The Collection of Private Information


I do find this meme humorous, and it raises an important issue.

Some thoughts that came to my mind when I saw this:

Information is power. There are questions about how that information is obtained, who accesses it, and how that information is used.

The Dark Knight (2008) had an excellent scene regarding this issue of invasion of privacy vs public safety: Batman used Lucius’ sonar idea on the people of Gotham’s cell phones to locate the Joker.

The government may invade our privacy for a stated purpose of protecting the public from potential terrorists among us. Or it may use that knowledge to manipulate us into supporting its agenda.

Mark Zuckerberg may invade our privacy and give that data to a political data firm for an efficient marketing strategy. However he is somewhat better than the government, since he generally gives potential Facebook users a notice beforehand that our data may be collected and thus there is more of an emphasis on consent.

So both the government and Mark Zuckerberg are guilty of invading the people’s privacy, albeit for different reasons.

Generally, our privacy should be protected, but there are times when an invasion of privacy is warranted if it is done for noble pursuits. It is similar to how HIPAA permits a covered entity to disclose protected health information to law enforcement if there is a serious and imminent threat to the health or safety of the patient or others.

Collecting our private information for marketing purposes is a little different. Ideally the collector would be transparent about the gathering of data and ask for permission to collect said data. They also need to be careful about how they use that data. They may obtain it for research/academic purposes or to subtly manipulate public opinion and behavior.

All in all, transparency and accountability are key.

Generally, private information should be obtained by consent.
There are exceptional times when invasion of privacy is warranted, as in the case of public safety, for example.
There is a moral expectation that the information gathered should be used in a responsible manner and respects the autonomy of others as much as possible.

Whether it be the government, Mark Zuckerberg, political data firms, marketing firms, and the like, these are some of the guidelines that should be followed.

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