Monday, February 11, 2013

Talking Privacy to the Guys in the Pool

I'm in Florida for a few days, joining the Privacy Law Salon, and a chance to talk about privacy with a lot of experts in the field. But I usually think it's more fun to talk about privacy with the guys in the pool. Ft Lauderdale is the home of the International Swimming Hall of Fame, so it's a change of scene from my usual Paris pool. We don't hang on the walls long, so conversations are short.
Privacy is more important than security? Not true. Without security, you drown. You're either being hacked and know it or being hacked and don't know it. Imagine drowning without even realizing it. All of privacy is a wobbly edifice built on the foundations of security. If the foundations aren't solid, then the edifice will crumble.
Privacy is contextual: We live in Speedos, but can't wear one to the office. Online screws up context, because it takes data from one context and re-uses in another. People peek, machines record. You can't attribute human motives to a machine, or teach it that it's rude to stare.
Privacy is about losing it: We never give a thought to privacy, until it's gone.  Like breathing, you don't think about it, but in a lungbuster set, breathing on stroke 3, 5, 7, by 9 you will explode if you don't breathe.
Privacy requires discipline: 6 am, get up, go to pool. People expect anyone who holds their data to have fault-proof privacy, in particular iron-tight security, no excuses, no days-off. But in reality, nothing is perfect and people are only human. Like a cramp in the middle of your swim. You younger start-up guys are faster, but you're half my age. Sure, you can swim 50 free faster, but can you sustain it for a lifetime?
Privacy requires transparency: Coach sees your stroke. Privacy should be as transparent as possible. But privacy processing on the modern Internet has become so complicated, technically and in terms of scale, that human brains can scarcely comprehend it anymore. How can I grasp machine learning algorithms, when I can barely count laps? And you're supposed to explain every aspect of online processing to the average user, like explaining a flip turn in words to a non-swimmer?

Privacy is not a team sport: Even if you swim in a team, you still swim alone. Privacy is a social construct about one individual identifiable human being. Nothing in the Age of Big Data is going to change the fact that privacy is about the individual. And conversely, if it's not about an individual, then it's not about privacy. The team doesn't have privacy, it's about each of us individually, just like a team medley is really four individual swims in a row.
There's no place called privacy. There's no destination in swimming either, you just go round and round until your mind or body gives up. Most of my work in the field of privacy and technology is like a sandcastle on the beach, washed into irrelevance by the next tide of technology. And yet, I never doubt its importance.

The zone is furtive. A lifetime of work and setbacks, 10K per day, and then for a fleeting moment in the pre-dawn darkness, my mind goes blank and everything disappears except the sensation of an ecstatic wave chasing a vision of the perfect fly.

No comments: