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The end of privacy by obscurity

A penny dropped for me when I read Facebook’s graph search and the end of privacy by obscurity on GigaOM recently. Regular readers will know that I’m of the opinion that we have more to gain than to lose by sharing our information, and that I hope that people with privacy concerns will slowly get over them as the benefits of sharing become clearer. However, when I sought to understand whether that hope was realistic I struggled with the diffuse and unfocused nature of people’s privacy concerns. They would say that they don’t like the idea of people being able to find out what they have been doing, but weren’t really able to say why that bothered them. I now see that the concern is not so much with privacy but with losing their obscurity.

In other words, the issue is not with the information that gets shared so much as the fact that it makes people visible. Some people (myself included) like to be visible, but other people find it uncomfortable. I think that discomfort is what leads many people to be concerned about their privacy in a Facebook and Google world.

These people do, or course, have the choice of not using Facebook and Google, but I think it’s pretty clear that for the vast majority their usefulness is worth the unease that comes with being more visible. That means that rather than hope that people with privacy concerns will get over them, I should hope that they get used to their increased visibility and it stops bothering them. After that the privacy concerns will go of their own accord.