“Privacy may actually be an anomaly,” said Vint Cerf, one of the architects of the Internet, at an FTC workshop on the Internet of Things on Tuesday. Cerf, who’s currently Google’s Chief Internet Evangelist, argued that privacy is a construct of the modern industrial age. In the past, his thinking goes, people lived in small self-contained villages, where pretty much everyone knew who was dating the baker’s daughter and what the sheriff had for lunch. It is only when populations started migrating en masse to cities that anonymity emerged as a byproduct of urbanization.
The view of privacy as an anomaly is not new, particularly among Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, who time and again express a cavalier approach to what is a fundamental, deep-rooted social, moral and legal value. It is however wrong, and may lead businesses and governments astray in making weighty policy choices.