Privacy is very recent? So what?


There’s a Medium post about “The Birth and Death of Privacy” that in my opinion is great… except for its very last paragraph.

Before getting there, though, I want to point your attention to an unrelated, but very important point of that post.

The hearthrate of SEX

Halfway in the article, the author explains that:

“it is quite easy to identify people in anonymous datasets. There are only so many 5’4” jews living in San Francisco with chronic back pain.” * basic health information, such as steps and calories counter can reveal “pretty much everything” * It’s easy to distinguish whether someone is “having sex or at the gym, since the minute-by-minute calorie burn profile of sex is quite distinct… [Few activities besides sex imply…] lots of energy expended at the beginning and end, with few steps taken:

Privacy is very recent? So what? /img/hearthrate-of-sex.png

Corollary, by me: whoever gets access to those data and to location data of the same individuals, even if they are “anonymous” can esily figure out not just when and where someone has sex but, by comparing datasets, also with whom. While we’re at this, it may be instructive to remember that “anonymous” location data can be also used to guess one’s religion

And the unsatisfying conclusion is…

As I said, that article is worth reading, it’s just the conclusion I really dislike:

given that privacy has only existed for a sliver of human history, it’s disappearance is unlikely to doom mankind. Indeed, transparency is humanity’s natural state.

Duh. Sure enough, death of privacy would never “doom mankind” like a K-Pg asteroid or antibioc resistance would. But, if you also care about individual freedom and quality of life, that argument loses any value.

Strictly speaking, that whole paragraph would be equally valid if you replaced “transparency” with “its absence” and “privacy” with any of: universal suffrage, women rights, freedom of speech, abolition of slavery… to name just the easiest members of what should be a much longer list.

Privacy is very recent? So what? Accepting that as a reason to not worry about it may have really unintended consequences, in the long run.

Privacy is very recent? So what? /img/privacy-never-existed-so-what.jpg
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