Video Of The Week: Is Privacy A Value Or A Strategy?

In this talk that he gave at the Blockstack Berlin conference last month, my partner Albert argues that privacy is a strategy and not a core value in the information age.


Comments (Archived):

  1. Marissa_NYx

    I was left scratching my head listening to Albert – particularly, how is the right of privacy & the idea of universal basic income connected. Seems non-sequeter? Having said that, Albert does open the mind to possible ways of re-framing privacy and identity systems we have traditionally – and up to lately – seemed to have taken for granted. An open system, seemingly accessible to all, isn’t all utopia as he paints it to be. Question for Albert – what happens when open systems exist and then become commercialized, eg . where someone buys & owns privatized communities of privacy and identity rights? how are these governed ? By rules set by the rights holder or by the rules of the decentralized community ? Think about how domain names and credit records have evolved and centralized power in the hands of a few. And how selling the rights to your future personal income is a form of obligatory – yet private – tax . And how we unconsciously waive our right to terminate access to personal information once that information is disclosed or created on a proprietary medium. Like how the power of our social systems are vested in the hands of a few , no doubt enterprising folks will figure out how to charge service and transaction fees to “trade” or “preserve” “keep safe” or “mutate” “lease” or even – “sell derivatives” over privacy and identity and access to our identity and personal information . whether this is done on the decentralized block chain or not . whether for good reasons or fuel dark practices. So, Albert, here’s what i think as i sit here and scratch my head – from where i sit as an ordinarily gal, privacy can’t be seen as a strategy until it is first defined through the lens and foundation of ethics . Once the norms and principles of what we as a community value – and should or shouldn’t value – is understood, debated and codified , we can only then think about strategy . Strategy is like a recipe – you need to know what you’re making first , and with what tools and content( or ingredients if we’re making a cake) , then the strategy will provide the method to help achieve that result – or outcome – we desire. Until we see privacy and identity as an ethical issue first and foremost, which will guide us to defining the outcomes we want , we run the risk of having the bad , ugly and greedy being the founder and custodian of our human rights to identity and privacy . Strategy doesn’t define the outcome , all it does is deliver the outcome in a particular way, regardless of what that outcome is .

    1. PhilipSugar

      The more I think about it the more I really do like his concept of fundamental asymmetry.Let’s take tenure as an example. It seems like that is a great idea. You can’t get fired for having controversial views, you have the freedom of viewpoint, Albert’s true freedom of speech.That seems great!Except what happens when you are a tenured foreign engineering professor and start your class by saying that “If you are a female student you should be at home, and you will never get better than a C, so drop the course”Really happened.Which is to your point. For the majority: Good! But when abused by a small number of people: Really, really, bad.

      1. LE

        Except what happens when you are a tenured foreign engineering professor and start your class by saying that “If you are a female student you should be at home, and you will never get better than a C, so drop the course”I think this falls into the same category of concepts whereby people expect there not to be a downside and only upside.For example if we think that tenure is good (for the reason that you stated) then is it so bad if you have an abberation that causes the outlier engineering professor? In other words isn’t this similar to the concept of Blackstone’s ‘”It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer”…And further to that point can’t a failsafe be built in? Why is it all or nothing anyway.

        1. sigmaalgebra

          While I never wanted to be a college professor, the fact is that tenure doesn’t mean very much: In particular, it doesn’t mean you get raises, get to say what or how many courses you will teach when, what secretarial assistance you get, what travel budget you get, etc.

  2. jeffyablon

    Aside from that being terribly depressing, it’s old news (thanks, Zuck: is a quaint little idea, but … time to move on, kids.

  3. PhilipSugar

    “New technology grows the space of the possible.”I love that concept.

    1. SubstrateUndertow

      It grows both the positive and negative possibility spaces !We are now entering fully into the 4th stage of Meta-Evolution dynamics.1- darwinian reproduction, genetic variance, environmental survival selection2- advanced cognitive introspection + tech imagination start to reshaping/evolve the natural external environment to suit our biological survival needs reducing darwinian selection forces (irrigation-agriculture-industrial revolution)3- Globalized tech/communication makes darwinian natural selection almost completely inoperable slowly being replace by mostly manmade environmental collective survival challenges4- Network-effect/AI organismic interdependency driven social/economic complexity so dominates our individual/collective survival opportunities such that both individuals and organization are now being survival-culled against their behavioural adaptivity at coherently dovetailing into an emergent global social/economic organism.This 4th stage evolutionary dynamic means we are no longer individual organisms evolving against the demands of a slowly changing external environmental dynamic. We are all as individuals and organizations now evolving within/against the emerging survival challenges of a larger social/economic global organism of our own ongoing collective, cognitive, introspective, technological experimentation which we neither fully comprehend its complexity or organic acceleration effect.At this level of SINGULARITY-BASE organic complexity, volatility and acceleration any 4th-stage evolutionary missteps would not be swamped out by millions/billions of parallel fellow organisms. If our collective emergent social/economic organism goes down it could be a hard crash bace to stage 1 darwinian evolution with catastrophic recovery times ?

