Our Privacy is Currency and We are Giving It Away

November 20, 2013
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In my post from this past summer Through a PRISM, Darkly, I blogged about how ours is a world still struggling to come to terms with having more aspects of our everyday lives, both personal and professional, captured as data.

In my post from this past summer Through a PRISM, Darkly, I blogged about how ours is a world still struggling to come to terms with having more aspects of our everyday lives, both personal and professional, captured as data.

We rarely consider the data privacy implications of our brave new data world, which prompted me to ask why we are so concerned about the government accessing data that in many instances we voluntarily gave to companies like Google, which provides free services (not counting the money we do pay for our mobile phone plans and to our Internet service providers) that are not really free because we pay for them with our privacy.

“Google has sucked millions of people into its web by delivering a feature-packed email service that comes only at the price of our privacy,” David Braue recently blogged.

“We must face the unavoidable reality that we have sold our souls for free email.  Think about it: We bleat and scream to the hills about the government’s invasions of our privacy, then turn around and mail our personal information using a service specifically designed to harvest that information.”

As the image to the right shows, “Google has positioned Gmail as a gateway drug to a world where everything runs according to Google.  Google wants to manage our photos, our social media, our email, our word-processing documents, our everyday tasks, even our general documents.”

“This is the brave new world of the Internet,” Braue argued, “where privacy is an historical footnote and we are tricked or simply bribed to give it up.  By and large, we are quite happy to do so.  We may not love the need to deliver our personal lives on a platter in exchange for a spam-free, easily-accessible and substantially awesome email experience — but we do so with a smile, over and over again.”

To Braue’s point, no one is forcing us to use Gmail.  Many, myself included, use it for the convenience of managing multiple email accounts across multiple mobile devices.

And Google is certainly not our only enemy combatant in what I have previously dubbed the Data Cold War.  However, when we trade convenience for privacy, we have to admit the inconvenient truth that Pogo taught us long ago: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

We don’t give away those slips of paper in our wallets without realizing that’s a form of currency.  And we don’t give away the digital currency that is our credit card numbers (e.g., via Twitter, you could use a single tweet to post seven of your credit card numbers, with one space after each 16-digit number, and hashtag it with #MyCreditCardNumbers — but I will assume you would not).

However, we do give away countless bytes of our personal data in exchange for Internet/mobile-based services that we consider to be free because, unlike the companies providing those services, we do not count personally identifiable information as a form of currency.

The reality is our privacy is currency — and we are giving it away.