A New Deal for Privacy?

January 16, 2010

“We need a New Deal about privacy,” said Hal Niedzviecki, author of The Peep Diaries, at the Office for Intellectual Freedom's kickoff for Choose Privacy Week, which will be first observed May 2–8, 2010.

Niedzviecki discussed his flirtation with what he called “Peep Culture”—the willingness of people to share and consume the details of each other’s lives, be it on Facebook, personal blogs, Twitter, or wherever. Many do so for a sense of connection, or catharsis, or attention. This kind of sharing isn’t inherently wrong, Niedzviecki argued, but there is a discussion that needs to be had about why people participate, what they expect to get out of sharing their details, and how or if they will actually get those things.

Our propensity to share certainly benefits businesses. “They used to have to pay thousands of dollars to find out what you had for breakfast. Now people are religiously updating their status,” Niedzviecki said. So privacy has become a commodity rather than an absolute right. “How can we make sure we're not getting ripped off in some way, which right now, we are.”

Niedzviecki observed that despite the price of private information, there is also value in not knowing. He shared an example from his book of a party to which he invited his 700 Facebook friends, none of whom he knew in real life. Some 40 said they were definitely coming; only one did. When he followed up to ask why, they said that by following him online, they felt they already knew him. “Once you feel like you know something, you feel like you can move on from it,” he said.

Therefore, people should be freed from the idea that cyber-involvement is as meaningful as plunging into real-world unknowns.


Excerpt from a pre-speech interview with Hal Niedzviecki


Interview with OIF Director Barbara Jones about Choose Privacy Week