Because Some People Share A Lot Of Info On Facebook, We Should Admit We've Given Up All Privacy Rights?

from the really-now? dept

While I don’t always agree with Frank Rich, he often does write thoughtful pieces on various current events, but his recent piece arguing that “privacy has jumped the shark,” and that Ed Snowden’s revelations are no big deal because people don’t care about privacy, is a complete train wreck. The basic argument is that because some people share lots of things on Facebook, and other people go on reality TV, it means that no one cares about privacy any more.

The truth is that privacy jumped the shark in America long ago. Many of us not only don’t care about having our privacy invaded but surrender more and more of our personal data, family secrets, and intimate yearnings with open eyes and full hearts to anyone who asks and many who don’t, from the servers of Fortune 500 corporations to the casting directors of reality-television shows to our 1.1 billion potential friends on Facebook. Indeed, there’s a considerable constituency in this country—always present and now arguably larger than ever—that’s begging for its privacy to be invaded and, God willing, to be exposed in every gory detail before the largest audience possible.

Except, that conflates a variety of different issues. Yes, some people choose to share some information about their lives in a very public way. And, certainly, some people think that others “overshare.” But, in all of those cases, it’s generally the person themselves choosing what information to share and how it’s shared. They may want to share lots of information that others would want to be kept private, but nothing in that suggests that Americans do not value their privacy.

It’s a hack argument.

He spends many paragraphs going on about the rise of reality TV, never bothering to note that very few people actually appear on reality TV, and an awful lot of people in the public, even those who religiously watch reality TV, would probably have no actual interest in appearing on one of those shows. Part of the appeal is the fact that you get to watch those idiots who seem to not have recognized the typical boundaries that prevent oversharing. Anyone suggesting, as Rich appears to do, that Americans get their beliefs on privacy from how the Robertsons from Duck Dynasty live, or how the Kardashian clan spends their time has a really warped sense of the American public.

Rich’s piece then goes on with the old argument about how anyone who paid attention already knew about this NSA spying. But that’s simply not true. Many, many people suspected it and pointed to hints and scraps of information that indicated it was going on. But the response from the media was generally that there wasn’t enough proof to support those claims, or they were so far out to be in tinfoil hat territory. Snowden’s leaks have done a hell of a lot to reveal the actual details, including the deception of public officials — and the failure of the media to be diligent in getting to the bottom of this story.

Privacy is not an easy issue, and there’s a lot of nuance. To argue that because some people choose to reveal some things, we should all just shut up about actual privacy violations by the government is ridiculous.

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Comments on “Because Some People Share A Lot Of Info On Facebook, We Should Admit We've Given Up All Privacy Rights?”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Because Google vacuums up data, we must all give up privacy?

There’s a big difference between posting too much personal information on Facebook and having some entity actively snoop for it. The former is just stupid, where the latter is wrong and nefarious no matter who does it, whether its the NSA, Google or a dumpster diver.

A key issue in Mike’s arguments, and my own is if the information collected is personally identifiable, and if it was collected from somewhere which should be private.

For instance, a catalog of Wifi networks is not personally identifiable (unless people use their name as the SSID), furthermore there is no expectation of privacy while broadcasting said network into a public place (such as a road).

On the other hand, reading peoples e-mails, and serving ads based on their content (what Google does) or looking for terrorist keywords (maybe what the NSA does) is not only downright creepy, but is a huge invasion of privacy. Most people expect their e-mail (like regular mail, or like a conversation) to be only between themselves and the addressee(s), otherwise they would not use it. E-mail is not a blog or a chat room, its contents are not intended to visible to the rest of the world.

The same argument could be had with any other “protected” source of information, (this would be anything that should be protected by the 4th amendment)

FM Hilton (profile) says:

Tiny problem

What Frank Rich does not ‘get’ in his innate confusion over privacy is whether or not the information shared is done so

When it isn’t, that’s when you lose your privacy, because you didn’t give anyone permission to take what wasn’t theirs in the first place.

No wonder everyone is so confused. They’re mistaking giving stuff away of your own will with taking it from you for free without your express permission or knowledge.

Certainly the NSA isn’t that confused. They just take it without asking for permission, and they don’t care if you care.

From the do-they-speak-English-in-What says:


I agree with this 100%. It’s also a perverse tyranny of the majority. I have no right to privacy from my government because Frank Rich (and a lot of other people) do not take their privacy seriously.

