Privacy in a coffee shop

Sammy G's picture

So I have to post you about two things -- the outcry regarding FB privacy abuses, and the state's political response in response to that outcry.

I don’t understand. You put your info and personal intimacies on FB. For years. For 10 years. Everything about yourself. For free. You do all this for free, putting your life online for 10 years. And then you complain when the internet service provider you've been using for free harvests your information? Like all of a sudden your privacy has been violated?

While privacy is at the forefront of the issue, the underlying tenet to me is the value of self-information and the value of the transfer of self-information by which that privacy is being asserted.

If you and I were in a coffee shop, and we were trying to have a private conversation, and we noticed someone listening in and eavesdropping on our conversation…we’d kick their ass!!! But seriously, the coffee shop is a place where people barter exchange with the shop for food and drink. Except there’s something else going on. There’s space to sit and work and relax. There’s wifi. But you don’t have to buy something from the shop to use its internet connection or to sit or meet with others or to transact personal and private business. The coffee shop proprietor isn't demanding you buy something to use its other various services.

So people in coffee shops all the time assemble in these private-public spaces and yammer away about sensitive personal details with everyone in ear’s distance hearing it. And this doesn’t even cover the supremely annoying people yammering away loudly on their phones.

FB is the internet’s coffee shop. And everyone is hanging out at this place a lot, A LOT, and yammering away about their personal lives, and accepting that since they’re not buying and have never bought anything from the food counter that the shop is making money by taking all that yammering, which is being given to it for free, and turning around and selling that yammering to advertisers.

When you give your data for free in exchange for service you assign an informational value of free to yourself. Your data and your privacy is worth free to you. That is what is implicit to me. The implicit statement is: my privacy and personal data is worth nothing because I am giving it freely to a service I am using while knowing that service makes money off of advertising from me giving my data and from me not asking anything in return from the service making money off my data.

That value exchange of self-information seems to me to be the same whether you stop in the shop one time or stop in one time a minute. The rate of exchange remains the same. The transfer volume of self-informational doesn't alter the value of the self-information being zero.

So you’ve been going to this coffee shop for some time and had a general chat one day about how hard it is to get your foot in your shoes and the very next day you show up and at the table you’re sitting is an advert for shoehorns and other fine accessories. And this goes on for a while until related ads start showing up the minute after you mention a specific topic. At what point do you get up and leave the coffee shop and never come back? Especially when you aren’t being forced to use this shop and there are other shops which provide similar service?

A year ago it became widely known that foreign nations were scraping data from this shop and buying political ads to influence the presidential election. Last month it became widely known that companies were indeed harvesting data from this shop to service those political persuasion campaigns.

Guess what? No one is leaving the coffee shop. A free and non-coerced civic polity continues to give away their data for free.

When something is free then you are the product. And you have assigned your own self-information to be worth $0. So either leave the shop and never go back, or keep going to the shop and know what you are in for. Because it’s not called PrivacyBook.

So, again, this is what I don’t understand. People put personal intimacies on FB for years. For free. And all of a sudden their privacy has been violated?

But then...something far far FAR worse happens. The government decides it must intervene and assert authority. Overstepping its role by somehow protecting people from their own lack of self-awareness. The government is not our Mom and Dad. The American people are not teenagers. The same thing happened when various levels of government tried to block the rise of Uber and AirBnB. Not only is society using these services but society is defending its right to exist by using it without reservation. So let them do it. If people have a problem with privacy violations, and there is no illegal activity taking place, then let the people work it out.

(Side note: it just shocks me that politicians, particularly conservative ones, would inject themselves into the fray by attacking a corporate juggernaut and cornerstone of the American economy. While the privacy issue does seem in some ways a media hype job, per the above WSJ article, I'm surprised a conservative administration and legislative leadership is letting this attack happen. But that’s today’s world when all you care about is votes and not principle.)

The bottom line is that I miss the community on I understand my sentiment may not just be old-fashioned but a fossil emotion in the hyper-now digital world that is instantaneous, widespread engagement. But I don't care. If FB went away tomorrow I wouldn't miss 90% of the people who are my tagged 'friends' at that coffee shop. I miss this coffee shop. I miss the people I know and care about, and the quasi-privacy of our thoughtful, considerate conversation and debate within the back corner of the bigger shop that is the internet.