A couple quick questions…

Bonnie Kristian
May 1, 2010 at 10:23 AM

Since it looks like we're hitting an exam season slump in posting, here's something I wrote for my own blog.

Q.  I’m struggling with the concept of the right to privacy. I understand how privacy is important as a hedge against government control and interference, but what exactly is the philosophical basis to the right to privacy? — Preston, from Bellevue, WA.

A. I’m answering three questions quickly, so I might not give you the deepest answer here.  But then again, this is probably a book-length topic, in all honesty.  Privacy is generally considered a natural right, and it’s a concept which flows from the individualism and property rights of John Locke, Adam Smith, Thomas Jefferson, and other classical liberals and humanists.  The right is derived from the individual’s property in his person and belongings.  After all, if I own my body, am I not entitled to say who can look at it or otherwise interact with it?  The same goes for my physical property — the Fourth Amendment sums it up as “persons, houses, papers, and effects.”  Of course, individual ownership and its attendant privacy also allow me to abandon that privacy and share information or access if I wish, though I cannot rightfully be forced to do so.

Q. What is the best way to promote peace to people with right-wing sensibilities? — Matt, from Omaha, NE.

A. The short answer, I’d say, is money.  Even though they are rarely consistent about it in practice (at least not on the federal level — though I hear there are sometimes actual fiscal conservatives in state and local governments), people on the right do tend to be rhetorically firm about their love for controlled spending and taxation.  Showing intellectually honest conservatives that aggressive war is quite frankly unaffordable ought to go far toward promoting their love of peace.  That war is just another big, expensive government program is a strong argument, if altogether foreign to many on the right.  Fortunately, history has amply demonstrated this point:  “Vietnam should remind conservatives that whenever you put your faith in big government for any reason, sooner or later you wind up an apologist for mass murder.”  Hopefully this introduction might lead to more complex and principled opposition to aggression.

Q. How many vocal pro-choice candidates have made it through to be the Republican presidential nominee? — Dustin, from New York, NY.

A. Goldwater was of course pro-choice, but before the Nixon presidency (1969-1974), abortion doesn’t really seem to have been a major issue.  It was during that time that Roe v. Wade was decided, yet Nixon never spoke publicly on the subject.  His wife was apparently was vocally pro-choice, but Nixon’s own views didn’t come out until years later.  When the Watergate tapes were released, however, Nixon was shown to be ambivalent on the subject, saying abortion fostered “permissiveness” but finding it necessary in cases of rape and interracial children.  His vice-president, Gerald Ford, was pro-choice as well — though he took a federalist perspective on the subject.  Since then, every GOP nominee for the presidency (Reagan, Bush 1, Dole, Bush 2, McCain) has been pro-life.

Regarding the first question, as Bonnie noted, John Locke had tremendous influence on the early American view on an individual's right to private property. From Locke's Two Treatises on Government (1680-1690):

"...the supreme power cannot take from any man any part of his property without his own consent. For the preservation of property being the end of government, and that for which men enter into society, it necessarily supposes and requires that the people should have property, without which they must be supposed to lose that by entering into society which was the end for which they entered into it; too gross an absurdity for any man to own. Men, therefore, in society having property, they have such a right to the goods, which by the law of the community are theirs, that nobody hath a right to take them, or any part of them, from them without their own consent; without this they have no property at all."

In the famous 1765 English ruling on the illegal search and siezure case called  Entick vs. Carrington  the Chief Justice made this famous statement, echoing many of Locke's words :

"The great end, for which men entered into society, was to secure their property. That right is preserved sacred and incommunicable in all instances, where it has not been taken away or abridged by some public law for the good of the whole. The cases where this right of property is set aside by private law, are various. Distresses, executions, forfeitures, taxes etc are all of this description; wherein every man by common consent gives up that right, for the sake of justice and the general good. By the laws of England, every invasion of private property, be it ever so minute, is a trespass..."

So in other words, the whole point of being a member of a society (and I would add a "free" society), nation, etc is to take advantage of certain protections that should inherently be offered regarding one's private property and the safeguarding of one's natural rights. Without such protections what would be the benefit of entering that society? So the government's obligation in securing 'persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures' and thereby maintaining an individual's privacy is simply a natural extension of the protection and recognition of an individual's right to have property/personal effects that are private.

Since much of our personal effects now exist in electronic form, how do we ensure the protection of our personal information on the internet, the logical equivalent of our 'papers' and 'effects', when companies like Google openly record, track, analyze and profile such personal information without our consent?



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Peacefrogg, I'm only going to address the last paragraph since that is the one I have the most contention with.

Google does in fact have our consent to data-basing our information. In fact, most people know that Google keeps serious track of individual's information so that they can provide real value to the people who advertise with them.

Point 1:

How much do you pay to use all of Google's amazing services?

Zip, zilch, zero, nada.

They have to figure out a way to provide their superior (and I do mean superior, I use just about everything google and have tried the rest) services to us, the consumer, while making a product that can also provide financial benefits to operate as a business.

Point 2:

Going back to consent, when you sign-up for any Google service it explicitly tells you that they collect browsing and history information to provide customized advertisements that meet your interests.

While you, as the consumer, may not care what advertisements you see and you may not have clicked on many, if any at all, of those ads the point is that it is very valuable for those people who make the advertisements. As someone who advertises semi-frequently online, it makes all the difference in the world to know that only people interested in your product or service are seeing and clicking on your ads.

In short, without knowing the end-user for the ads, Google would not be the powerhouse it is today, nor would we have the amazing services we have right now.

I understand your concern, but it should be noted that if you don't like Google collecting information, then its your responsibility to not use them. As for me, I am currently very pleased with how Google tracks and keeps their information--they do not violate my rights because I consent to them tracking my records so they can provide me with awesome free-to-me services like Gmail, Google Docs, Groups, Wave, and so forth.