There’s an even more pernicious difference, however, between sharing information on Facebook and having the government monitoring your keystrokes and phone calls: Facebook does not have armies of cops and law enforcement officials who can take away your liberty. It also has never justified torture, indefinite detention, and droning American citizens.

Calling this a hack argument is the nicest way to put it.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Prosecution

What’s much more amusing is that every single human being has things they discuss in private with others that they would never and won’t ever publish in any social network. Dirty talking with your girlfriend on the phone? Check. Personal webcam strip to/from your girlfriend? Check. That particularly heated discussion with your mom where you say you want to rip off the guts of your current employer (figuratively speaking)? Check.

Frank will only understand how important privacy is once he loses it all. Unfortunately. And he’s not alone.

crade (profile) says:

So.. let me get this straight..
The argument this guy is trying to use as to why people should calm down and not have such a massive reaction to the privacy breaches that have been revealed is because people don’t care about privacy anymore?

Can you actually use the argument that I don’t care about privacy to try to make me not care about privacy with a straight face?

David Muir (profile) says:

Tone of the Article?

I read Frank Rich’s article as an indictment of the passivity of the American public in letting this horrendous breach of privacy go almost unnoticed. I didn’t get the impression that he was trying to say it was actually no big deal. While he may be wrong, he does present some little nuggets to prove his point: people and the media focused on Snowden and not his revelations. That’s a point already made here on Techdirt. There’s a good chance Frank Rich is annoyed with the public and media reaction just as much as we are.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Tone of the Article?

The focus is on Snowden in order to draw attention away from his revelations. That’s how things work these days when the powers that be do not wish to discuss the issues raised, they instead turn everyone’s attention to a well orchestrated smear campaign. It’s easy to smear anyone who speaks up when you have collected every single piece of data on them year after year. Occupy Wall Street was discredited in a similar way, they picked out the worst of the worst examples of participants and spun the story with these few bad apples as representative of the entire movement.

dennis deems (profile) says:

Re: Tone of the Article?

David, my interpretation of Rich’s piece squares with yours. I think Mike has failed to discern Rich’s sardonic tone, and most of the commentators here have made the same error. At the bottom of page three, for example, he makes the same observation that echoes Brian McFadden’s cartoon of two weeks ago ( “Little short of a leak stating that the NSA is tracking gun ownership is likely to kindle public outrage.”

To argue that because some people choose to reveal some things, we should all just shut up about actual privacy violations by the government is ridiculous.

Rich is not making this argument at all.

dennis deems (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Tone of the Article?

I think Rich makes abundantly clear his attitude toward the subject. The first clue is in the title with the use of the jaunty TV-trope phrase “Jumped The Shark”. The evocation of a television audience turning away from an extravagant display which it no longer finds entertaining is deliberate. In his leading sentence, Rich characterizes Snowden’s actions as a Hollywood chase scene. The first paragraph closes thus: “The public was not much interested in the leaks in the first place. It was already moving on to Paula Deen.” The entirety of the article which follows should be read bearing in mind this metaphorical framing of news as sordid entertainment. Rich is not merely padding his word count.

The objection that not everyone appears on reality TV is facile, limp, and evasive. Rich is examining the prevailing attitudes of our society. It is absurd to claim as a counter to Rich that Americans value their privacy when the polling clearly indicates otherwise. Rich predicts that gadget-hungry consumers will invite still more and still deeper invasions of their privacy. This is main theme of the piece: public apathy to government’s snooping contrasted with an ever-expanding lust for exposure of any sort. Rich is like an astonished observer of a preposterous, grotesque spectacle; he shrugs in disbelief, but this is hardly the same as admonishing we should just take our lumps.

JonesHarmon Commun (profile) says:

Does privacy exist?

While I haven’t read the article by Rich, I think the statements attributed to him and the resulting comments highlight how complex this notion of privacy is. In an increasingly technology driven world, it’s not enough for us to say “I don’t want to share that” and assume that our requests are respected. The complexity arises when we try to figure out what to do about that. Moreover, I think some of the frustration comes when we’re not even asked if we want to share certain information before it’s shared. In terms of government surveillance, we want to have confidence that the surveillance is being done for the right reasons, in a responsible and limited manner,and that the information obtained won’t be used to harm us or negatively impact our lives. It’s also more of an impetus to ensure that our laws keep pace with the changing technology and that we fight to ensure the Constitution and its privacy protections are respected.

