Why Privacy Matters – A TED talk

Alessandro Acquisti: Why Privacy Matters

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There are few TED talks more important than this short and straightforward one which first summarises why social network companies such as Facebook and Google being the world’s information brokers is detrimental to the future of humanity, and why privacy is everyone’s problem – not just that of criminals or miscreants.

Beyond the coercive tactics of the advertising methods that power these systems, fundamentally these systems have forced into the open public information that previously was kept private.  This often is problematic, he explains, when mixed with basic human nature – that it is simply in our character to use all the information that  is available to make judgements about other people and their character.  Paradoxically, he explains, it is often those that have more information about their private lives out in the public that make critical, biased judgements about others and act upon them than those than have less.

While it is these kinds of aspects of human psychology that drives us to make judgements, it is digital technology that enables it – Alessando talks about how search engines and facial recognition technology have made it possible to find all the photos of a single individual scattered throughout the entire Internet using existing public databases and pattern recognition methods.  These photos and the contexts in which they are found, in turn, provide even more information about the individual, including who their friends are, places they have visited, and things they have done ,as well as other aspects of their character.  All this is available practically instantly to anyone.

There are a few very delightful quotes and comparisons including that of the Internet and Web to that of Aldus Huxley’s Brave New World – technologies that were built for securing individual freedom end up being the very vehicles of oppression and coercion.  Another comparison is made with the Garden of Eden to that of Facebook and the social media gardens that provide the “eternal comfort” of their offers at the expense of their autonomy, and how becoming educated to the importance of privacy will essentially necessitate a leaving of the garden, with its benefits and costs.


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