There are only two reasons to have privacy and both of them involve dysfunction. You might want privacy because...

1.       you plan to do something illegal or unethical.


2.       to protect you from a dysfunctional world.

I think we can agree that if the ONLY reason for privacy were to make it easier to get away with crimes and unethical behavior, society would be better off without privacy. So let's ignore the first category because it is only useful to criminals and scumbags.

The second category is more fun. My hypothesis is that in every situation in which you can think of a legitimate use for privacy you will find that the root problem is a lack of information about something else. My hypothesis is that if you fix the root problem, society no longer needs nor cares about privacy, and that is the best situation of all.

For example, let's say you have a medical condition and you would prefer that your employer not be aware of it. Is that ethical behavior? I would argue that it is unethical to withhold that information if you have a reason to think it will impact your employer in the future.

But let's say you know your medical condition will NOT impact your job performance but you fear that your boss will discriminate against you anyway. That situation feels like a legitimate use for privacy. But imagine a world in which all employees know the track record of every potential boss, sort of like Yelp for managers. If you add that information to the mix, potential employees will avoid bad managers, or at least keep the bad ones under control, and that removes some need for privacy. No boss wants a Yelp-like review saying he fires people because they have treatable cancer.

You can also alleviate some of the privacy risk in the employment realm by having better information about job openings. In the United States, we have plenty of jobs unfilled because of an information gap. If we solve that situation with better information an employee with a medical condition will have more options. Perhaps a work-from-home job would be a better fit for both the employee and the employer.

Let's pick another example.

Suppose you have some non-mainstream sexual preferences that you prefer to keep private. I would argue that this is an information problem not a privacy problem. If you remove the magical thinking about our bodies and our alleged immortal souls, we are nothing but moist robots pushing buttons and seeing which combinations feel the best. I think you can educate away any shame about people's sexual preferences. The ubiquity of Internet porn is making that happen now. Twenty years ago if someone asked you if you watched porn you probably lied and said something such as "I don't need it." Today if a male says he doesn't enjoy Internet porn at least occasionally he is presumed to be a liar.

Now let's assume that in exchange for losing your privacy about your non-mainstream sexual preferences you improve your odds of satisfying those itches by a factor of ten. Once the world can see your preferences, people who match up with it will be drawn to you. Now instead of dressing as a "furry" in the privacy of your home, you can easily find likeminded people in town to join you. Your loss of privacy makes your life far better, at least on the weekends. It seems to me that gays have followed this path, cleverly giving up their personal privacy in order to gain power, respect, legal rights, and access to potential partners. The history of the gay rights movement is probably the best example of privacy being the problem and not the solution.

Most of you fear losing privacy to the government because that invites abuse. But here again the root problem is a lack of government transparency. I'm a little bothered that the government records all of my conversations, but I agree that it might make me safer. However, the fact that the government didn't tell me it was taking my privacy is unforgiveable and in my opinion impeachable. As a practical matter, I don't see how a dysfunctional and corrupt government can heal itself and become more transparent. But in principle, I think you can see that adding transparency to the government process would remove a citizen's need for privacy.

If a government employee decides to snoop into my personal data, I want an automatic email that gives me a link to see everything about that employee. If he sees my stuff, I can see his. And he will have a hard time getting a job once he is known as a creeper. So here again, adding information to the system reduces my need for privacy.

My larger point is that society should not be looking for ways to maintain privacy. It should be looking for ways to make privacy unnecessary. We will never be free until we lose our unnecessary secrets and discover we are better off without them.

I know this sort of topic gets massive down votes because you don't want to risk losing privacy. But please do me a favor and rate this post on the entertainment value alone. I'm trying to gauge how interesting this topic is to you. Thank you!

Scott Adams
Co-founder of CalendarTree.com

Author of this book


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Aug 18, 2014
Sorry, this post and topic is not particularly entertaining but it is worrisome to some degree. Privacy is not simply about whether you have something you wish to hide but a matter of choice. There are people who make a living by choosing to be in the public eye and there are those who turn down that opportunity no matter what simply because they do not believe that is the right environment for them or their families to live. IF we are simply moist robots, then I would suggest the majority of robots are programmed to seek and choose privacy.

The idea you are espousing is to make information so readily available that there is simply too much information for an evil entity such as the government to make use of it. I don't necessarily agree. Information is power and hence the reason why the government seeks to obtain it. If everyone freely gave up their information, it becomes much easier for the government to manipulate the moist robots under its control. If they didn't have such information, then it becomes much harder to control the populace and the balance of power swings back into favor of the people.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 15, 2014
You might like to watch Black Mirror.

+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 15, 2014
If everything is public, you become fair game for second-guessing; analysis of every word and action in minutiae. So every piece of baggage that we carry gets way heavier and harder to discard.

Right now, fewer good people enter public life (politics) because the price of doing so is complete loss of privacy, and the loss of privacy of all family members, friends and business associates. The life of a politician is compared to living in a fish-bowl. Granted, that the fish-bowl effect is one-way: if the identity and agenda of attackers were visible, attacks might be less vicious. But sensible people certainly think long and hard before entering politics and shedding every aspect of privacy. Perhaps creating a self-selection of reckless people competing for "leadership" positions.