Anonymous Coward says:

no one agrees to this. no one even imagines it. if people are silly enough to give out all sorts of info on Facebook etc, it’s up to them. that info, however, should stay with whoever it was given to. it shouldn’t go to who is supposed to have it and then to the world and his wife! and it definitely shouldn’t be even assumed to be available to law enforcement. law enforcement certainly wouldn’t want their info, public or private, going to anyone except those it was intended to go to. in fact, there would be all sorts of arrests made if it did go astray!

JDKCUBED (profile) says:

The Illusion of Privacy

I unfortunately agree with Frank Rich. Anyone who uses face book or any social media, participates in a loyalty program (think your buyers card for the supermarket), uses Google, Bing or other search engine voluntarily gives away all sorts of information you might not want to give away. Credit card or debit purchases. Marketer’s wet dreams How else the targeted adds?

AND all this info is for sale! i used to work for a large marketing corp. Not only do they sell the info to anyone who can pay for it they sell it to both sides.. And much of it is not voluntarily given, most of it is inferred by supporting information (suddenly purchasing baby products etc.) My feeling is the mothers who get the half off coupons for formula once a month are glad of this invasion. It just gets weird when the man behind the curtain is pointed out to us.

Coogan (profile) says:

Re: Re: The Illusion of Privacy

This coupon good for one (1) free FOIA request

Terms and conditions apply. The NSA is not required to fulfill or otherwise honor the bearer’s request. The NSA reservers the right to deny or redact, either partially or entirely, any information provided to the requestor as a result of coupon’s redemption. Coupon value=$1/.0FUCKALL

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: The Illusion of Privacy

I unfortunately agree with Frank Rich

But why do you agree with him? Everything you’ve said in your comment is about people voluntarily sharing data. While we may agree that this is generally unwise, the fact remains that it’s voluntary, and people are within their rights to do so.

However, that there are people who share intimate details of their lives publicly is no justification for claiming that I should have my own right to privacy stripped from me.

Also, as always, there’s a huge difference between voluntarily giving up privacy and having your privacy removed involuntarily.

JDKCUBED (profile) says:

Re: Re: The Illusion of Privacy

But if you do any of the things give away huge amounts of information about your self and your life.. The simple fact you do it makes it voluntary. I just think people do not realize the scope to which this meta data can be mined for additional data and then confirmed by your continued creation of supplementary data…would it still be voluntary? You have given some subset of data much of the rest is abstracted from that data and then confirmed as you create more data..and typically all they need is a last name and zipcode..your daily life data confirms things like new jobs, new homes, new family additions. google adds start targeting you…you provided the data, you have allowed these people to strip you of your privacy..

special-interesting (profile) says:

Privacy; is an individual private issue. There is nothing public about privacy. Its an oil and water non mixable concepts kind of thing. Only lies and deception can blur the two separate issuers.

Yes some people lead very public lives. Hollywood (idiots). Public office elected officials (mostly liars). Writers, Reporters and Journalists for the various major media publications/productions (mostly Public Relations parrots.) like TV, Radio, Newspapers, Magazines and Trade Journals. Prolific bloggers whose individual reasons are complicated. Reality-TV weirdos who seem to be trapped by the money and or life situation of the moment. Other. (not covered)

Many are hunting for fame in vane pursuit of glamor, glitz and ego related complications. Others are just looking for notoriety and or industry recognition. Some are searching for more sinister emotional rewards in pursuit of power and glory for an control-ego trip. Some others just look at the situation as a jumping point in their life/careers. Many just want to live a private life.

The point is that in all these cases everyone choose to lead that public life. One can argue that some coercion was used by promoters and producers though as money is a powerful motivator. There are other limiting factors as that only parts of their lives are shared and likely/possibly in a controlled way.

Just because some people choose to lead public lives is no way a measurement on other people who want to live private lives. Its an apple and orange augment. No comparison at all. Because some people lead public lives is no reason to violate the constitutionally guaranteed privacy of others.

Reality-TV is anything but reality. Its a produced/contrived/greatly-scripted fake reality made to simulate plausible life-like situations/events/environments. Lets face it; Normal lives are boring and sleep inducing with nothing entertaining about them other than the 5 seconds it took to break your arm and the maybe 30 min drama getting to the hospital/doctor. A normally once in the life event.

Its normal for a producer of a Reality-TV show to hastily script in an event/accident/disaster/comedy-skit/etc into a show thats loosing viewers. Its even more likely that the plots were previously written just for such an (expected?) occasion. Spontaneity? Anyone who can master that is a genius/star in the making.

Despite how apparently intimate and personal Reality-TV seems to be in most cases privacy is not violated much at all. They are produced, scripted events, with many supervisors to keep the peace.

