Privacy is a good thing, right?

Almost everyone agrees with that statement.

Assuming the majority is correct - and privacy is a good thing - you probably have examples from your own law-abiding life in which losing your privacy created a lasting problem for you. Can you tell me a few stories like that?

Probably not.

Okay, now can you give me some examples in which sacrificing your privacy worked to your advantage? I'll bet you can.

Maybe you shared your medical history with your doctor and that allowed him to treat you more effectively.

Maybe you put your personal information on an online dating service and it helped you find the love of your life.

Maybe you showed your past tax returns to your bank and it helped you secure a mortgage to your dream house.

Maybe you were secretly gay or lesbian and it was a huge relief when you came out.

Maybe you installed a device on your car that allows your insurance company to track your driving history in return for lower rates.

Maybe you enjoy sharing your life on Facebook.

Maybe Google tracked your search history and later served up an ad that was exactly what you were looking for.

Maybe your favorite airline gave you a free upgrade because they know you fly with them often.

Maybe you put your work history on LinkedIn and someone offered you a job.

We tend to fear losing our privacy until it's gone. Then we wonder what all the fuss was about. It turns out that the bigger challenge than retaining privacy is getting anyone to care about you at all.

I know, I know: You want to lecture me about how an evil government can use your private information to hurt you. You might even toss in a Hitler reference or two because that helps any argument.

But I would counter that you're describing a situation in which the government has privacy and you don't. I'm not in favor of that situation either. If the government were to operate with complete transparency, not counting some national security secrets, law-abiding citizens would have nothing to fear. The government and the governed would keep each other under control. So don't confuse a problem created by too much privacy (the government's) with one caused by too little privacy.

Let's game out another scenario in which citizens give up privacy and see if that seems better or worse. I'll pick gun registration as my example because it's a hot topic. Suppose that tomorrow you could go online and see which of your neighbors registered their legal guns. What would you do next?

Well, if you don't already own a gun, you probably get one quickly because burglars can see the same information you see. You don't want to be the one unarmed home on the block. And because you're a good citizen, you get a gun safe, maybe trigger locks, and you train every member of the family in proper gun use. Now every home in your neighborhood has a small armory.

My best guess is that in that scenario the burglary rate in the neighborhood goes down. And instead of gun registration leading to government disarmament of the public as many fear, my best guess is that gun ownership would expand. And if the burglary rate goes down as a result, politicians would be happy to take credit.

The studies on gun ownership and crime rates are sketchy in my opinion, so no one can safely predict what might happen if every neighbor had a registered gun. Maybe that would lead to gun duels in the streets, suburban warlords, and sniper attacks on backyard barbecues. But historical patterns suggest it would be more good than bad. I say that because every case I can think of in which adult citizens intelligently gave up privacy in this country turned out well.

I can imagine insurance companies offering lower rates to customers who have passed gun safety programs and/or own gun safes. In the long run, you might have more gun ownership but a higher rate of gun safety. It's hard to know where that nets out.

Here's a story from my personal life in which giving up privacy helped tremendously. For most of my life I harbored an embarrassing secret that I am about to reveal to you: I can't use restrooms if any other human is nearby. For decades I believed I had some sort of mental problem. I was ashamed of my condition and never spoke of it. I continuously made excuses for avoiding situations with inadequate bathroom privacy. The inconvenience of it all was debilitating. Leaving the house for more than an hour was a nightmare because I couldn't be sure I would have access to a bathroom I could use.

Then several years ago, an unexpected thing happened. My older brother went public, website and all, with the same problem. We grew up together and somehow neither of us was aware of the other's situation. I later learned that the condition has a genetic component. It goes by the medical name paruresis, or more commonly shy bladder, and perhaps 5% of the public have it.

My brother gave up his privacy because he thought it would help others. And it has. My own problem diminished by about 75% within a year of learning that other people suffered from the same condition. I started admitting my condition to my friends, only to learn that a surprising number have the same problem. And once I was open about it, I found I could say without embarrassment which bathroom situations work for me and which ones don't. When I let go of my privacy on that topic, it improved my life considerably. With the exception of the Oakland A's stadium restrooms, in which men stand shoulder to shoulder to pee in a trough, I can now use normal public restrooms without much trouble. And all of that happened because my brother gave up his privacy on the topic and I followed his lead.

About 5% of the people reading my story just took a deep breath and felt normal for the first time in their lives. You can thank my brother's lack of privacy for that.

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Sep 5, 2013
Would I want to explain to the families of terrorism victims why my privacy is so important? Probably no more than you would want to explain to the tens of thousands of people every year who lose family members to auto accidents why you having a car is so important compared to their loved ones' lives. If we're going to start giving things up to save lives, getting rid of terrorist attacks should be WAY down the list.

Also about guns, besides vacations and wanting to steal the guns, most burglaries happen during the day when people are at work, so having a gun doesn't protect you from that even if the burglars know you have it. Only if you live in such a high crime area that you're concerned about people breaking into your house when they can tell you're home.
Sep 4, 2013
what we seem to have hear is a problem of definitions. if "privacy" = people not knowing stuff about you and "transparency" = people knowing stuff about you, then this post makes some degree of sense. But that is not what privacy means in the traditional sense of the term.

privacy is the condition of being able to be known to the extent that you want to be. therefore, Scott's brother can willfully make public his medical condition, or his entire life, and not technically lose his privacy, because he is still functioning in the condition of being known to the extent that he wants to be.

therefore, an invasion of privacy happens not when knowledge about a person is shared, but when knowledge of a person is shared against that person's will. and THAT is the experience that most people don't like, and won't like even if it is forced upon everyone and the government equally (as if that were possible).

So yes, it is possible to experience positive results when sharing knowledge about yourself within the context of the condition of privacy, but that does not make privacy archaic. Just the opposite.
Sep 4, 2013
Scott, I think the thing you're not considering is that even if you share something, you still want to have control over how much, and with who. People like to keep different circles of their life separate. Sometimes for convenience, sometimes for safety.

Here's an example. What if a guy is a closet crossdresser. Maybe he comes out to his wife and his close friends, and yes maybe that is a relief and a net gain.
But what if he still doesn't want his neighbours to know, because he doesn't want them involved part of his life. Does he not have that right? Maybe a well intentioned female neighbour keeps pestering him about it. What if the judgemental next-door-neighbour starts being a jerk, when they used to have a cordial aquaintanceship. What if religious ma and pa disown him when he really wants to continue a loving relationship?

You can say that if everybody's dirty laundry was hanging up, no-one could judge each other or be hostile, but that's simply not true. That's not human nature. I grew up with siblings. We all have dirt on each other. But that doesn't mean it evens out. It multiplies. And if my brothers weren't my friends/family, things could get bad.
+5 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 4, 2013
So there's no such thing as blackmail?

I believe that illustrates the importance of keeping some things private.
Sep 4, 2013
Funny how many people are responding about how the loss of privacy is no big deal, but they are ALL hiding behind alias's. Funny how Mr. Adams writes about how privacy is no big deal but only shows us a voluntary example of someone coming out, and still doesn't give us his home address or cell phone number. I'm sure the 'evil' government knows it, and I'm even more sure the 'evil' government is NOT going to be transparent about it.

Maybe that's part of this incorrect thinking on privacy. Sure, we all know the 'evil' government could today, right now, put out for all to see, some of our most private information. But we just assume they won't. For different reasons, of course. No point in it, too much info to get out in a meaningful way, no desire to show just how much they know. Most likely, sheer antipathy towards most citizens. The 'evil' government knows, but probably will through stupidity or laziness just not bother to release it. And if they do on a limited basis, most likely it will be a neighbor who disappears in the night, and who really cares, since it won't be me. Today.

Like the frog tossed into the pot of water on a lit stove. As long as the water is tepid, the frog will stay, until it's eventually boiled as the temp goes higher, but toss a frog in a hot pot of water and it will try to get out. We're all being slowly boiled, but we don't notice each 1 deg rise in temp, because it's not much different than the previous state.

