Privacy = personal agency + respect by others for personal dignity

ProjectVRM 2018-07-10

Privacy is a state each of enjoys to the degree others respect it.

And they respect what economists call signals. We send those signals through our behavior (hand signals, facial expressions) and technologies. Both are expressions of agency: the ability to act with effect in the world.

So, for example, we signal a need not to reveal our private parts  by wearing clothes. We signal a need not to have our private spaces invaded by buttoning our clothes, closing doors, setting locks on those doors, and pulling closed curtains or shades. We signal a need not to be known by name to everybody by not wearing name tags as we walk about the world. (That we are naturally anonymous is a civic grace, but a whole ‘nuther thread.)

All of this has been well understood in the physical world for as long as we’ve had civilization—and perhaps longer. It varies by culture, but has been remarkably non-controversial,… until we added the digital world to the physical one.

The digital world, like the physical one, came without privacy. We had to invent privacy in the physical world with technologies (clothing, shelter, doors, locks) and norms such as respect for the simple need for personal dignity.

I’ve written more than enough about how #adtech (tracking-based advertising) and other surveillance-based businesses are beyond corrupt and broken. So let’s not go there. Instead let’s look at what we can do on the individual’s side to increase the ability to signal what’s okay and not okay, and on the organizational side to respect personal dignity.

For that we need personal tech, and norms that follow when that tech becomes standard and in common use as ways to express and respect personal agency. Laws and regulations should follow, restricting violations of those norms and misuse of the tech.

Unfortunately, we got the laws (GDPR, AB 375) before we got the tech or the norms.

But I’m encouraged about getting the tech, for two reasons. One is the work going on here among VRM-ish developers. The other is that @GregAEngineer gave a talk this morning on exactly this topic, at the IEEE #InDITA conference in Bangalore.

More later. I need to go back to following the proceedings here.