Hostility is everywhere. Privacy is something of a shield. Not one that I would lightly cast aside in favor of some vague bromides that do indeed seem cousins to utopian arguments in favor of Communism regardless of the complete and utter failure that Communism has repeatedly proved itself to be.

ps If Scott is going to use God-like access to snipe posts WITHIN those posts, sure seems like we should be able to rate the snipes up or down separately from the sniped post. Might be good feedback for Scott as well.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 14, 2014
By letting the government unfettered access to our personal data will lead to private companies having the same unfettered access to our data. It's only a matter of time. As I recall, there was one insurance company was going to base their life insurance and/or health insurance based on your grocery store buying habits. It may have been defeated in congress, but that only means there wasn't enough money thrown at it (our elected officials).

Don't underestimate the power of the corporate side. While you may not have anything to hide now, that might not be true in the future, though you'll still be living the same wonderful way you do now.

All I know is that I am trying to make enough money to quietly slip out of society and enjoy the simple things in life. It's honestly getting too scary and stupidity seems to be the prevailing mentality.
Aug 13, 2014
...just what exactly are you hiding?
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 13, 2014
1. I see secrecy / privacy as a major competitive advantage
Sure, it's not the only one in existence, but if everyone else gives gives up their privacy, then anyone who manages to hang on to his own to some extent will be in a very good position.

2. Usually anything new must be proven before being accepted. If I'm trying to do something in a new way, I don't need everyone in the world to tell me I'm an idiot - I may start believing them, and then where is innovation going to come from?
Aug 13, 2014
A third reason for wanting privacy (also linked to dysfunction an associated with reason 1) is you are doing something that is perfectly legal and ethical now, but the government/society may consider illegal/unethical in the future. It's like pictures of Steven Spielburg with a downed triceratops. It was perfectly ethical for him to poach that poor dinosaur when the picture was taken, but now he is considered a monster for causing the extinction of the entire dinosaur population.
Aug 13, 2014
Scott. May I call you Scott?

OK, Mr. Dilbert then;

It is a common mistake to consider the human thought process a strictly learned process which can be manipulated via education.

It is also a common mistake to consider moral values as absolute; that is to say that humans, all humans, will, given the correct stimulus, choose 'good' over 'evil.

Sadly, this is not the case.

As an engineer, I refer you to the Jungian theory (supported by Chomsky) that there are behavioral patterns encoded into the structure of the oldest (in evolutionary terms) parts of the brain.

These are identified, like mesons, not by actual observation, but by their 'markers'. In this case, they are evidenced by the human ability towards language aquisition (Chomsky) and through the theory of Archetypes (Jung).

Given this duality, that humans can choose to hate, enjoy inflicting pain (not to mention the poorly wired sociopath, the 'sufferers' of Borderline Personality Disorders, etc) and that they are wired for certain activities, it is a bad call to suggest that the fringe elements (gays, communists in capitalist countries, capitalists in commie countries, cartoonists, etc) can ever be safe from 'everyone' if these private 'sins' are made public.

Please, if you read Jung, ignore the 'dream' analysis. He oversteps himself (or I am too stupid to follow his convoluted associations with archetypes), but his theory of Archetypes is evident and supportable (Chomsky).

Good Hunting !
Aug 12, 2014
I think you're supposed to yell "Mark Naught" when you drop the depth sounding line overboard and the weight goes thump on dry ground.

or ...

Maybe "Mark Naught" signifies being only two clicks and a big moustache away from duplicating the success of a famous author from the 1800's.
Aug 12, 2014
1. The more I know about you, the easier it is to become you, i.e. identity theft.

2. [In your example of looking for another job, that could be fixed by the boss Yelp review. Who wants to work for a company that fires you for looking at your options? -- Scott]

You have obviously not had to look for a conventional job for a long time. I need to keep job searches private because any hint of moving can be severely punished (firing). I can choose where I work, but I do not get to choose my direct boss, so the Yelp review would have no bearing on my job.

3. To answer your question, I do not find this subject entertaining nor thought provoking. I always question your grasp of reality when you discuss doing away with personal privacy.
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 12, 2014
I'm reminded of Louis Brandeis' quote about the cure to bad speech is more speech.

But, oops, he was a privacy advocate:
Aug 12, 2014
[I would expect more competition with less privacy, specifically because you can tell how to compete against weakness. -- Scott]

I think you might be right; what I don't know is whether it would be a good thing or not. It could go either way.

What this does is effectively change the game from one like straight poker to one like stud poker, since perfect information in real-life is impossible unless we learn how to read minds.

Some argue that stud poker is more skill based, since there is more useful information available to everyone in the game, and it reduces the effect of luck. I think most would agree that the world would be better if success depended more on skill and less on luck.