Dating/Romance Reality-TV shows are a good example. Two strangers meet and go on a date which, somehow frequently, ends up in a hot tub with both in scanty swim apparel. This is in no way reality. Without the film/camera crew keeping watch as effective chaperone’s this scenario just does not happen on the first date. Its not reality.

Its likely the FBI, CIA and NSA waste millions (billions?) to monitor TV/Cable nonsense and likely jerk off to it as much as the average viewer. Sound harsh? Well, thats reality for ya. Remember that these guys are mostly unsupervised.

Note; Don’t be so one dimensional when figurative masturbation terms like ?jerking-off? terms are used. People ?get off? on many things and the sick/perverted often do it to follow voyeurism, ego, power and control personal issues. Things psychologists get paid to sort out.


Bloggers are a more complicated group who despite their possibly prolific writing/blogging they do not necessarily want to lead a public life. Many are members of some specific/unique group posting about some topic they care greatly about. Hobbies, Games, Politics, Public-issues (like privacy, global-warming/environmental) and many others.

Many bloggers fit into the intellectual types that follow difficult to describe motivations. People who write their opinions on the Internet are one of the great real treasures of a Free Democratic Society. Through the sharing of ideas, concepts and opinions using whatever media formats/forums society can come to some consensus about many important issues/topics that vex us.

Many boggers post with the expectation of privacy. Yes they don’t want people calling them up and asking difficult questions. Anonymity is a power exercised by even the writers of the Federalist Papers which were one of the prerequisites to the Constitution. (and persecuted by the British)

Privacy is vital in many countries with oppressive regimes who would kill off or jail the competition. The favorite method popular these days seems to be that everyone is guilty through lifestyle laws enabling anyone to be persecuted at any time.

This is of course impossible on Facebook like sites but they will have to deal with their own ever morphing privacy policy. Its likely that many will reconsider their present use as there are a lot of other more privacy-respecting sites.

Such a diverse group would suffer most from overt government spying.<>b Unfortunately it is the US government that wears the tin foil hat these days. More unfortunately are the efforts of political groups (mostly A and B) trying to influence such public discussion. Its would be even worse if public funds were used.

Using the machine gun style of the DMCA take-down notice even private organizations can abuse… Anyone can legally edit the Internet. Often just to dump on the competition. Worse are government site shut downs, sometimes at the bequest of private industry. A good example would be the Kim Dotcom MegaUpload enforcement DoJ disaster.

The US has taken a turn for the worse and is almost undeniably heading toward totalitarianism. The recent move by major credit card vendors Visa and Mastercard to restrict payments to VPN services does not bode well for privacy rights in the US.

Its always a bad sign when any government has ANY kind of opinion at all. Politicians have opinions but government? No way.

As for the opinion of Frank Rich? Phhttt. This TD article on his latest Nymag article does not make anyone want to read more of his work. His arguments seem mostly based on mass media statistics which is no way to base an intellectual argument like privacy.

Read some of article, tossed 1k word rant. (this is already getting wordy) Mostly agree with TD article



There can be no good purpose/reason for government representing a Free Democratic society to collect indiscriminate data on its citizens. None. ALL of the scenarios lead directly to political abuse of such data in the same way that IRS is used to punish political rivals and groups.

Corwin; thats a great analogy comparing the voluntary publishing of personal info as sex to the involuntary taking of personal info as rape. Clean and clear.

Lets look at real sex on the living room couch. Did you purchase an X-box one with the facial/activity/movement recognition system? Did the system identify who you had sex with? What positions did you enjoy? Were any sex procedure based laws violated during the act? (varies from state to state) What cries of joy and ecstasy were emitted during the event? What age was the involved members? Etc.

All of this will be recorded and transmitted to various government and commercial agencies. How would one feel about an extremely specific advertisement/mail/email sent directly to you about some vibrator/sex-magazine/sex-position-tutorial/whatever? Did the various local/state/fed law agencies get a copy of the data if your partner looked to young or the positions used were considered hearsay?

Good luck proving your innocence! Charges will be filed electronically and all parties will be required to testify in court. (sic?)

DannyB (profile) says:

So do I not get any privacy rights because of Facebook?

I choose to share zero information. I don’t and never will have a Facebook account.

So is it true that I should also admit I’ve given up all privacy rights because some people share a lot of info on Facebook?

I made a choice to never touch Facebook with a ten foot pole after they have so clearly demonstrated they deserved zero trust.

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