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Transparency vs. Privacy

I once worked for a CEO that said, “You have no privacy, get over it”. I doubted the statement then as much as I do now. His point was that the Internet was making all our lives public and that we should get over it. Implicit in it was the notion that we should just give up on the idea of privacy. Not something I think most people are willing to do.

One of his execs, Eric Schmidt, later went on to become CEO of Google and hit out with his own, equally brazen comment on privacy, "If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place." Here, we should give up on privacy because, subjugating ourselves to a common set of standards – what I think is ok is ok because it meets your standard of ok – means we should have nothing to hide.

That’s a harder rule to live by that it seems. Implicit in it is the idea of total, 100% transparency. Either passively transparent – where we make everything available to anyone that wants it without promoting it. Or proactively so, promoting the content.

If the reporting is true, it would appear that neither Google or Schmidt can live by this principle:

”Google CEO Eric Schmidt announced the salary hike in a memo late Tuesday, a copy of which was obtained by Fortune. The memo was also leaked to Business Insider, which broke the news. Within hours, Google notified its staff that it had terminated the leaker, several sources told CNNMoney. A Google spokesman declined to comment on the issue, or on the memo."

Surely this is exactly the kind of information that a company with shareholders would want to be transparent about. If not for that reason, the recruitment value alone would be worth it. And, if the information is shared with thousands of employees, the assumption that it is, by any standard, private, has surely gone out the window.

At the end of the day, the actions would also seem to undermine a broader principle, “Don’t be evil”, but that’s a whole new conversation…

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