Jach's personal blog

(Largely containing a mind-dump to myselves: past, present, and future)
Current favorite quote: "Supposedly smart people are weirdly ignorant of Bayes' Rule." William B Vogt, 2010

In favor of privacy, but not as a right

I don't really believe in "rights". I believe in assurances granted by others, and when those others happen to be governments, whether it's a "right" or a "law" matters little to me. But other conceptions of "rights", don't buy it. If you try to argue some rights are objective, or even self-evident, I don't buy it even harder.

I still think many (though not all) the things I supposedly have rights to are nice to have, though, but not for the circular reason that rights are good.

When it comes to privacy, I generally fall into the "none of your/my damn business". There are many things I or you simply don't need to know, and I'll get ticked if you start trying to learn those things, and I'll understand if you get ticked in the other direction. For instance, say you're visiting my blog, and my blog asks for your browser to share your location (which may be from a phone, and thus very accurate). This is none of my damn business, I'm not trying to serve you software that makes use of mapping, something whose business legitimately is interested in your location.

I use no-script, and I have never whitelisted Google Analytics. The data GA collects (some of which the website owners that serve it see) is none of the serving website's business, or at least, it's not a core function of their business. Yes, maybe knowing the things GA lets you know helps you optimize your site, but if you tell me it's critical to know those things and furthermore that you must use GA to know them, I'll call you incompetent.

And yet, my blog serves GA. I find it interesting to look at the things it tells me, though generally it doesn't tell me much more than what AWStats does, and I trust AWStats a little more on some things because it includes users (like me) who have GA blocked or just have JS off in general. But it's not really my business to know your age or gender, or whatever Google thinks it is anyway. (I can tell you GA doesn't show that to me because I haven't enabled it, can you trust me?) So why do I use GA, potentially getting data I really have no business in having? Curiosity.

While I believe a lot of things are none of other people's business, and while I personally get ticked when others try to learn those things about me, I also believe most people don't care about most data, and I believe that being ticked is only really justified if I made efforts not to reveal that information in the first place. So I don't find sympathy with people concerned about GA's data collecting, I don't find sympathy with people complaining about Facebook's privacy problems if the problem isn't "Your UI said this was private, but this script can publicly access it, why do you suck?", I don't find sympathy with people who are freaked out when someone finds their home address by looking up their domain name's whois info. I use some pseudonyms online, but a lot of them could be traced back to me. Am I going to be ticked you did that, and outed my pseudonym? No, because I did not take much effort to secure it. If I'm using tor, a randomly generated string, and deliberately scrambled text to avoid style analysis, am I going to be ticked when you try and uncover who I am? You bet. I don't care if LinkedIn is asking for my email password to better serve me, as having a contacts list is kind of part of their business, but I'm going to be pissed if they're trying to get that data from me in other ways. (For instance, trying to login to my email with the password I use on LinkedIn. Do they do this? Probably not, but I have no guarantee they don't. It would no doubt work for some of their users, and that's wrong. Just because they re-used the password, the very nature that they're using a password to begin with (even a weak password!) means they had some expectation of privacy and they'll be rightly pissed when it gets violated.) Additionally I'd be really pissed if I gave them the benefit of the doubt, provided them the password (assuming they really just need to collect my contacts), only to find out later that they also read and archived all my email. (If I knowingly let them read my email, though, how am I supposed to be pissed when they connect my event A with another user's event B and decided to send us both a creepy email detailing why we'd be perfect for each other because of [lots of deeply personal reasons]? Perhaps more plausibly, is there any way I can be pissed at Amazon recommending things to me based on my shopping history with them, even though from a data-standpoint the only really necessary thing their business needs to know is what I'm buying, how much it is, did my payment go through, and where to ship it?)

So the reason I support efforts to strengthen and respect privacy is not because I find it to be a right, nor because I'm all that sensitive and sympathetic to the "oooooh they have all this data (freely provided to or easily derived and correlated by them, some of it highly relevant to their business, some of it slightly relevant, some of it really none of their business) imagine what they could dooooo" position. I find privacy a good thing simply because I'm wired to find my own privacy a good thing, I have the personality of "it's none of your damn business" on a lot of things, I know other people have this personality too -- especially people described as being "a private person". I think it would be a bad thing for society to go around making it hard to live with this personality, for instance by mandating a policy to share everything because if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear by sharing. It doesn't matter whether I have nothing to hide or whether I do have something to hide, I don't like to share everything, period, and I'm ticked off and "uncomfortable" when you try and collect it without my permission.

Is this ultimately catering to people's feels? No, I don't think so, at least not entirely. Some feels can be changed, some can't. Some feels can be changed easily, too, but others can be changed only after years of reconditioning. It is the feels that can't be changed, or the feels that in order to change require an unacceptably high cost to the person and/or those around them, that I think should be respected by a civilization that wants to remain a civilization.

Exposure therapy among other techniques is a good measure for how well some extreme feels should be respected. Is PTSD something one can never get over? No, so I think we should avoid laws banning loud and random explosion-like noises just in case it triggers someone with PTSD. They in fact need more exposure to such things. Am I going to lose my "none of your damn business" attitude by systematically having more and more of what I intentionally keep out of the public eye stripped and put on display? I highly doubt it. Show me a study that shows it, that shows even with such people Totally Open Societies work well, and I'll reconsider.

Posted on 2016-01-09 by Jach

Tags: government, philosophy, privacy


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