Monday, October 8, 2012
There's an entire, vibrant privacy conference business. There are privacy conferences somewhere in the world every week of the year. Some are commercial, some are taxpayer-funded. Why are they so boring?
Because they take one of the most interesting topics in the world, privacy, and discuss and debate it from an insular perspective, namely, from the perspective of people who are in the privacy "industry." I'm very clearly part of this "industry" too.
The privacy "industry", or "privacy industrial complex", as some wags have dubbed it, consists of privacy professionals at companies, privacy advocates, privacy regulators, privacy consultants, etc. So, conferences tend to be incredibly banal statements about who's more committed to privacy, and begin with stentorian declarations, like "privacy is a fundamental human right, therefore...". Or they consist of a "debate" between two privacy advocates, which is like listening to two members of the National Rifle Association debate the social benefits of gun control. Or they consist of paid-corporate advocates trashing their competitors' privacy record, often without disclosing who is paying them to do so.
But privacy conferences have largely become like any other conclaves of groupthink. At a Vatican conclave, you don't get a serious discussion about the health benefits of promoting the use of condoms. At a Tea Party rally, you don't get a serious discussion about whether government welfare benefits are a guarantor of minimal human decency.
I have pretty much stopped going to most privacy conferences, at least for now. When I go, it's mostly to have a chance to have one-on-one chats with people I'd like to meet or catch-up with. I think privacy is the most interesting topic in the world. But groupthink gatherings don't move the debate forward. If I was at an NRA meeting, I'd advocate for gun control to help reduce the shockingly high murder rates in the US, and I'd probably be run out of the room. There are so many smart people in the privacy profession, why aren't we challenging each other more, to take a small, wild step outside the privacy-industrial-complex, and actually engage more with the real world?