by Eduard Goodman
It’s tiresome when billion-dollar Internet CEOs tell us that our privacy concerns are overblown. Whether they run Google, Facebook or an online marketing company, the truth is that they obviously have a financial interest in trading my personal and search information, online contacts and purchases. They’re a business out to make money. Their business is information. I’m not judging; just own up to it. Don’t dismiss our privacy fears because frankly it’s insulting.
In fact the more I hear the mantra, “Don’t worry about your privacy,” from executives in industries that know more about us than our own relatives, the more they sound like tobacco executives in the 1990s. “Your privacy fears are overblown,” is about as convincing as the statement, “Nicotine is not addictive,” especially given the source.
Like tobacco executives of the last century, Internet executives think that we don’t recognize that they have their own agendas and own financial interests at heart. They want us all to believe that there are no downsides to sharing our information or to their collection of it. Just like there are no downsides to smoking, right? They are quick to point out all of the “upsides” and reasons to share information though. Strangely, many also were reasons people smoked at one time, too.
Some of them include:
• Everyone else is doing it, so it must be okay.
• It’s cool. (“What do you mean you aren’t on Facebook?”)
• You’re addicted (because where else are you going to go for an online search? The expression to “Google” something is even in the dictionary.)
Now today, nobody doubts that nicotine is in fact addictive and that smoking causes cancer. We have the research and millions of examples of people who have suffered from smoking-related illnesses to prove it. Yet, worldwide over 1.3 billion people still choose to smoke, knowing the risks and dangers. That is their choice and tobacco is still a multibillion-dollar industry both in the U.S. and abroad.
Like their tobacco industry executive predecessors, people including Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Google CEO Eric Schmidt raise the point that Internet users have a choice, too. If they don’t like the privacy ramifications of using Google or Facebook, then they don’t have to use them. The problem is that we as a nation have become addicted to Facebook and Google. Like the throngs of chain smokers of the 1950s, we as a nation are failing to recognize the dangers associated with our behavior. With industry executives preserving our collective ignorance towards our vanishing privacy, in the end, like a misinformed, addicted smoker, how much choice do we really have?
An internationally trained attorney and privacy expert, Eduard has more than a decade of experience in privacy law, fraud and identity management. He is a member of the state bar of Arizona and served as the 2008-2009 section chair of the bar’s Internet, E-Commerce & Technology Law Practice Section.