Might just be crazy enough to work

Via Daring Fireball, I submit to you Google CEO Eric Schmidt (not pictured):
 “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.”
"Would you prefer someone else [gather and store all this information about we the people]?” Schmidt shot back – to laughter and even greater applause. “Is there a government that you would prefer to be in charge of this?”
Gruber replies,
"Maybe the question isn’t who should hold this information, but rather should anyone hold this information."
Yeah, it's a little late for that. Despite the fervent wishes of some of this blog's readers, it seems highly unlikely that we will reverse the penetration of the information age into our lives. First, more of us would have to want to. People gotta have their facebooks.

As I've been saying for some time, the task now isn't to try to stop the inevitable leaking of information, but to build social institutions and norms for coping with a world bereft of privacy.
"[Schmidt] predicts, apparently seriously, that every young person one day will be entitled automatically to change his or her name on reaching adulthood in order to disown youthful hijinks stored on their friends’ social media sites."
Gruber says this makes Schmidt "creepy," but at least it's acknowledging the real problem and proposing a solution.

I think that solution is somewhat fantastical and naive, but I'm sure the rest of you think that my hazily defined "politeness" standards are equally unrealistic.

What do you think? If you've got kids, do you want them avoiding adult embarrassment by changing their name  when they get out of high school (or, if they were like us, college)? And won't Google just create a widget for collating your two histories.


  1. Danah Boyd posted on the absurdity of Schmidt's name change proposal the other day.

    She has another post about social stenography that's relevant to this discussion as well.

    When I talk to the law students about how to deal with their digital indiscretions, I suggest they should create lots of new, professional web presence that will push the older stuff down in the search results.

    It'll never go away, but it'll be much harder to find. Of course, if someone has a common name, it's much more difficult to research their digital history.

  2. That's it. I'm changing my name to John Smith.

  3. stardate06259424/8/10 09:32

    1. Love Danah Boyd's article! 2. Your question got me thinking about online privacy in general. I think of my home town and so many other communities I've known... Long before the internets, you could pick up a local phone book to learn where people worked, the names/ages of their children, and the relationships of everyone living in their household (so you knew who was shackin' up or who was raising their niece/nephew/grandkid). Next, we had the daily/weekly local newspaper telling us who was on vacation where, who was visiting whom from out of town, who was caught being disorderly in public, etc., and there were always people eager to gossip in person. The interweb is just another medium for this same type of human behavior. The question is: how does society evolve to resemble Roddenberry's vision of a world in which a man became the Captain of Starfleet's flagship without having to change his name to cover up an embarrassing drunken bar fight with Naussicans during his wild youth, where computers record darn near everything and nobody is ever concerned about privacy violations? I think it has less to do with technology and everything to do with what people choose to care about. A person's reputation isn't just based on what they do or say, it's also based on what others choose to focus on, believe, interpret, invent, and repeat. If someone is to be held in contempt, who should it be: the drunken feller, the one who filmed him for display on MyTwitterBookTubes, the people who watched it so much it went viral, or the potential employer who went looking for dirt and refused to hire the guy based on the video (though the employer was known to get blasted in college, too)? Deep thoughts of deepness on this Tuesday morning!

  4. I plan to train future little E.'s to be very, very careful about what they put on blog posts, comments, social networking sites, and even email. The best thing I ever heard anyone say about internet presence is, "Imagine everything you write showing up as a headline in the New York Times the next day for the whole world to see." I know it's trite, and I'm sure I've sent some emails I wish I hadn't sent, but I think if someone were to follow that rule, s/he would find less of a need to escape that internet presence down the road.

  5. While I (generally) follow the same policy as E of being circumspect about what I post, this doesn't solve the problem of your friends posting pictures of you doing foolish things to social networking sites.

    Phones with cameras have made this type of invasion of privacy commonplace.


eXTReMe Tracker