Re: Invasion of the Data Snatchers

Bill Keller’s NYTimes op-ed, “Invasion of the Data Snatchers,” is a fantastic piece on the hazy lines surrounding individual privacy in our new “surveillance economy.” Looking critically at The Journal News’ decision to publish the names and addresses of handgun permit holders in two nearby counties, as well as other instances in which people’s personal information is publicly shared, he asks a critical question: “What is the boundary between a public service and an invasion of privacy?” He then goes on to discuss the erosion of privacy and the challenges we face in determining “what information is worth defending and how to defend it.”

As the article says, “You can take your pick of the ways Facebook and Google are monetizing you by serving up your personal profile and browsing habits to advertisers for profit. Some of this feels harmless, or even useful — why shouldn’t my mobile device serve me ads tailored to my interests? But some of it is flat-out creepy. One of the more obnoxious trends is the custom-targeting of that irresistibly vulnerable market, our children.” Keller makes a good point—with so many different entities vying for a piece of your data, how can you know where to begin fighting back? And, it can be so overwhelming to think about the dirty underbelly of data sharing that it’s easier to say it’s no big deal in the long run, especially if you feel like you’re benefiting from it now.

For PPR, the bottom line is this: the erosion of our individual privacy is a critical issue. While some may be quick to dismiss such concerns, we have to remember that what we do now to protect our fundamental right to privacy matters. It matters to us in the present day and it matters to the futures of our children, our grandchildren, and so on…

Yes, there can be great benefits to the unparalleled connectivity and access people have to information in the rapidly shifting landscape of the digital era. At the same time, we have to make sure we establish clear boundaries and give people a say in the ways in which their information is accessed and used, particularly when it comes to sensitive data, like our personal health information. However, as Keller points out, protection of our privacy “doesn’t happen if we don’t demand it.”

This year, PPR will address a similar topic at its 3rd International Summit on the Future of Health Privacy: The Value of Health Data vs. Privacy — How Can the Conflict Be Resolved? We urge you to join us to be a part of the important conversations that will take place as we look at how our health information is valued, who has access to it, and what we can do to protect our privacy in an increasingly connected world.

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