The Most Powerful Privacy Setting

Amid the hullaballoo about Facebook and privacy, it’s easy to forget the most powerful privacy setting.

In my 2004 Policy Analysis, “Understanding Privacy—and the Real Threats to It,” I wrote about the “privacy-protecting decisions that millions of consumers make in billions of daily actions, inactions, transactions, and refusals.”

Inactions and refusals. Declining to engage in activities that emit personal information protects privacy. Not broadcasting oneself on Facebook protects privacy. Not going online protects privacy.

The horror, some may think, of not having access to the wonders of the online world. Actually, many people live full and complete lives without it, enjoying the perfect online privacy default. The irony is a little too rich when avid users of Facebook—which is little more than a publicity tool—complain about its privacy problems.

Facebook does have some work to do on rationalizing and communicating the privacy protections its offers its publicity-seeking users. But people will always have the privacy protecting option of not using Facebook.

Not so for government-sponsored incursions on privacy, like the national ID system proposed by Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY). Inaction and refusal of his national ID system would not be a practical option if Senator Schumer has his way. The irony isn’t just rich, it’s curdled and reeking when Senator Schumer leads the attack on Facebook for its privacy practices.