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Vint Cerf: Privacy is ‘an anomaly’

Vint Cerf, Internet innovator and chief Internet evangelist for Google, says there is a need to develop better social conventions that respect privacy amid today’s increasingly connected world.

Vint Cerf

The concept of privacy has become a hotly-debated topic these days, no thanks  to the disclosures that authorities (particularly the U.S. government through the National Security Agency) are eavesdropping on communications for national security reasons. Officials argue that this has to be done in the name of protecting the citizenry from terrorist attacks and crime. However, proponents of privacy want communication channels to be secure from such leakages.

Outwardly, most Internet companies would want users to believe that they are out to protect the privacy of communications from government intrusions. For instance, Google would regularly publish how many requests for information it gets from law enforcement agencies. Facebook is yet another company that is actively publishing data requests from government.

It seems ironic, however, because Google and Facebook are companies that make money off of targeted advertising — they essentially share data with their biggest clients, the advertisers. Going deeper into the question of whether our privacy is intact at all, we might be having the wrong idea of privacy after all.

In the FTC’s Internet of Things conference, Vinton Cerf, Google VP and chief Internet evangelist, said that “privacy may actually be an anomaly.” Cerf, considered to be among the fathers of the Internet for his role in co-creating TCP/IP, explained that even without the comforts and convenience of the Internet, the debate for privacy had already been ongoing. In a small town without telephones, for example, the postmaster could determine who was sending letters addressed to whom.

The advent of the industrial revolution, and now the information age, has actually led to better privacy because “the growth of urban concentrations … led to a sense of anonymity.”

Cerf went on to say that humans may not be privacy-oriented, after all, and this is especially interesting in the context of wearable computing, which is one of the key themes of the IoT conference. “Our social behavior is also quite damaging with regard to privacy,” he adds, using social networking as an example. It’s bad enough that everything we share online can give outsiders a peek into our non-digital lives, but Cerf gave an example of incidental exposure. For instance, being tagged in a photo taken by someone else would have privacy implications that might be difficult to control because of third parties involved.

There is a “need to develop social conventions that are more respectful of people’s privacy,” Cerf said.

Still, the Internet innovator said he was over-simplifying things, and the context here is how “it will be increasingly difficult for us to achieve privacy” especially as everyone becomes better-connected through devices like smartphones, wearable tech and the like.

Source: The Verge / Image credit: Joi Ito

J. Angelo Racoma
J. Angelo Racoma has written extensively about mobile, social media, enterprise apps and startups. Angelo develops business case studies for Microsoft enterprise applications and services. He is also co-founder at WorkSmartr, a small outsourcing team.

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