As for governments, I think the advocates of "personal openness" are naïve, thinking that governments are always benevolent toward their citizens. In fact, likely the future will not look like Orwell's 1984 or Jeremy Bentham's panopticon prison, or an Eastern bloc police state during the Cold War. Those are metaphors from another era that depended upon a single, all-knowing malevolent power seeking control. The more appropriate metaphor for the growing loss of privacy today would be Frank Kafka's The Trial, where the central character awaits trial and judgment from an inscrutable bureaucracy for a crime that he is not told about, using evidence that is never revealed to him, in a process that is equally random and inscrutable. Similarly, we could become the targets of social engineering, decisions and discrimination. And we will never really know what, or why.
"Transparency, even radical transparency, is an opportunity and responsibility for companies, governments, and other institutions. But the new movement toward 'personal sharing' is naïve and misguided. Transparency applies fundamentally to institutions, not to individuals."
Corporate profiling, data mining, and Big Data also have a dark side. Do we comprehend the implications of a world where corporations have near perfect information about each of us? Knowledge is power. Could firms go beyond fairly influencing us, to being able to manipulate us or cause qualitatively greater dangerous consumer behavior in society?
On a more fundamental level, privacy is essential to human relationships, as strong ties arise from sharing secrets and forging information symmetries. Privacy is even a foundation of the formation and maintenance of the self and of how we manage our reputations. Irving Goffman's seminal 1959 text "The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life" needs an update. Personal information is the stuff that makes up our modern identity and is the foundation of our personal security. It must be managed responsibly--not just by others, but also by each of us.
I've argued for many years that transparency, even radical transparency, is an opportunity and responsibility for companies, governments, and other institutions. But the new movement toward "personal sharing" is naïve and misguided. Transparency applies fundamentally to institutions, not to individuals.
Rather than living our lives out loud, we each need a personal privacy strategy governing what information we release and to whom. Rather than default to openness, we should default to privacy, and then choose to share information when the benefits outweigh the dangers.
Shirky: You've written so much about the different ways young people see the world, having grown up with the affordances of the Internet and mobile phones. Given the enormity of the gap in attitudes and behaviors between people as close in age as people in their late 20s and people in their late 40s, we still have a full generation of greatly differing perspectives to work out. Do you think the views of the young will win by demographics, or that a big cultural rift is coming, or that people who didn't grow up digital will eventually adopt the outlook and norms of those who did?