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Arkady Grudzinsky


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Do we need privacy?



1. The state or condition of being free from being observed or disturbed by other people.
2. The state of being free from public attention.

So, it's a form of freedom. I find it deeply controversial.

Does it mean that we should not pay attention to each other? There are stories on internet of people dying in subway from heart attack in the midst of a crowd passing by.

Is it possible? We leave traces behind us every minute - online, when we use credit cards to buy something, even by walking in the street with a cell phone in our pocket. Why are we outraged or feel threatened when we find out that someone "is watching"? Perhaps, it goes deeper in our psyche that we think or can explain.

What is the difference between privacy and secrecy? When and why do we need them?

Some people put their whole life online. Some are cautious about giving any personal information to anyone. Ironically, we can protect ourselves from oppression and crime both ways.

What's your attitude towards privacy? I would appreciate the links to videos and sources on this topic.

Topics: privacy secrecy

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      Jun 28 2013: Lamar,

      Re: "Can you survive without privacy?"

      Let's take an analogy with nature. How do animals survive? It seems to depend on the animal and the kind of threat the animal is trying to avoid. Some animals hide from predators. Some predators need to be stealthy to catch pray. But some animals survive by wearing bright colors to warn predators that they are poisonous. Others mimic those bright colors so that predators think they are poisonous whereas they are not. Some animals are big and strong - they don't care. Hippos or elephants, for example.

      So, if we defend ourselves from theft, we don't want to expose much about ourselves. But if we defend ourselves from violence, we might want to carry a big stick around for everyone to see.

      And if a society is free from theft and violence, there seems to be nothing to protect ourselves from. So, reasons to keep many things private would disappear. Some other reasons would stay - e.g. business competition.

      Private information CAN be used against us. But whether it WILL be used against us is a different question. And whether WE KNOW how it will be used is also a factor (trust and familiarity).

      Privacy is often given away not only for security, but also for convenience. I believe, this is the main reason people give away their privacy these days. E.g. it's convenient to log into different web sites using Google or Facebook account. It's convenient to know where your family members or friends are or share photos with large groups of people, so people share information online. Sometimes it even HELPS survival (e.g. with people with mental or health issues).

      In other cases, people exchange privacy for money - allow auto insurance companies to install tracking devices in exchange for lower premiums or buy membership in stores allowing them to track their purchasing habits in exchange for bonus points.

      Survival is far from being the only factor.
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          Jun 28 2013: Lamar,

          But in most of these examples, people GIVE UP their privacy instead of protecting it. Which means, in some situations, privacy is counterproductive for survival: if a hiker wants to be found in case of emergency, he'd better let everyone know where he is. But if you go into the woods to hide from some sort of persecution, you don't want anyone to know where you are.

          Perhaps, we rethink privacy so much these days because our understanding of "what we need for survival" changes every day. Given your lifestyle, I'm a little bit surprised that you advocate that we need all bells and whistles for our survival. 200 years ago, people lived without electricity, automobiles, paved roads, railroads, radio, TV, computers, Internet, telephone. On the other hand, it would be unimaginable to support 7bln. population on Earth back then. It boggles my mind that Earth population doubled in my lifetime.

          How our "needs" come into existence is mysterious. Before TV was invented, people would not think they need one. Once it's there, people cannot live without it. Remember this video that was popular when iPad was announced?


          In retrospective, it's interesting to see what people viewed as "necessary" or "desired". But, really, do we need all this stuff for survival?

          For survival, we need to adjust to our environment - that's true. Environment is changing, so, what we need for survival is also changing. There is natural environment and there is social/cultural/economic environment. In our attempts to adjust to the changing environment, we change our environment, and then we have to adjust to the adjustments we made. This is how it goes, it seems. Circular reasoning - again.
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          Jun 28 2013: Completely agree. Perhaps, many people would not object to Prism, but many others would. It shouldn't have been forced onto people without disclosure. Then people may choose whether and how they want to use Internet and social media.

          On the other hand, there is this obscure line in privacy notices saying that the company may disclose information as required by the law. Now, there are PATRIOT and FISA acts which, most likely make Prism legal in one sense or the other. You said that we express our consent to be governed through voting. People did not vote on PATRIOT act directly, but their elected representatives did. Wouldn't that mean that people DID indirectly vote for Prism when they trusted representatives to enact laws like FISA and PATRIOT act?

          Do you see the fundamental problem with democracy here? We deem that it's "for the people, by the people" but when we find out that it's not for "us", but for some other people (who are, nevertheless, a part of this society), we object and protest.
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          Jun 28 2013: Yes, it will be very interesting. And things ARE moving. DOMA was struck down as unconstitutional. I view it as a huge step forward for human rights. I wonder if this will happen to PATRIOT act any time soon. I think, it should.

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