But I could see a potential negative: Reducing the effects of luck is unequally beneficial, since the effects of luck are already diminished for those already in strong positions. If a player has many chips already, he only needs average luck and skill to continue to expand his winnings, but with only a few chips, even a very skilled player will need better than average luck to expand his position. By reducing the effects of chance, you make things relatively worse for newcomers to the game.
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 12, 2014
OK Scott,
what information do you think the public would need for your wife to be OK with a webcam in her shower?
I suspect that people will desire privacy in some locations for the indefinite future.
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 12, 2014
As long as there is a majority doing x, being y, people are wired to reject people not being y or not doing x. It's a moist robot thing. Only by having privacy, you are free to sometimes not be robot n 1.
Aug 12, 2014
If I purchase a Christmas gift for my wife, I have a legitimate reason for privacy in that I don't want to spoil the surprise and/or don't want people to know she has something of value (or how much I'm willing to spend on gifts).

I may want my location kept private, because if my wife knows I was at Victoria's Secret or Tiffany's she will infer her gift.

Aesthetically, there should be an element of mystery. A world in which all potential mates know how often you dine out and your average bill, where is the romance?

These protections unite the "Bootleggers and Baptists", though - with private location and purchases you have plenty of cover for unethical behavior.

Overall I "agree" that privacy is a temporary state of humanity, bridging tribal living and complete discoverability of behavior [coming soon]. Relatively very few generations of humans will have ever enjoyed privacy, and we're among them.
Aug 12, 2014
The desire for privacy comes from evolution. We have evolved to conclude that being hunted is a bad thing.
Aug 12, 2014
People's feelings are an excellent reason to not throw privacy out the window.

We can't ditch the need for respect of other people's feelings and retain our humanity- in fact, the whole concept feels like a combination of THX-1132, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and dealing with the TSA at the airport. What a nightmarish scenario: a bunch of small-minded bureaucrats empowered with the idea that they have the right to know everything about you.
+11 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 12, 2014
I love your thoughts as always, and in an ideal world this would make sense. Unfortunately you make an assumption that has proven to be untrue.

*People change their views in light of education*

That is the improper assumption. It's easier to change someone's views on flawed math, you can easily show that 1 1 can only equal 2 and nothing else. To be fair, some people are able to change their flawed views based on whatever knowledge shows them, but i hypothesize this is not the case for the majority - rather they stick to confirming their views (in most subjects). My evidence: the growth of religion. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Growth_of_religion#Overall_statistics

Most people go to school and learn all sorts of scientific fact that directly contradict their religious views - yet religion continues to grow, even in the face of the Internet. Further, even highly educated people very knowledgeable about critical thinking and Bayesian reasoning are not able to apply it to subjects outside their profession. See http://rationality.org/

I'm not saying your method is impossible, rather, it will take some kind of new approach to education that shows people how to use new knowledge to change their personal views - only after this, can they be expected to be more open minded about things people keep private.

One last counter-point, sometimes 1 and 2 are the same. Something is illegal because the dysfunctional world made it so. Ideally, the education would solve 1, but are there limits to this? Off the top of my head: could people be open-minded regarding consensual human-animal sexuality? If you knew a co-worker did things to his dog, things that the dog thoroughly enjoyed, would you be able to treat that person the same way even with the new knowledge you have? But forget sex, maybe you like to spend your weekends collecting and sniffing panties; pooping in jars and exchanging them on the Internet; trolling forums pretending to be a desperate !$%*! women; or maybe you like looking at obscene real gore video.

My point is, for many people, no amount of knowledge will help them be more comfortable with much of the above. Most of it is even legal today, but if one did any of it, and one's co-workers found out - things would certainly never be the same again. Even if you couldn't be fired for it (directly or indirectly), co-workers would treat you very differently. Would the benefit of finding like-minded/sniffing people outweigh that? Not if it leads to losing all sense or normalcy, in my humble opinion. Some things are better kept private, no matter how accepting society becomes.
Aug 12, 2014
How about a 3rd reason for wanting privacy:

3. To prevent other people from doing something illegal or unethical (to me).

I don't want my private banking/financial or personal information available to the public. With access to this data, people can use my identity to steal from me and from others. It's bad enough I'm supposed to trust the government with this information, but they have guns so I have to do what they say.

[That information is already available to both your bank and your government, and those are the two most evil institutions on the planet. Your neighbor wouldn't give a shit about your finances after the first ten seconds. And crooks can tell who has money and who does not without any extra help. -- Scott]

Aug 12, 2014
There is another reason for privacy that I think might fit between the two stated. It is that in a competitive setting it is in the best interest of people to hide their specific vulnerabilities from others.

The question here is, would everyone knowing everyone else's weaknesses result in more or less restraint in competition? Would competitors tacitly or formally agree that certain things are 'off limits' out of a sense of mutually assured destruction, or would they be even more ruthless in attacking at points of weakness? Would the loss of privacy be constructive or destructive?

My guess is that it would be the latter.

[I would expect more competition with less privacy, specifically because you can tell how to compete against weakness. -- Scott]
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