So, all is well in liberty land. (paid political response by an unpaid political stooge...or not. Of course, there's nobody like that out there responding...right? Transparency and all that, right?)
Sep 4, 2013

[Scott, I think there's a high probability that all of these arguments about the uselessness of privacy are a defense mechanism against the fact that you have less of it. As an officially recognized and registered "famous person" you're just one drunken escapade away from TMZ, and you're trying to make this seem OK. And for you it is, because you've got the additional positive aspects of being a famous person, like legions of adoring fans and tons of money. But a loss of privacy is always a downside that needs to be compensated. ]


[Every now and then, Scott reveals an astonishing lack of insight into the human condition for someone who authors a comic strip about the abuses endured by corporate worker drones.]


[I'm a huge fan, normally agree with you, but this is one of the few cases where your argument is really really terrible. I suspect that you have just lived a very limited/sheltered sort of life (on purpose, from how you describe yourself) so maybe you really do lack experience in this. But even if you are lacking experience it should be trivial to observe and imagine all the BAD repercussions from lack of privacy.]

Ive said this before and Ill say it again: it looks like Scott is forgetting what its like for the rest of us and could probably do with a temp cubicle job just to remind himself.
Sep 3, 2013
I have a shy bladder too. The trough is not for me.

We need to be in control of our personal information. I am all for helping marketers and the government, but some sneaky bathturd, somewhere, is going to figure out how to use my personal information to take advantage of me.

My marriage would end in divorce if my wife knew what I do online even though it doesn't negatively affect our marriage.
+8 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 3, 2013
Every now and then, Scott reveals an astonishing lack of insight into the human condition for someone who authors a comic strip about the abuses endured by corporate worker drones.

Leaving aside basic personal information (bank PIN, credit card, home address, net worth, physical property, weight, self-defense, etc.) that could make some people an easy target of a crime, the idea that a personal embarrassment cannot be used against someone is laughable. Just turn on any late-night monologue; if someone is revealed to have, say, chronic flatulence, or mild incontinence, or a disturbingly large teddy bear collection for an adult woman, or whatever else, you know the late night comedians will have a field day.

Good luck to that person getting a job, or a date, or whatever else after that. Every interaction they have, forever, will be colored by the fact that other people have their personal information.

Some people will be nice about it. Most will be jerks, though. Even though the episode of Scrubs it was from purported to tell us differently, I'm with Dr. Cox on this: "You know what people are, mostly? Basstards*. Basstard coated basstards with basstard filling."

You'll probably meet a few nice people in your life and forge bonds with them. But I bet you'll meet a lot more with whom you're better off having nothing to do.

(*yes, I can spell; the extra S is to avoid the filter)
+5 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 3, 2013
Darn! S h e l l y is filtered. Too private? ;-)
+7 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 3, 2013
Yes, I could tell you a recent (10 years ago) story about a friend of mine who had serious legal problems with a company because that company got hold of information that was supposed to be private, but the keeper of the information (the city) gave it away. I won't give you any detail because of privacy-reasons ;-)

Another example: In the early days of your own marriage, you blogged one or two times about your marital life (I remember a post about you being good at filling the dishwashing machine, and then !$%*!$ came and put in 100 more items). Then you got hundreds of wise-guy comments about being married and since then you rarely blog about this kind of thing anymore. I guessed because it was too private.
Sep 3, 2013
If you give up private information, to benifit others or yourself. That is great.

When it's take from you and reveald without your permission thats a crime.

For example your credit card number.

I have the darndest time with people stealing. I go through a card a year with the number being stolen. and I have to pay for Identity theft protection, as people are commiting fraud and crime with stolen ID at a alarming rate. They do things that can get you arrested, as one of my wifes subordinates found out.
+10 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 3, 2013
Yeah, cool. If we all publish our penis sizes on the 'net then women can find out what they're in for before the date. Some women like big ones, some women like small ones... this way we can all find our idel partner more easily, right? Peace and love until the end of time.

No, wait, all that will happen is that the jocks of this world will constantly remind people of the size of their dicks. Small-dicked people won't be able to run for office, etc., etc.

Sorry Scott, the world isn't perfect enough for what you propose. Information *can* be used against you. I don't see how publishing everybody's entire history on line can ever be a net benefit.

