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    Two Opinion Columns on Privacy

    Two columns give opposing opinions on privacy. In the Canadian Globe and Mail, Ontario Information and Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian says that privacy remains a norm:

    What I emphatically submit is that there is little evidence to change our view that privacy remains a social norm. Privacy relates to freedom of choice and control in the sphere of one’s personal information – choices regarding what information you wish to share and, perhaps more important, what you do not want shared with others. What has changed, however, is the means by which personal information is now readily exchanged, at the speed of light. […]

    Let me speak for a moment as a psychologist (in my former life). The human condition requires connection: We are social animals who seek contact with each other. We also seek privacy: moments of solitude, intimacy, quiet, reserve and control – personal control. These interests have co-existed for centuries and must continue to do so, for the human condition requires both. […]

    It is not that privacy has stopped being the norm; it is that privacy is a dynamic that is a complex function based on an individual’s needs and choices – choices that must be respected and strongly protected if we are to maintain freedom and liberty in our society.

    At CNet, Declan McCullagh says that people no longer care about privacy.

    Norms are changing, with confidentiality giving way to openness. Participating in YouTube, Loopt, FriendFeed, Flickr, and other elements of modern digital society means giving up some privacy, yet millions of people are willing to make that trade-off every day. Of people with an online profile, nearly 40 percent have disabled privacy settings so anyone may view it, according to a Pew Internet survey released a year ago. The percentage is probably higher today.

    No doubt critics of Google Buzz would reply that accidental disclosure of some correspondents was ample reason to worry. While it’s true that privacy options at first were not as obvious as they could have been, they did exist. Even the original version let you edit the “auto-following” list and preview your profile to see how you’d appear to others. (If you’re that sensitive about your privacy, especially on a free service, why not take a moment to click that link?) […]

    “As a social good,” says Richard Posner, the federal judge and iconoclastic conservative, “I think privacy is greatly overrated because privacy basically means concealment. People conceal things in order to fool other people about them. They want to appear healthier than they are, smarter, more honest and so forth.” That isn’t a defense of snooping as much as a warning of the flip side of privacy–concealing facts that are discreditable, including those that other people have a legitimate reason for knowing.

    The truth about privacy is counter-intuitive: less of it can lead to a more virtuous society. Markets function more efficiently when it’s cheap to identify and deliver the right product to the right person at the right time. Behavioral targeting allows you to see relevant, interesting Web ads instead of irrelevant, annoying ones. The ability to identify customers unlikely to pay their bills lets stores offer better deals to those people who will.

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