Re: poly: Pondering Privacy

From: Robin Hanson <>
Date: Mon May 18 1998 - 15:13:11 PDT

At 01:38 PM 5/17/98 -0700, you wrote:
>I agree with many of Robin's points but I think the focus is a bit
>narrow, especially in the electronic realm.

It is a short glib overview of a huge area. Yes, it is too narrow.

>Robin also suggests that even many "private" gatherings of more than a
>few people will be recorded by the participants and made public. But
>presumably the source of the recording can be determined from the
>point of view of the camera, so if this happens people will know who
>did it.

Consider transcripts of who said what, generated from audio recordings.
Punishing the person who revealed this would have to rely on correlations
between where someone sat and the errors likely in what they heard. With
good audiotech such correlations could be very small, at least for low
background sound levels common today. Would people really be willing to
get in the habit of usually blasting loud music to ensure a substantial
error rate?

>There are no proposals for infrastructures to record and publish the
>names of everyone we are communicating with via email.

But analogous arguments apply. Most people will save a copy of most every
message they recieve, and messages sent to more than a handful of people
with long-term relationships will likely be available for a low price.

>... If we got to the point where everyone stayed home all the time and
>interacted solely via virtual reality holodecks then public cameras
>wouldn't be much of a threat to privacy.

This seems to me a mind-bogglingly unrealistic scenario (at least pre

Hal also writes:
>These reactions point to at least one reason for valuing privacy.
>Protecting your privacy can give you a strategic advantage.
>Preventing others from knowing your true capabilities or preferences
>can increase your freedom of action and improve your chances of
>beneficial outcomes. ...
>I wonder how much differing views on privacy reflect this kind of
>strategic reasoning. ... It is possible ... those who want to guard
>their privacy are the ones who have the most to lose if it is lost,
>... Similarly, those who are willing to discard privacy may be the
>ones who have little to hide, and also who would be at a disadvantage
>in a game of partial information due to weak strategic thinking

Most situations in which a secret gives someone an advantage, it is at
someone else's expense. If they were consulted before the secret
info was generated, both sides would typically prefer some other
arrangement, without secrets. This suggests that social conventions
would come to favor openness, and secrets would mainly remain where
such social commitments were difficult to create, or where secrets were
actually a net benefit to all concerned.

Robin Hanson
RWJF Health Policy Scholar, Sch. of Public Health 510-643-1884
140 Warren Hall, UC Berkeley, CA 94720-7360 FAX: 510-643-8614
Received on Mon May 18 22:18:20 1998

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