The end of the Google horizon is not the Orwellian nightmare of complete dossiers, available at the touch of a button, on any person in the world; it is rather the old social-scientific dream of universal quantification, prediction, and generalization.
But if the objectives of Google diverge so widely from what privacy crusaders think they are, why does the debate keep returning to the same familiar set of rails? What leads critics to evoke, so strenuously, the specter of Orwell’s telescreens? This is a question than can be answered only from the perspective of the privacy debate’s third aspect: Facebook, or the publicization of previously private data. On the surface, this controversy, which is perhaps the loudest and most visible, is also the least comprehensible. People who have deliberately given their data—their “likes” and “statuses,” their photos and self-descriptions—to somebody else, according to the norms of pre-Internet communication, cannot expect to have much control over it in the future. Enough old proverbs (for instance, “three can keep a secret if two of them are dead”) testify to this that demanding the contrary seems absurd.
And yet, of course, to an increasing number of people it is not absurd. Unlike Internet communication, pre-Internet communication presupposed the existence of separate, variably permeable spheres, which could be maintained with little effort and fantasized about with even less. (There’s an old Eudora Welty story about a man who leads a double life, with one life ultimately as restrictive and conventional as the other. Historically, I’d venture to say, this has been closer to reality than the utopia of closets evoked by some privacy activists.) For the privacy activist, unease with Facebook is usually founded on something much more mundane than Nineteen Eighty-Four: quite simply, the increasing difficulty of telling the little white lies that help most of us keep our spheres apart.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, however, the proposed solution in the privacy debate has not been to bow to historical inevitability and join in a mass experiment to remake our idea of the boundaries of social experience. Instead, the suggestion that permanent and omnipresent Internet access will in fact remake these boundaries whether we like it or not has been treated as seedy and disreputable, something like a trendy contrarianism possibly spread via dirty corporate dollars. The virtually universal resistance among privacy advocates to such a line of argument—which, corporate-funded or not, would at least recognize the Internet as a space of potentialities rather than simply of threats—has strongly narrowed their rhetorical field.
Posted by Sam Kelly
Hannah's quoted reply to Joanne's post on CCTV cameras mentions, at the end, "questions the basic notion of privacy". This made me think of an artical I read the other day on Idiom : The Poverty of Privacy: Google, Facebook, and the New Jeffersonians. In particular, the way the writer envisages the gap between the optimistic and sceptical projections of current digital trends ...