Conversations about life & privacy in the digital age

Privacy Does Matter – Or At Least It Should

Far be it from me to challenge one of my colleagues but a friend passed me a recent article that I thought was worthy of a post:

Google chief: only miscreants worry about net privacy

In reading, it would appear that Eric Schmidt at Google believes that anything uploaded/sent/transmitted through the Internet should be of a public nature – ANYTHING. He goes on to claim that if you would not want someone else to be privy to what you are sending through the wires then perhaps you shouldn’t be doing it. This strikes me as a bit odd.

In stepping back from the absurdity of this assessment, I suppose we find a man who has no other choice but to make this claim. The vast information Google has at their fingertips – Gmail, Google Docs, Google Analytics – and the further fact that it is and/or can be made into a readable format without consent from the ‘owner’ makes it a prime source and target for everyone from the government (hiding behind the Patriot Act) to a rogue hacker looking to ‘poke’ around. And hiding behind the idea that people simply shouldn’t be doing anything that they might find of a private nature on the web is his only real defense against this attack. And I suppose he is a bit too far down the path to turn back now.

In asking the SpiderOak staff what they thought – here are some of their reactions:

“I think it was a stupid thing to say but I also think it’s being blown out of proportion. The appropriate response isn’t to attack Google or Schmidt, but simply to the make the point and emphasize that privacy is a basic right.” – David H

“One of the most important agreements embedded into our Constitution via provisions in the Bill of Rights is a reasonable expectation of privacy, particularly in one’s home, one’s beliefs, and one’s words, letters, and effects. I think it is particularly poignant that these provisions make no mention of the technology involved, and that an evolution of the tools we use should not be paired with an erosion of our values, regardless of the extra work that creates.” – Bryon R

“The first comment has a picture of big brother and the appropriate comment. Ford routinely searched worker’s houses claiming ‘If you haven’t been doing anything wrong, then you don’t have anything to hide’.” – Andy B

“I think that there is a difference between ‘Having something to hide’ and the fact that everyone controls information that they wish to keep private. If you want to keep something private yet accessible to yourself online you should have access to tools that allow you to do so.” – Daniel L

“Schmidt must realize this is the same asinine line of thinking that justifies the invasion of even your most basic privacies. You don’t want someone tapping your phone? Well, you shouldn’t be talking about anything private, like your medical history! Don’t want someone reading your email, or even your snail mail? Better not be saying anything about your significant other that you don’t want the world to know! There’s an infinite number of reasons why I might want to keep my conversations or my actions private – and I’m not even going to justify them, because they’re none of Google’s business.

“There is a WORLD of difference between understanding that you need to be careful in any environment where your privacy is uncertain and claiming that privacy isn’t even necessary unless you’re doing something illegal. Shame on you, Google, for taking this Big Brother-esque stance on privacy, especially now that so many people trust you with their privacy on the web. There is no excuse and no defense for your remark, Schmidt, and I think you know it.” – Laura G

“My response is private.” – Doug F

As for my own thoughts, albeit self-serving, this is precisely the reason we developed SpiderOak’s ‘Zero-Knowledge’ privacy approach – combatting the idea that all information passed online should fall within the public domain. Who among us doesn’t have emails, financial documents, pictures, and other such digital content that we would rather not display or know could EVER be displayed publicly. And yet, why should we be in a position where we cannot benefit from the technology that exists today without running the risk of exposing thoughts, ideas, or content. Furthermore, how can someone else tell us how we have to think about this issue (especially when that someone is in control of a significant portion of this information).

Privacy does in fact matter. It is important. And the thoughts we have, pictures we snap, comments we make deserve the right to benefit from the flexibility of being online without having to be needlessly exposed at whim and without our consent.

Eric: I am sorry for having to disagree with you although I do understand the predicament that you find yourself. However, if you are secretly concerned, I would be more than happy to offer you a free SpiderOak account…

Comments

  1. Martin / Hades32 says:

    Great read! That is exactly the reason why I only use Google's products (except for the search) only for stuff that is public…

    But in terms of collaborative work having stuff publicly available is of course a big advantage (see box.net's integration of third party websites). Therefore I think SpiderOak should also invest more in the public data area. I don't want to use two different programs for (a) my private backups and (b) my publicly available/shared data…

  2. Ethan says:

    @ Martin: Thank you for your comment. As it relates to the collaborative nature of SpiderOak, we are working currently on adding several layers of functionality that will improve upon the ability to share and be shared – so to speak – as well as some exciting new sync concepts. As soon as we are further along I will be sure to post more news about our development.

  3. Filip says:

    @Ethan: I dont agree with Martin and as you pointed there is lot of companies that work in "public data area" no need for you guys to follow this path.
    In contrary to Martin I would rather use two programs (a) for private data where i know its 100% secure (b) other for less important stuff; than one program that do both but is now only 95% secure in private area due to complexity (more room for bugs/exploits etc) and possibly less focus by developers.

    To be more on topic. I basically agree with your view on Schmidt's statement. Especially today its very dangerous as our privacy on internet is under attack (and not only on internet but also in real life ie patriot act etc)
    The trend is obvious and is dangerous.

    I myself just did discover spideroak and I will be creating test account soon.

  4. bon says:

    I like the blog. How 'bout an update about the latest development of Spuderoak?

  5. bon says:

    Doh! Sp*i*deroak

  6. Tony Shadwick says:

    Hey – trackbacks don't seem to work here, so I wanted to let you know:

    http://blog.numbski.com/journal/apple-is-evil-part-2.html

    There's some nasty, nasty stuff going on all around. Google may not have intentionally put themselves in this spot. Apple on the other hand is headed down a similarly bad path with no intentions of slowing down, and it scares the crap out of me. :(

    Just thought I'd let you know because I used you (this post as particular) as a reference in that article.

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