+12 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 2, 2013
Hey Scott. Does all this mean youwould have no trouble with past lovers talking publically out your sexual prefernces, or the IRS pulically revealing your net worth, or in your case, having your address revealed publically?
-7 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 2, 2013

I am not sure how I feel about any of this. But I do know far more than 5 kids get injured or killed on bicycles. Should bicycles be outlawed. Kids having fun worth kids getting killed????
+6 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 2, 2013

Consider, once a gun is stolen, it can only be sold illegally. Thus it is much more likely used for violence. Once it is stolen, the whole concept of a "who has a gun" database falls apart. You now know where the guns of the responsible people are, but not necessarily the guns of those walking the dark side of the street. The database could even act as an alibi. "I didn't shoot anyone! Look! *Tap tap* I don't even HAVE a gun! It's on the internet so it must be true!" Yes it's sad to think that might sway a jury, but would it surprise you?
Sep 2, 2013
I agree with most of this, but I still find your attitude to gun ownership hard to understand.

From this web site:

comes this statistic:
Every day approximately five children are injured or killed on a nationwide basis as a result of handguns.

Fewer burglaries is worth the price of children accidentally killed? Sorry, I don't get it.
+29 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 2, 2013
Scott, I think there's a high probability that all of these arguments about the uselessness of privacy are a defense mechanism against the fact that you have less of it. As an officially recognized and registered "famous person" you're just one drunken escapade away from TMZ, and you're trying to make this seem OK. And for you it is, because you've got the additional positive aspects of being a famous person, like legions of adoring fans and tons of money. But a loss of privacy is always a downside that needs to be compensated.

For example, if the locations of every gun in the country were made public, the fact that you had a gun would be known to every burglar in the world. This would be offset by the fact that you could afford a security system to keep it safe. The guy who lives in a small apartment, and works nights at the 7-11 is going to lose his .38 special. Now that gun is off the radar, and in the hands of criminals.

You say the world benefited from your brother's revelation of shy bladder syndrome, but that was a voluntary revelation. How would you feel if this fact was made public without your consent—back when it was still a closely guarded secret? I've worked places where everyone would wait for you to head to the bathroom, and follow in shortly afterwards for a party. Not everyone in the world is sensitive to the pain of others. Schadenfreude is more common than you think.

What if medical records were simply opened to the world? Everyone would know exactly who had venereal disease, so that should reduce the spread right? It also would create a subclass of untouchables, who rather than voluntarily sharing this information with their partners would be exposed to ridicule by everyone they know.

You say that people are relieved when the voluntarily come out. Should we out every homosexual for their own good?

How about the size and shape of genitalia? Wouldn't it be great if before the date you could Google what you're getting into?

By now half your readers think I'm an armed, closet homosexual with venereal disease, shy bladder syndrome, and a small penis. Let me reassure everyone that this is not the case. If you don't believe me, just wait until Scott gets his way and you can look it up.
-9 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 1, 2013
I'm not bothered by the NSA collecting all my internet and phone call info.
I'm an IT person and always assumed they were doing it.

The shocked and outraged people must not have realized it was happening.

I also fully expect there will be another 911 type event.
I'm willing to sacrifice my internet and phone privacy in the hope that some future 911 attempts will be thwarted before one succeeds.

What does everyone think will happen after the next 911 type event?
Won't that be the end of this discussion, and all internet and phone data will be authorized for collection?

If you think that will happen, why wait?
Let the NSA do what it needs to, and maybe we stop a few atrocities, save some lives.
Sep 1, 2013
yes, privacy is good, the distinction in all your examples is that someone chose to share their private thing. Not having privacy / invasion of privacy means someone else chooses to share your private thing. That's not cool ( even if in some cases it works out better for the person who has their privates exposed! )

+10 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 1, 2013

[Embarrassment is your own problem to deal with. It's the "spotlight fallacy", where you think everyone is paying attention to everything you do. The truth is, most people don't give a s--- about what you do. Just get over it.]

This only works for people who plan to not do anything noteworthy or ever put themselves in a place where they might be placed in public scrutiny. Your claim of the spotlight fallacy assumes that the spotlight won't be turned on someone for other reasons. If someone runs for public office, or even stops a theft on the street, suddenly their personal embarrassments can suddenly become fodder for a media desperate to get people worked up about something.

I guess the guy who stops the theft will just have to get over being vilified in an act of triumph, but also a good politician can't replace a corrupt one because everyone instead focuses on her childhood depression instead of potentially solving a very real problem.

To me you've glibly dismissed very real issues as psychosomatic.
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