You Don’t Really Care About Privacy

Last week, I listened to this podcast interview with Walter Kirn [best known as the author of Up in the Air], largely based on his November 2015 article  in The Atlantic, “If You’re Not Paranoid, You’re Crazy.”

As I travel around talking to leaders, parents, and teenagers about mobile devices I get questions from a myriad of different categories:

  • Family life, how mobile devices are positively and negatively impacting the home.
  • Personal life, how mobile devices are positively and negatively impacting the emotional life, mental life, and physical life of individuals.
  • Parental duty, helping teenagers navigate an online life that is healthy for them.
  • Specific apps, information & concerns about specific mobile applications.
  • Specific devices, technology that people have bought, are thinking of buying, or questions about device specific settings.

But I don’t find many people even thinking about the larger question: Do we care that we are carrying a device in our pockets or purses that is tracking our every move? Do we care where that information goes? Do we care that our government is monitoring what we post online? Do we care if other governments or non-government actors are tracking us? Do we care if companies are developing apps that can turn your phone into a listening device, your casual conversations converted to text and that data mined to target you with advertising? Do we care that the camera on your phone or laptop can be used to remotely take photos of you without your permission?

You Say You Care But You Don’t

Here’s what I’ve surmised from hundreds and hundreds of conversations. People say they care about all of this but they don’t really. At least not enough to change their behavior.

Why is that? It’s actually kind of simple.

People are much more worried about protecting their privacy from the people in their lives than they are about an app developer, the United States government, or even non-U.S. governments.

An interpersonal breach of privacy has impact they can see. A remote intrusion, no matter how much more private– say listening to the conversations you have with your spouse or looking at the photos on your phone… has impact that seems inconsequential at the time.

In the end, convenience and cool gadgetry far outweighs any and all privacy concerns. 

Black helicopters, giant data farms in the desert, listening devices posted up in public places and in your pockets and no one seems to care. 

Why? The neuroscientists have won.






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