Privacy vs. control

It is often suggested that Facebook, Google, and the other major tech companies violate the privacy of their users, and of course the companies are criticized on those grounds.  Yet I never see those critics go after other sources of privacy violations, such as say the friends and acquaintances who gossip behind our backs.  If privacy were so important, you might expect the overall campaign to be “pro-privacy” rather than just “anti-corporate” or “anti-tech.”

One possibility is that service users don’t see much of a chance that the “Zip files” assembled on them by the algorithms stand much chance of harming their fortunes or even being released in decipherable form.

Still, people are made vaguely uncomfortable by some of what is going on.  Could it be a “control” issue rather than a privacy issue?  That is, people do not like “feeling out of control” when it comes to their lives, including their personal data.  They used to “feel in control” and now they do not, in part because of the very media critics who view themselves as solving the privacy problem.

If it is a control problem, the chance that placebos will improve matters is higher, because I do not see our privacy losses as being reversible, or people even caring all that much.  What is the cheapest placebo that can help us address the control problem?  Passing some meaningless piece of legislation?  Self-reforms from the media?  The right kinds of proclamations from the tech companies?  All of the above?

I believe public discourse would be improved if we realized “privacy problems aren’t always about privacy,” to paraphrase Robin Hanson.


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