Thursday, April 11, 2013

Privacy, Secrecy, and Transparency

Two strangers look at my artworks at the AMOA (click to enlarge)

When I hear everyone agreeing about something, I like to take the other side. Many of my neighbors are bemoaning the fact that Google is coming to Austin to connect the city (only the second in the country) with high speed fiber for Internet and TV. They fear a breach of their privacy.

I've been thinking about secrecy, which is what privacy may be about. We protect our secrets mightily. And yet, in the end, we all have the same secrets.

Here are mine (I told my wife that I was going to tell my secrets on my blog and that she could look at it. She said, "I just have a few minutes to finish what I'm doing before Charlie wakes up." I guess she knows.):
  1. I've been greedy.
  2. I cheated.
  3. I robbed.
  4. I hurt people.
  5. I hurt animals.
  6. I hurt plants.
  7. I polluted.
  8. I wished harm to others.
I could go on and on. Don't we all have these secrets? I heard of a therapist whose first question was, "what's your biggest secret." What a relief it must be to get that off one's chest. Yet, we all know everyone's secrets. They are on the list. And if you deny any of the above, you are to be congratulated (or you are "in denial").

Marcus Aurelius, the Roman Emperor who lived 2000 years ago, said that we should live each day as if it will be the one by which we are judged. I'm supposed to be writing what I've been doing for fifty years for my upcoming high school reunion. I thought yesterday that what I did yesterday was enough to write about. It was my greatest accomplishment. I'd like to say I did something grandiose. But, unfortunately, I don't think I did. I just did some little things that were possible because of the stuff I've done over the years. So insignificant were those actions that today all I remember is that they felt good. The details escape me.

I'm imagining a world that we may in fact live in, where there is nothing but transparency. My psychoanalyst sister would probably say that we need boundaries. Yet the reality is that we are moving toward a world without boundaries. I can see where you live, how much you earn (if you are a professor at a public institution), how much your house is worth, and much more. Suppose we live our lives as if everything we do is broadcast? Would we live a better life?

Sometimes when I taught I'd have an interpretor for a deaf student in my class. I found that I had to watch my diversions because the interpretor would get worn out. I tried to keep my explanations short. The interpretor acted as mirror/recorder to my actions. A video camera recording my reality would do the same (aka reality TV).

I asked my palates teacher today if she'd rather have a magazine with advertisements showing the products that she's interested in ... or an assortment of ads as they do now. She didn't answer, knowing better than to answer any of my questions. Instead we had a great session. 

So here's a plea for complete transparency, which, if we don't have now, we'll have tomorrow. Object if you want. I'm not sure it will make any difference. As they used to say in Chicago, "you can't fight city hall." 


Anonymous said...

Privacy is not secrecy. It is no secret what consenting couples do in their bedrooms, but they still expect privacy when they do it. It is not secret that people eat breakfast in their bathrobes, but they still expect to not be telecast.

Transparency is highly overrated -- and currently is a usually a misused term.

As a term borrowed from the field of optics, let us examine it in terms we both understand.

A lens can be exceptionally transparent. But for our images to be truthful representations of a scene, the lens must be pointed in the right direction (selection of what is shown) and carefully focused (the subject has not been blurred).

What people probably mean when they ask governmental bodies for transparency is accuracy and focus. Truth is, we could most likely see an event through a dirty window and still understand it IF the window faced the right direction and we focused on the action and not the pretty clouds in the sky.

—Dan in St. Louis

Anonymous said...

After your post on Facebook, I read the Rosedale list to see what people were saying. Of course, a lot of it is misinformed junk. Some might actually be a concern.

Most transmissions over the internet these days seem to be SSL protected. That means that only the addressee can read it. This is true of all legitimate web sites that are collecting payment information. This is also true of many e-mail servers, especially those that use iMap. Even Facebook now reverts to SSL when you are on it.

When I say Google below, I mean Google if they are acting as your ISP.

So, really Google can only look at things you send it, like, e.g. an e-mail if you are using gmail. If you are using another mail service, they can't see squat. They can see what web servers you are accessing. Or, at least, the IP address of the web server. They can always do a reverse lookup to find out where that is. They have to have the IP address in order to send it on, that is what routers do, but they can't see the content of the request or the result if SSL is used.

If you use their cloud services or any service that they might offer now or in the future, they can collect that data and presumably look at it. In this case, caveat emptor. You have to decide whether the risk of whatever evil Google might do with your data x the probability of that happening is worth more than the value of that service. If not, you can certainly contract with someone else and still send it over Google's fiber and rest assured that it is safe from their evil clutches.—Dr. D.

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