I would like to ask you a question, though: How has Google used this information in a negative fashion? How have they violated any contract? They do, in fact, keep their records sealed very tight. To date, I have yet to see one instance where information was abused by Google. Yes, there have been a couple, very minor, attempts to hack Google's information but they have all been in vain as far as actually extracting any data that harms Google's end-users.

What I'm trying to illustrate is the Google is very transparent about the fact that it collects information, is very safe with that information, and only collects it so that they can provide marketing advantages to their advertisers--I know, I'm one of them. I never know who clicks on my ads, but I know that it was someone who has inforamtion linked to Google who matches my keywords and phrases.

There's no conspiracy by Google to harm us with that information. In fact, they have every incentive to make sure it is kept safe.

Should it ever be abused, they know they would lose millions upon millions of dollars.

I fully, totally consent to Google using my basic information in the manners listed in their privacy policy.

However, I do not consent to the government datamining the very same information.

If it's the government doing it, it is categorically different than google. Let me wrap it up:

  1. I consent to Google collecting information when I click "I agree" on their privacy policy, just like the rest of us. 
  2. The government does not have a privacy policy or even tell us that they are collecting information when they do.
  3. The government, if it were to collect such information like Google, would not be providing a service like Google is--they, unlike Google, would have a much different motive that would presumably not be nearly as harmless.
    Google collects information to have better ads, why would the Government do it? Good question, and why Google = ok (for now) and government = no way (forever and always).
  4. The only place where we would run into a problem would be if Google were to sell that information to a party we did not agree (which would be a violation of the contract we've already established, hence, not consentual) or if they were to hand that information over, to let's say, a government.
    However, should we be mad at Google for trying to provide the best products, at the lowest price by using custom-tailored ads? Or, in the case that the Fed took that information, should we point the finger at the government?
    I sincerely believe the blame would be the government's fault--it would have coerced the information out of Google, violating Google and our contract.

I know that was a long post peacefrogg, but I really wanted to clear up this misconception. I hope I was able to illustrate that Google's intentions are not sinester but are just a predictable reaction to providing a service at an amazing cost--helping the consumers (us), producers (advertisers), and providers (Google) all at the same time.

Instead of condemning Google, we should thank them for keeping their end of the pact.

Should we be cautious? Absolutely, and we should also let Google know that if they are to ever abuse that information, that they have violated the contract and that they would be held accountable for it (e.g., basic contract law, and even tort in some manner) and they would also lose millions of customers, and as a result, dollars.

Again, I hope I clarified some of this convoluted issue. If you find yourself in further disagreement, make sure you have each one of my points at least contended with. Feel free to shoot me a message by clicking on my personal icon to be taken to my contact form if you really want me to explain more, I'd be happy to.

Jared Fuller's picture

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Jared, I don't completely disagree with your point of view and I appreciate the points you've made. However, here's my perspective on what you said.

To your first point:

It's true, I don't pay directly for any of Google's services— being a web developer I'm very familiar with the quantity and quality of what they offer. However, since they've cornered around 86% of the global search engine market share and given the fact that they've written the algorithm in their search engine that determines how websites rank in their SERPs, therefore determining who succeeds and who fails on the internet, this is a company that has an immense amount of power. I even tend to agree that probably the majority of the Google workforce want to provide the best and most ethical/safest services. But the nature of almost all people is to abuse power in one way or another once they obtain it. The only logical approach for me is to be on the defensive with how and to whom I share my personal information, to use Google as little as possible, and to encourage placing limits on the reach of their global empire while at the same time advocating for stronger protections of individual's rights. The problem is that Google has nearly a monopoly on most things relating to the web, so there a few alternatives. Even if Google is 100% benevolent and well-intentioned (which I don't believe), I don't like the idea of a database existing with all of this info centralized for hackers or disgruntled employees to access.

To your second point:

I've also done my share of internet advertising and I agree that Google provides amazing tools for advertisers that no other company can provide and that this is in large part due to their extensive data mining. But this all comes at the expense of people's privacy, and as Google continues to expand and merge with other large entities like YouTube and Doubleclick I believe they are becoming less concerned about protecting the little guy and more concerned about being all-powerful and all-knowing. Let me be clear that although I mentioned Google in my post above, they're not the only entity that collects and stores data about internet users— I'm equally concerned about protecting the private information of people when they're interacting with other organizations or individuals.

In many ways individuals can become less free as advertisers, marketers, giant corporations and governments more aggressively manipulate, influence and control "consumers" thoughts and behavior, targeting and funneling specific demographics into certain buying patterns and even thought patterns. As advertisers, we have a huge responsibility to not cross the line.  The Bill of Rights is a good place to start as far as determining where that line is, although the information age of the internet has opened up new frontiers of privacy invasion, and I don't think they've been sufficiently addressed.  The only hope our nation has is that fundamentally people's ideas shift back to the desire to protect the individual and toward valuing human rights more than wealth and power.

We live in a corporatist state as Ron Paul has said. In other words, the line has blurred between our large government and the large corporations that run our government— so I disagree with your point that by nature of being categorized as a corporation and not a government, and that relying on their service-based relationship with consumers Google has enough incentive to safeguard people's private info and not abuse their power. In many ways government should be more apt to safeguard our info since they're supposedly elected by the people, not supposed to be self-serving and could be voted out if they behave inappropriately (in theory anyway, but I also realize that you were pointing out the reality of how unaccountable government has become). Again it comes back to the size and power of the entity, which allows them to easily rewrite the rules that they may break.

BTW, do you work for Google?  :) If so you have my permission to add my comments to the database. Just log them in the 'peacefrogg' data table.

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