I recently watched the movie The Circle.
The movie tells the story of a fictional global tech company called The Circle that seeks to end people’s privacy. The company reminded me of today’s Facebook or Google, not because these companies are doing the same but because that’s what the director’s choice of the technology produced by the company and the company’s corporate campus suggest. The Circle’s guiding principle behind its motivation to end privacy is that “knowing is good, but knowing everything is better”.
While I believe that this principle is true for scientific information that informs our view of how the world works, it’s not true for information about the lives of people. There are two reasons for this.
The first is that people have emotions resulting from personal preferences which, as long as one does not infringe on the lives of others, we as a society need to respect.
The second reason is that many people do not have the tolerance to accept viewpoints and lifestyles different than their own. Ending everyone’s privacy would result in intolerant people, often in large groups, preying on innocent individuals.
As the movie argues, ending privacy sounds liberating in theory, but produces many bad outcomes in practice.
However, as the movie doesn’t point out, complete privacy isn’t the solution either. There are cases which justify the use of technology to infringe on one’s privacy with the goal of preventing harm. The problem is that giving the right to use this technology to humans can produce bad outcomes if it falls into bad hands.
Rather than adopt a blanket statement in favor of or against privacy, we need to go a level deeper and evaluate specific categories of scenarios on a case by case basis. With the increasing attention which the applications of technology have brought to the issue of privacy, we’ve entered a time period where we’re increasingly doing just that.
Also published on Medium.