- Scott]
 
 
+12 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 11, 2014
Some people are just private people in general, and would like to keep certain things out of the public domain. I'm a boring, married, law-abiding, middle-class straight white male with what I would assume is an ordinary family life. Even though I assume that all the little details of my family life (personal relationship with my wife and kids, frequency and quality of sex, fights with my wife, etc.) are pretty average, I like keeping the details private. I don't like everyone knowing everything about me. It's none of anyone's business, and isn't helpful to society to know those sorts of details about my life. I happen to like a little bit of mystery and and gnosis within a relationship, for a lot of different reasons that largely boil down to "this is what I like".

I clearly don't demand privacy in all things. I use Google, for instance, knowing full well the tradeoffs. I agree that the whole recent privacy violations were egregious, and frankly everyone involved should be jailed, but the only thing that surprised me about Snowden's leaks were the degree and pervasiveness in practice, not the intent.
 
 
Aug 11, 2014
It sounds like propaganda piece from some dystopic sci-fi. So - pretty entertaining :)

I don't think our society will ever be so good, that we won't need privacy to protect us from it. Not anytime soon, at least. People are judgemental beings, and even if it's changing for better, the process is still too slow. I doubt our grandchildren will see totally unbiased, non-judgemental society.

I also believe that we need our dark secrets to be human. And if everything we did would be public, we'd just keep these secrets inside, which would drive us insane.
 
 
Aug 11, 2014
I understand your hypothesis, but I think it breaks down in a couple types of situations

1. Small minorities. Yes, the gay population and the marijuana smoking population have seen their desired behaviors gain wider acceptance. But, there is power in numbers. The fact 5% or 20% of the population does something can help others see it as non-deviant. However, if you like fur suits and heroin, you are in a much smaller minority and are less likely to avoid ridicule and discrimination. So, if you are positing a utopian future in which people are not judgmental, then maybe it would work, but just improving information is not likely to protect these smaller minorities.

2. Specific / localized privacy needs. Example - you are doing a job search and want that kept private from your boss. In this case your job search isn't even unethical, but you certainly wouldn't want your current employer to know about it. Similarly, if you are in an existing, though explicitly non-exclusive relationship, you are not going to want your significant other to see who you might be pinging on match.com. So, again, if we are talking about an emotion free utopia, your plan works, but if we are just talking about increased information, I don't think more data is going to reduce jealous reactions.

[In your example of looking for another job, that could be fixed by the boss Yelp review. Who wants to work for a company that fires you for looking at your options? -- Scott]

 
 
 
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