Get over Your ‘Privacy’ Concerns

December 12, 2012 • Commentary
This article appeared in The New York Times on December 12, 2012.

Based on the expectations of the past — of neither sharing nor receiving information online — it is a “loss” for privacy to visit Web sites, use mobile devices and download apps. Judging by their behavior, though, most people regard the trade‐​off of personal information for access to content and communication as a good one. There’s no reason why it’s not good for supervised kids.

Imagine that “going outside” had never existed, and that government‐​funded scientists had to invent outdoor spaces. Would you have to relinquish your privacy to use them? In a sense, yes. Your neighbors would see you as they hadn’t before, make note of your movements, and probably talk about you some. We lose control of personal information every time we go out.

The benefits of walking around are pretty great, though, and we are familiar with the media of light and sound, so we don’t think of it as a loss for privacy when we go outside. Most parents send their kids out to play.

There actually is an environment that got its start through government‐​funded research a few decades ago. When we use the Internet, we have to share information about ourselves, just like we do when we go outside. The terms are different online because information is digital. It is more revealing in some ways and less revealing in others.

Parents can and do send their kids to appropriate parts of the Internet for the entertainment and mental exercise it offers. Young or old, for tidbits of personal data, we get back incredible swathes of information, entertainment, services and shopping opportunities. We are better educated, more efficient in our work and travel, we’re smarter consumers, and we have broader social connections.

Some state and federal regulators today are saying, What about privacy? Won’t somebody think of the children?

The children who take the lead in the information society will be the ones who learn from a young age how to live in it.

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