David Shaw dshaw at
Wed Mar 23 21:50:39 CET 2011

On Mar 23, 2011, at 3:06 PM, Mark H. Wood wrote:

> On Tue, Mar 22, 2011 at 10:34:27PM -0400, Robert J. Hansen wrote:
> [snip]
>> My own dark suspicion is that what we have always thought of as
>> "privacy" is nothing more than an inefficiency in information exchange.
>> So long as information exchange has a certain cost threshold, it's not
>> worth my time or effort to share information about you.  As that cost
>> threshold diminishes, so too does our privacy.  If it cost a penny to
>> leave a YouTube comment, Rebecca Black would have twelve people
>> scattered across the world who had said something bad about her.  Since
>> it's free, though... well, she has no privacy anymore, and I feel very
>> sorry for her.
> An interesting thought.  I'm going to keep this one.
> My suspicion is that we never had anywhere near as much privacy as
> many believe.  A hundred years ago, when nobody had computers or
> databases or Internets, everyone in town knew your name, your address,
> your occupation, your family, your approximate economic status, your
> (ir)religion, your circle of friends, and many past deeds you'd rather
> have forgotten.  We may actually have *more* privacy these days, when
> so much can be done in secret and only the machines know until someone
> thinks to ask the right one in the right way.

Yes.  My concern with this is that the ability (if not the desire) to "ask the right one" is growing so rapidly, and the cost of asking is dropping.

For example, I do genealogy as a hobby, and figuring out how person A was related to person B 100 years ago would involve trips to the town in question, and poring over a hand-kept records book in the town hall.  These days, there are a number of websites that have brought that sort of information online.  The information from old town record book is essentially unchanged, but the ability to access it is dramatically easier.  Such easy access enables all sorts of cross-referencing and data mining across multiple databases that were (strictly speaking) possible a hundred years ago, but also extremely unrealistic.


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