In the midst of bombshell Snowden revelations, Google has come out on the side of users in many instances, choosing to criticize the NSA. Now, Google's chief Internet evangelist Vint Cerf told the U.S. Federal Trade Commission that real privacy may be an anomaly and something that has only recently come about among humans.
Along with the odd nature of privacy elaborated upon by Cerf, he brought up the important fact that very little of someone's life is private simply due to his own actions. He says that social media has been a huge contributor to a general lack of privacy between individuals.
He May Be Right
Cerf definitely has a point in saying that privacy is not inherent to humans, nor is it something that had been expected in the culture for very long. Only a short time ago, postmasters in small towns would know who was sending mail to the town's residents and only a little before that, few people cared about neighbors seeing them bathe.
When realizing how open people were just 100 to 200 years ago, the idea of complete and utter privacy seems odd for humans. Instead of the way that people normally think of the Internet in taking away privacy, Cerf says that the Internet practically invented the idea of keeping things hidden from others.
"In a town of 3,000 people there is no privacy. Everybody knows what everybody is doing," said Cerf, while taking questions yesterday at a FTC event. Now that the Internet is so common, that town of 3,000 has grown into a digital town of millions that is perhaps even more tightly knit and within which it is harder to instill privacy.
"It’s the industrial revolution and the growth of urban concentrations that led to a sense of anonymity," Cerf said. With the industrial revolution occurring just a short time ago, we may still be in the early stages of developing and instilling privacy.
The Biggest Obstacle
By choosing to create social networks with the Internet, it seems as though humans have created their own obstacles in the way of true privacy, a point echoed by Cerf. "Our social behavior is also quite damaging with regard to privacy," Cerf says.
In choosing to share absolutely everything about oneself, it seems trivial for that person to request privacy. By no means is Cerf anti-privacy, instead he seems to be putting the idea of privacy into context, showing why it is difficult to demand that things remain hidden.
"We are going to live through situations where some people get embarrassed, some people end up going to jail, some other people have other problems as a consequence of some of these experiences. . . . This is something we're gonna have to live through. I don't think it’s easy to dictate this."
While privacy is something that is attainable, Cerf wanted people to understand why things seem so far from private in light of the NSA, social networks, and other inherent opponents of privacy.