David A. West

Senior Internet Consultant & Professional Speaker

Canadian Social Media Advisor & Search Engine Strategist


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David West

Why the Ongoing Debate About Online Privacy is Important and Irrelevant at the Same Time

Thursday, August 29th, 2013

Even if you barely pay attention to the news at all, you’re probably aware that online privacy (and different forms of snooping) are hot topics right now. From corporations to governments, we are all thinking a lot more about what’s practical and permissible for outside parties to know about us, our personal lives, and our browsing habits.

In a certain sense, the debates surrounding the issue are both important and irrelevant at the same time. Are those two ideas contradictory? I don’t think so, and here’s why:

Thinking about online privacy is important. Technology is making it easier than ever for people to collect data about us and draw certain assumptions about our income, lifestyles, political affiliations, medical histories, and so on. Additionally, we worry more than ever about the safety of our children, and how to best protect them from online threats.

What’s more, these issues are likely to become more profound over time, not less. In fact, I suspect that we’ll still be worrying about them decades from now, regardless of what kinds of agreements and compromises are made in the short term.

However, most policies aren’t as relevant as you might think. Given the importance of the issue, how can I say that some of it doesn’t matter? That’s easy, because businesses don’t really have to “steal” very much information about us – most of us give it away freely.

Think about the kinds of information that could be gleaned from your social media profiles, the bookmarks in your Internet browser, or the posts you’ve put to a company or personal blog. The majority of Canadians – old and young alike – share huge amounts of information with other people, including businesses, on a regular basis. We usually do so willingly, not just because it’s easy, but because it allows us to take advantage of other benefits (like improved social lives, or discounts on the products we already buy).

To be sure, the ideas about privacy online are important. But, let’s not forget that most of the information “leaks” are coming from ourselves, not any government or corporation.

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