A couple of weeks ago I got into a rather spirited conversation on Twitter with, amongst other people, Charles Arthur of The Guardian and Max Tatton-Brown contributor to The Telegraph. It’s scary that my descent into middle age is flagged by the fact that I seem to be agreeing with the latter much more than the former these days.
At the heart of the conversation was a question about data, privacy, value and cost. I choose to pay for a number of services that I use on the Internet through the “selling” of my data to (amongst others) Google, Facebook, LinkedIn and Microsoft. The services I receive in return (search, social networking and other services) are valuable to me. The cash value of my Internet usage data to me is practically zero (although accessing my past Internet usage is of value, as is tailoring my services to me based on my usage). The unknown quantity is what is the value of my privacy?
As I recently wrote, I’m not the sort of person who gets het up about keeping things private. I prefer living my life in a reasonably open manner, and find it a bit weird when people don’t (but accept that that is how they are). I’m also of the view that the privacy that accompanied the rise of city living post the industrial revolution was probably something of an historical anomaly. I don’t like the idea of being exploited by “the man”, but having worked for a few of them over the years, I’m also of the view that most organisations of scale are inherently and systematically stupid, not evil.
But am I being a fool? Am I selling myself short?
It’s one thing to be scrutinised by individuals, to have MI5 watching over you. It’s quite another to have your data scrutinized by machines. I never understood the hubbub about Google tailoring advertising based on the content of your email inbox – it’s not a bloke from Google doing it, it’s an algorithm and they’re very, very stupid things.
Maybe I’m desensitized. We live in one of the most monitored societies on the planet, with video cameras pointing at us seemingly from every angle. Maybe I’ll regret the decisions I’m making today. But at the moment the value of what I receive in return for the cost of some of my privacy (voluntarily given up, I may add) seems worthwhile.