Monday, July 20, 2020

Autonomy and Exclusion

I'm reading The Zero Marginal Cost Society by Jeremy Rifkin. In it, he has this to say about the idea of privacy.

The right to privacy came to be the right to exclude. The notion that every man's home is his castle accompanied the privatization of life. Successive generations came to think of privacy as an inherent human quality endowed by nature rather than a mere social convention fitting a particular moment in the human journey.

Today, the evolving Internet of Things is ripping away the layers of enclosure that made privacy sacrosanct and a right regarded as important as the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. For a younger generation growing up in a globally connected world where every moment of their lives are eagerly posted and shared with the world via [...] social media sites, privacy has lost much of its appeal. For them, freedom is not bound up in self-contained autonomy and exclusion, but rather, in enjoying access to others and inclusion in a global virtual public square.

In 2010 a number of celebrities had their iCloud accounts compromised. Among the information released were nude selfies from actress Jennifer Lawrence. I wrote in a previous post about why it is foolish to argue that Lawrence's outrage is somehow undermined by any other display of nudity. This is the same flawed reasoning on display in Rifkin's book. He is arguing that, since young people don't often exercise their right to privacy, they won't care if it goes away. This ignores context and audience and basically says, "If you'd show it to one person, you can no longer decide how, when, and to whom it gets displayed for the rest of forever." This is the type of flawed reasoning displayed in Eric Schmidt's infamous 2009 statement, "If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place."

Data privacy is the giant hole in Rifkin's vision of the future. No one is going to sign on for the Internet of Things when that means spying vibrators. Even if I link my vibrator with my social media profile so anytime I use it my followers see a tweet that says, "A Random Stranger is rubbing one out," that doesn't mean I have signed off on this info being used for marketing or for anything other than how I decided to share it.

Autonomy is found in the ability to exclude. People who don't avail themselves of that ability might still care deeply that the ability remains. The Internet of Things will be forever hobbled until data usage recognizes that.

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