Working paper 11: Holy privacy

Cover working paper 11

Holy Privacy

Not too long ago, many internet users shrugged off the issue of data privacy. ‘Nothing to hide’, was the mantra. Yes, we hand over vast volumes of data points – but so do billions of other users. Data ends up somewhere on the bottom of the data ocean, one might think – and every day a new layer of a few quintillion data points is laid on top of the existing layers. The numbers are so staggering that they fuel the idea that our data will never be recovered, by anyone.

That is a dangerously simple train of thought. Data privacy is a big problem – so big that, actually, the word ‘privacy’ is misleading, is too much of a remnant of days gone by. Once we traveled on horseback. Nowadays, we travel with an intercontinental flight. It would be strange if we were still using the word ‘horse’ to describe an airplane, because that it still is a means of transportation – but something to this effect happens with the concept of ‘privacy’. The nature of privacy violations has changed fundamentally, and a current privacy violation is something quite different from what it was in the pre-Web world. Yet we still use that word ‘privacy'.

About this essay

Privacy has developed into a much more complex, multi-layered concept. In this essay, we begin with peeling back the different layers of the concept of privacy. The conclusion will be that ‘privacy’ - we will have to stick to this concept - and privacy protection are major problems. We may expect governments are fully committed to protecting the sharing and use of data - which they are indeed, and, fortunately, there is much more focus on privacy in public debate than before. However, in our ever digitizing society, data is crucial. Data can contribute to innovation – to more safety, better care, better education. And we may also expect our governments to do their utmost to promote safety, proper care and proper education. To a certain extent, we feel this element is lacking in the public debate.

This essay was orginially published in Trouw on December 4, 2021 in Dutch. You can find the original essay here. 

holy Privacy - A. Klievink and H. de Bruijn (491.29 KB)