Privacy as a Public Good

air-pollutionKieron O’Hara argues in this article that privacy isn’t necessarily a private benefit like health or champagne, but a public good like clean air or scientific research. Therefore, giving away our privacy might be similar to polluting the atmosphere or refusing to publish our results:

Where does that leave us? We must acknowledge the enormous social good to be had from big data, whether gains go to government, civil society, or business. We shouldn’t try to suppress e-commerce or social networking. But a case can be made for greater transparency —for instance, as regards profiling—so that people are aware of not only what happens to their data, but also how decisions are made about them based on data analysis. We need tools and protocols to support control of our personal data.

Most of all, however —with a nod to Zuckerberg’s insight— we must ensure that our social norms reflect not only the pleasure we get from visibility to the network, but also the important benefits that protecting privacy will produce for society as a whole. This can’t be a matter of regulation, but rather depends on us all taking our responsibilities seriously.

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