How much privacy did you expect?

Have you heard the latest?:, which will launch Monday, allows anyone to secretly track e-mails they send. You’ll see whether someone opens your e-mail, how long the recipient keeps it open – even where geographically the recipient is reading it.

And that’s for only $50 a year, check it out.

How are the pundits responding?

The reaction could be harsh. “It will freak people out,” says Internet expert Esther Dyson.

“It violates our electronic space in a way that’s as uncomfortable as someone violating our physical space,” says Mitchell Kertzman, a partner at technology investment firm Hummer Winblad.

But I am not very upset. So much of privacy has to do with expectations. No one expects that their behavior in a shopping mall is private, so no one complains when it is not. Have you ever noticed that Europeans, who are so worried about privacy rights, also are such big fans of the public downtown shopping experience? But just imagine the privacy critique:

“You walk around, the whole world can watch you. They see what you look like, which stores you frequent, what credit cards you use, and what you buy. And if you wear light-colored pants, some people can even see your underwear line.”

For better or worse, we need to get over this idea of the Internet as a private or confidential sphere. Gmail, of which I am a big fan, is just the beginning. In the longer run (it’s already on the way) I expect competing communications spheres. An easy-to-use sphere, which is essentially open and fair game, and a private sphere, which is slightly harder to use and less universal but fully confidential. I’ll predict that most people prefer the open sphere, but of course time will tell. Not everyone will get what they want, but hey, Taco Bell won’t sell me a Chillito anymore either.

Addendum: Here is a related anti-privacy idea: “A pair of sunglasses that can detect when someone is making eye contact with the wearer has been developed by Canadian researchers. Besides being useful in singles bars, its inventors say the system could play a key role in video blogging, a hi-tech form of diary keeping.” So if you don’t want to be detected, don’t look.

Also, check out this post on “Brad and Dad.”


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