Optimism Bias and the “I’ve Got Nothing to Hide” Response

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3 Responses

  1. Sr. Hedwyg says:

    Regarding the “nothing to hide” argument, I believe Cory Doctorow nailed this on the head in his novel “Little Brother.” The main character describes things that people keep private, as different than secret. He uses the example of using the bathroom: if we were only allowed to use a restroom that was completely glass-enclosed, out in downtown in front of everybody, we’d hold it until we burst. It’s not that it’s a secret that everybody has to go to the bathroom, or that it’s shameful, but it’s private. So while I may have “nothing to hide” about my bathroom habits, this is something I choose to keep private.

    I’ve been developing a theory about community and privacy. When I remain completely isolated from any other person, my privacy is perfectly secure. When I choose to be in community with one other person, I relinquish some amount of privacy. When I choose to be in additional communities (e.g., my school, my workplace, my place of worship, my family), I relinquish some amount of privacy to each one. A person who is part of multiple communities with me will know more of this private information than a person who is only one of the communities.

    I’m thinking about the relationship between the size of a community and the amount of privacy relinquished to it, and I think it’s an inverse relationship. As the size of a community approaches infinity, the amount of privacy relinquished approaches some lower limit… or maybe it should in theory, but in practice it doesn’t(?). For instance, in the (me + my best friend) community, I share a whole lot of information. But in the community of all US citizens, I share much less.

    In relation to the optimism bias, perhaps we underestimate the size of these communities. I know that our brains have a hard time dealing with large numbers. We think that only our closest friends can see what we share on Facebook, without thinking about the 400 million other users who can see some or all of this information.

  2. Joe says:

    I don’t cling to the right to privacy like I have heard some people do before, but Mr. Brooks makes me think a little differently about it. It becomes more difficult to just be alone with your own thoughts when you live in a world where everyone can see your DNA profile and travel plans.