Privacy vs. security

Posted: 04.06.17

They aren’t the same thing

What do you think is the difference between privacy and security? 

Privacy is about the things you want to hide, whereas security is about the things you want to protect. And, I think they are two totally different things. 

I recently gave a lecture on augmented reality at a conference where I presented my view of the future. In the near future, 2020 if not sooner, we will wear glasses, regular looking glasses like sun glasses or prescription glasses—what some people call spectacles. These glasses will display information for us (directions, translations, database information on people, hidden things like pipes in a wall, etc.). They will also record everything we see, and thereby become a witness. That will end disputes about who said and did what, and that, com¬bined with almost infinite information will reduce our fear which will in turn make us better, happier, more confident people. We will be able to confidently go to new places, and avoid places that may be dangerous. The police will no longer have to be feared, and in turn they will have less fear of us. 

Augmented reality will reduce fear of the unknown, and make us more knowable so we don’t cause fear in others. 

After my little talk (the slides from which can be seen here) I was asked, “What about privacy?” The concept of a camera recording everything is upsetting to some people, which makes me wonder why people reacted to Google Glass so strongly and yet don’t mind someone pointing a phone at them and taking a video or photo, and now we have Snapchat glasses—maybe it’s the obviousness of the camera vs. the canid camera aspect. 

I answered the question by saying, privacy is highly over rated. Privacy is what in your life you want to hide because of shame. One is ashamed of their income, or their behavior, or any of a number of other things that one shouldn’t have to be ashamed of if we lived in an honest and open world. I was hoping to be controversial and provoke a discussion, maybe even a fight. Instead the audience went silent, thinking no doubt about the validity of privacy and shame—it was a Zen moment. 

I added, “I think you mean security.” Security is protecting things that are important to you, like bank account data, passport information, your mistresses phone number—no wait, that would-be privacy. 

In a world of nation-backed hackers and with laws that now allow ISPs to sell your browsing history and other information about you, in a world with WikiLeaks, and spy magazine, and other privacy intrusions and security break-ins, the romantic and idealistic notion of security and privacy is something we tell ourselves we have to protect, and does not exist. We like to believe in myths like Santa Claus and honest politicians, but none of that exists. Somewhat akin to unicorns. 

Back in the 1950s, after the war, people in the U.S. and Europe thought the government knew everything about you. Around the turn of the century, people in the US and Western Europe became concerned about privacy, and who knew what about them. Revelations of celebrities’ and political figure’s misdeeds, corruption, and collusions surfaced as information became more readily obtainable, and widely distributed, and it exposed the fear of discovery in others. Now it’s an international discussion. Privacy in today’s social media based society, with high speed information gather tools in the hands of teenagers and security agencies is a fantasy. Security, or the loss of it, is a real threat, and probably one that can’t be won. Like it or not we are, and will be more transparent. 

After my talk, the person who asked the question about privacy came up to me to continue the discussion—in private… Turns out he is the king of on-line VR porn delivery (see article this issue). Privacy has an important meaning for him. 

What do you want to hide?