Third Party & Independents Archives

From August 2, 1790 to Mark Zuckerberg

The Center for Democracy and Technology cares about your privacy and the fact that Google and Facebook have contributed a few million to the center makes no difference. According to Justin Brookman, Director of Consumer Privacy at CDT and co-chair of it’s “Do Not Track” working group, “Facebook and Google can’t monitor what you do on third party sites.” Plus the industry standard on privacy and things like 3rd party cookies is voluntary. So there. But should people be furious that Google or Facebook or other large internet firms may be tracking your web behavior on 3rd party sites? How sacred a right is privacy in the 21st century, especially online?

In the first place, privacy - It seems to be an Anglo-American tradition that, until the information age really began to gather steam and government data gathering began to have far greater implications, was not nearly as important in other cultures, even some European ones - is not an absolute right in any society today nor has it ever been. Chatting in an adult site in coded language over a plan to launch a terrorist strike will attract intelligence agencies and they will eavesdrop on you. To then throw out evidence in court because of the terrorists privacy concerns is an unlikely outcome in most of the world's judicial systems, to say the least. On the other hand, the intentionally intrusive image in Plato's Republic of citizens of all ages together doing their gymnastic exercises in the nude is a dystopian nightmare and intrusion on personal modesty that will hopefully remain theoretical. Even in Sweden. So there are clear limits to privacy or lack of privacy at either extreme, but that leaves a large and occasionally uncomfortable terrain in between.

The issue of privacy cuts deep in America because it touches on the sacred trilogy of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. Did the founding fathers intend privacy to be a residual right of sorts? Always in effect unless sacrificed for some specific purpose, like national security? If that is the case, was enacting a census a historical mistake when on August 2, 1790 the first one was held? Where "the law required that every household be visited. That completed census schedules be posted 'in two of the most public places within [each jurisdiction], there to remain for the inspection of all concerned' ..." All to be carried out by the marshalls in each judicial district. Your family's private details posted by marshalls in the public square for all to see. By law.

So perhaps the founding fathers were not too fussy, at least at certain times, about privacy after all. And as government's role has spread over the more than 220 years that have followed that first census, public employees do and will know increasing amounts of detail about your personal life. Do Google and Facebook have the right to follow suit? That depends on what recourse one has as an individual who does not want 3rd party cookies giving them indigestion if you will. Google and Facebook make their money in great part by finding out what you do online. So their motivation as for-profit corporations is clear. Perhaps the critics of CDT - like Marc Rotenberg of the Electronic Privacy Information Center - are right and we do need clearer policies, even just self-regulating ones, that protect privacy. It is a vital debate that will continue. Of course, there is a somewhat more practical solution. You adjust the settings on your browser. While it might be more heroic to rail against Google and Facebook, the practical solution also works ... for now and as far as we know at least.

Posted by AllardK at January 26, 2015 8:08 PM
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