The Privacy Canard: David Lazarus and the Evils of Facebook

In the Los Angeles Times today, columnist David Lazarus, a writer I admire, wrote an oddly bitter piece inspired by the Facebook IPO, wondering why so many people under 30 just don’t care about privacy:

It’s not just that we no longer feel outraged by repeated incursions on our virtual personal space. We now welcome the scrutiny of strangers by freely sharing the most intimate details of our lives on Facebook, Twitter, and other sites.

Why is this new attitude to privacy so bad? Because, he says, it can get you in trouble. His example is a Georgia school teacher fired after posting “photos of herself on Facebook enjoying beer and wind while on vacation in Europe.”

What happened to her is bad, yes. But is the root of the evil here an issue of privacy, or of bureaucratic intolerance and social hypocrisy? If we focus on the privacy problem in this case, aren’t we ignoring a much bigger problem?

For Lazarus, there are “serious consequences” to the fact that if you Google someone’s name, “you can see things they’ve posted online.” As he concludes with a sardonic flourish,

No worries. Privacy is so 20th century. Get over it. Better yet, post something online. What could be the harm?

It’s a little odd to hear a columnist for a major newspaper advise readers “don’t tell the world anything about yourself.” That, after all, is what columnists do for a living. Lazarus, for instance, writes frequently about his experience with Type I diabetes—surely an “intimate detail” about his life.

This seeming contradiction makes me wonder about why he objects so passionately to all those people doing what he does: writing about their own lives. Is he worried about their privacy, or about the competition?

That’s a cheap shot, no doubt, as it is to suggest that arguments about preserving privacy are really just canards, sleights of hand aimed at keeping us from seeing bigger problems.

But here’s my question: If it’s OK for him to tell the world about himself, why is it such an unwise choice for everyone else?

4 thoughts on “The Privacy Canard: David Lazarus and the Evils of Facebook

  1. “If it’s OK for him to tell the world about himself, why is it such an unwise choice for everyone else?”

    The difference would be in the scope of personal information revealed.
    Lazarus apparently write of his medical condition. Does he write of his family, friends, travel, tastes etc.? Does he post images related to these?

    A could publish a limited range of personal information and have it read by millions. B could publish a comprehensive range and have it read by maybe up to a hundred.
    On that basis, A would more privacy than B.

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