Photo credit: get directly down

Initial Disclosures: The author hiding (not very carefully or thoroughly) behind the pseudonym above is an attorney, albeit a non-practicing one. Said author also is the editor of a commercial periodical about privacy law published by a company that shall herein remain nameless. The opinions expressed below are those of the author and not those of any employer, past or present.

A few weeks ago I found myself in the public bathroom at Kathy Osterman Beach on the far north side of Chicago, answering the call of nature, nature having called “Hey, STDPM, you need to take a leak, asap!” (Incidentally, this beach is nearly adjacent to the building that was used in establishing shots on the old “Bob Newhart Show,” to represent the apartment or condo building where Bob and Emily Hartley lived. As such, it’s a stop on my prospective “Chicago North Side Showbiz History Tour,” which I’m willing to discuss in detail with potential investors. But I digress.)

A sign above the urinal – which I’d describe as a single-serving-sized version of one of the stainless steel troughs at Wrigley Field – stated, in pretty smart typography, something like “These urinals are flushed using reclaimed rainwater – Water is not suitable to drink.”

After I quit gagging from the mental image of someone drinking from the urinal in a Chicago Park District public bathroom (concrete + odors + darkness = no place to quench one’s thirst), I started wishing I could take a picture of the sign. But I knew I couldn’t, really. There were other guys in there, and some of them might not have appreciated my snapping photos in the bathroom. Some of them probably would have been fine with it – maybe too fine – but I still felt like taking pictures in there would be an uncool invasion of privacy.

So. Privacy isn’t dead. See?

Just kidding. Of course it is.

privacy

Image credit: Sean MacEntee

I mean, it’s dead in that you and I don’t have any. At least not in the sense that it’s popularly imagined by most of us – that is, the right to keep the details of one’s personal affairs and day-to-day doings private, as in, to ourselves alone. That sort of privacy probably has never really existed, and I don’t think it was even a fantasy for most of human history – most certainly it’s unimaginable throughout the third world – the idea that one can keep the plot points of one’s life story secret from others.

Of course, privacy does not mean and has never meant absolute secrecy. To a certain extent, I think the notion of personal privacy has had as much to do with tolerance, as it has with actual concealment. For instance, one can’t always non-hear certain noises others make in the bathroom, but it would be considered impolite everywhere to publicize them.

Everyone knows that everything he or she says or does can be heard, captured, imaged, and used in unpleasant ways. And everyone knows that most of us have been participating in a massive do-it-yourself Panopticon project, via social media, etc., and so forth. Sure, reputations are at risk, Weiner dick shots, etc. Humanity has torn off the fig leaf, so to speak – the sense of shame laden upon Adam and Eve after the fall seems to have expired. Yet, grace, alas, has not been restored, apparently.

But privacy does exist. Privacy isn’t dead. I know that’s true, because it has … or it is … an industry. There’s a “Privacy Industry,” and how can there be an industry for something that doesn’t exist? Right?

The first way to know that something has (or is) an industry is that there is an industry association out there doing business. For privacy, check. There’s more than one, in fact. The second way: the corporatocracy creates some executive positions to deal with the thing (at least nominally). Many corporations – including (and even especially) the most enormous ones on earth – have “Chief Privacy Officers” and entire departments devoted to compliance with a massive and convoluted set of state and federal laws and rules designed to … well, who knows what they’re designed to do? What they actually do is create a bureaucracy – one of those symbiotic relationships between government and the private sector, with loads of opportunities for vendors, contractors, middlemen of all kinds.

Compliance! That’s a word that probably means “nuisance” to the entrepreneurs out there. But to much of the corporate world – or at least the vast cloud of beings that draw energy and nourishment from the relatively small number of mega-companies – it’s a word that means “money.” When there are government compliance obligations – which are often in the form of paperwork (or virtual paperwork), forms, forms, forms, but also consist of adhering to the often-contradictory and invariably vague requirements of hundreds of federal and state laws – dollar signs flash in the eyes of an uncountable number of service providers, software solutions imagineers, and other purveyors of purportedly good stuff to publicly traded business entities – the best and deepest hog trough there ever was (even better, I’d argue, than the government).

Corporate privacy compliance primarily concerns business practices related to customers’ personal information. It’s closely related to the concept of “data security.” Businesses are regulated – to some extent, and of course the level and nature of regulation depends a great deal on what kind of business it is – as to the means they use to collect data about their customers, what they keep, what they use and how they use it, what they tell customers about it and when, what access they let customers have to it (and what opportunity they give customers to make corrections and deletions), how they store it, with whom they share it and for what purposes, how they physically (generally, this means digitally) transfer it, and what they have to do when the data’s security is breached (that is, when someone hacks into it).

It’s a lot of stuff to keep track of. I don’t know how many people are making their livings in the Privacy Industry, but I think it’s a non-trivial number. Does any of it actually protect anyone’s “privacy”? Beats me. Maybe. Of course, that isn’t really the point.

The point is: Privacy’s not dead. It just smells like money.

 

Stronger Than Dirt Pete Moss is one of the many aliases used by a Tom Long of Chicago, Illinois (not to be confused with other Tom Longs of Chicago or elsewhere). Tom was active in xerox zine culture from the late ’80s through the early ’00s under the Colicky Baby Records and Tapes imprint, and several examples of Tom’s mail art periodicals are filed deeply and safely away at the University of Iowa Libraries Special Collections Department in Iowa City and the Museum of Modern Art Library in New York City. Every so often he posts things at http://colicky.blogspot.com.

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