Privacy isn’t dead -- it never lived.

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Privacy isn’t dead -- it never lived. Personal information is currency in a consumer society. It allows for prediction and strategy. Rewards cards, credit cards, contests, transponders, websites, subscriptions, donations, investments, bill payments; they all require of tracking. Whether or not this is bad thing is the issue. If you look at your life as property, something you own, then you could classify this as theft. However, if you look at your life as a natural phenomena then observation can only further progress.

The more we learn about how people live, the more insight we will have on how we can change and grow. Unfortunately, most people take the ownership approach to their personal information. Even the phrase “personal information” sounds like a very private thing, which is why the issue is so deceiving. In a small town everyone knows your business. This is what allows for town meetings, participatory politics, and culture in general. When a population grows beyond a certain size, around 150, it becomes less of a cohesive unit and begins to rely more on institutional rather than communal organization. This is necessary for a large community to maintain it’s order.

Back to privacy though. Since people in this modern society no longer know the details of their neighbours’ lives, there are no lifestyle checks. To overuse a metaphor, we are like ants in many ways. Ants communicate to each other and send simple messages in a distributed way. There is no central organization and there is no privacy. If ants started keeping secrets, there would be no way to know where the food is, or what the next job should be. Likewise, in a society where privacy is prized highly, lifestyle is a very difficult thing to gauge. In fact, most people’s concept of the ideal lifestyle is actually based on a fictional image portrayed by the media. The only people’s personal lives who you see are celebrities playing real people. Obvious examples of the fiction portrayed by media include: characters never going to the toilet, never having credit card problems, being able to afford high fashion and plasma TVs with a part-time job. All of these examples are the new wave of advertising. It’s about product placement, but more so about lifestyle suggestion.
Since the only rubric we have is provided to us by a media source with a foremost interest in selling, we struggle to keep up to the lifestyle which we believe our fellow humans are leading.

The unfortunate point about all of this is that it has been brought on, not by the greedy corporation, but by the paranoid consumer. Consumer research firms have vast amounts of information about you that your neighbour or even relatives would have no idea about. The food you buy, the clothes you like, the sites you visit, the gum you like; all of these things are on record. Now, is this a bad thing? No, it’s not. How would a company come up with the idea that they need a gum with more punch if they hadn’t found out from statistics? Would you tell them?

Some businesses may be motivated by the sale, but the consumer is the one to please. Granted, most purchases are based on emotional sells, but once again, what is the problem? These information collection agencies spend tons of money to compile information about you. Why shouldn’t they get a share. Just as a scientist who discovers a new cure should get the credit, so should the person who discovers your email.

But they’re selling your information. They are making money from what you can provide for free. Why not step in and take your fair share? You can only get control of your personal information if you are willing to sell it at a reasonable price. Look at peer-to-peer file sharing: it is around because CDs cost too much and bootlegs are unavailable. Likewise, your information is not available from you so one must fall back on to specialized networks and pay top dollar.

Not only are you loosing money by letting others make the sale, you are also loosing out on a vibrant local community. Though mass amounts of information collected by these companies are available, neither you, nor your relatives, nor your close friends have access to it. GAP, McDonalds, Cokes, and all those big corporations you hate are able to survive because of your information. The mom and pop’s groceries store down the street can’t compete; they don’t have the capital to invest into paying for your information. Let me make this clear: local businesses cannot compete because corporate offices know more about those local residents.

So what is there to lose, why not give away your information? Well, the only people who have something to loose are those very people who have access to your information in the first place. Their advantage is that you are obsessed with privacy.