Who’s watching?
September 6, 2013  

The parties out there who are watching you fall into three groups: Spooks, people who want to hurt you, and people who want to monetize you.

Tim Bray

That’s scary, but while these people are in fact watching you, they’re only a tiny fraction of the whole. Also watching are your friends, your parents, your spouse, your children, your employer, your employees; and you are watching them back. Watching each other—paying attention to each other—is something we need to do to have fulfilling relationships.

What we don’t want is for our employer to know all about our personal life, or to bore our children with office politics. Our bank can know our savings balance to the penny, but it’s no business of theirs what movies we like to see.

None of this involves anonymity; it’s about controlling the face we present to others. We want our children to know we can be silly, but not our employers. And our old high school friends are going to know a lot about us that we might not want our children to know.

That’s why the scary watchers are scary: they want all of our personal information, to be used indiscriminately for their purposes. They don’t understand what face we want to present in a particular context, and they don’t care if the information they have about us leaks out. You can tell a lot from what ads show up in your friend’s browser, or on their Facebook page.

The privacy issue here is not that we need complete anonymity. We don’t want everyone to know nothing about us, we just don’t want everyone to know everything about us.