      1. sigmaalgebra

        Naw! Darwin is now a VERY busy guy! E.g., due to the fact that, in the more advanced countries you are talking about, the birth rate is so low that the people are rapidly, literally going extinct, we are currently in a period of some of the most rapid change in the human gene pool in at least some tens of thousands of years. Again, these days, Darwin is a very busy guy.

        1. SubstrateUndertow

          Nonsense – irrelevant short term effects based on myopic racist assumptions that all those population base birthrates are creating significant genetic shifts other than minor skin tone population variance.Don’t be quoting me “THE BELLCURVE” even the authors agree the variances are insignificant in the big picture. Anyways Asians are the highest IQs and they are holding their own in the population race.Give us some sources on your claims of ” rapid change in the human gene pool”.

          1. sigmaalgebra

            Nonsense. Racism has nothing to do with my claim.The data is dirt simple: Just look up the birth rates in Japan, the US, England, Spain, France, Italy, Germany, and Russia, just for a start.All those birth rates are so low those populations are going extinct, rapidly, literally. E.g., it’s common in Spain for small towns to have had nearly all the young people leave for the cities, not have children in the cities, leave behind only people not having children, and, when the last old person dies, have the town deserted.To look ahead in my reasoning, the problem is just as in Darwin: WAY too much of the gene pool is not “fit” for or adapted to the “environment” of the industrialized countries. By not “fit”, they are not reproducing fast enough, are weak, sick, or dead limbs on the tree, and are going extinct. The environment of the industrialized countries is only about 150 years old, and the gene pool has yet to catch up with the changes, to become “fit” for the environment.For the gene pool? Well, I’m assuming that as the population in those countries falls, what will be left are people who want children much more. Then they will have children and descendants, and the population will start growing again.So, currently we have (A) some people not much interested in being good parents and (B) some other people much more interested in being good parents. In a few more generations, the gene pool will change to a much larger proportion of (B) and a much smaller proportion of (A). That will be Darwin’s “survival of the fittest”, that is, of people with genes that have them want to be good parents. So, that will be a change in the gene pool. So, we will be getting rid of the genes of the (A) people.The (A) people are so numerous that the population is going extinct. So, getting rid of the (A) people will be a massive change in the gene pool. For such a large fraction of the population to die off so quickly stands to be one of the biggest changes in the gene pool back …, 40,000 years, maybe 1 million years. Or, the (A) people and the (B) people made it through ice ages, walking from Africa to South Asia and from there walking either to Europe or across Asia, to the Americas, south along the west coast of the Americas to Patagonia, east across Canada, the US, Brazil, etc. They lived through too little food, bad food, bad water, 100+ F heat, 0- F cold, infections from injuries, various diseases from viruses, bacteria, and insects, predators on land, in the seas, in water ways, wars, etc. Still, they are going extinct now.So, what has changed? Just what Darwin said: Environment. The environment of the industrialized countries has the existing gene pool failing to reproduce.Why? Well, there is birth control. Now people who don’t want to be good parents don’t have to be. Well the (A) people just would rather not bother being good parents. So, the (A) people are dying out. That is, for 1+ million years the (A) people were good enough parents whether they consciously wanted to or not. Now, with birth control, they don’t consciously want to be good parents and are not.So, what will be left are people in the industrialized countries, with access to birth control, but who have genes that have them want enough to be good parents actually to be good parents, that is, what will be left are the (B) people.The change is, we are finally getting out of the gene pool the (A) people who for 1+ million years didn’t much want to be parents anyway. Now with birth control, they are free, don’t have to be bothered with nonsense like babies, diapers, 2 AM feedings, the terrible twos, etc. Again, there were a LOT of (A) people. Now in the environment of the industrialized countries, their genes are leaving the gene pool.So, what will be left in the gene pool are the (B) people who maybe always did want to be good parents, still want to be, and want it enough actually to be good parents.Again, there are so many (A) people that getting their genes out of the gene pool is a massive change. For the (A) people, the freedom they have in the industrialized countries is such a different environment that it is a bigger challenge to their genes than all that walking, all those diseases, etc. The industrialized countries are literally a fatal environment, worse than the ice ages, for the (A) people.The industrialized countries are worse for babies and the gene pool than anything else in the past 1+ million years.It’s a BIG change.And I didn’t mention race.I would say that the (A) people include a lot of feminists who are weak, sick, or dead limbs on the tree.In my experience, I saw a lot, nearly all the females I did see, who were hot on this and that but NOT on motherhood. And, their history is that they were weak, sick, or dead limbs on the tree.Darwin continues: The genes left will be those adapted, fit, for the environment. In the industrialized countries, those will be the (B) people. They will WANT to be good parents, KNOW deeply that they WANT to be good parents, SAY clearly that they WANT to be good parents, PLAN well and work HARD to be good parents, will CELEBRATE being good parents. How common do you see such people now? We’rr talking a BIG change in the gene pool, just as I claimed.

          2. Matt A. Myers

            Want to elaborate on “Asians are the highest IQs and they are holding their own in the population race”?Any individual measurement as an end-all to survival is like saying if you go 200 miles per hour, you’re going to beat anyone going slower than you. The way life moves forward is simply because there’s enough variation to allow for creation, procreation, and without any complete extinction event. Likewise, low IQ could equally lead to larger families and population if the resources are plentiful. What China for example has on its side competitive wise, is essentially a mandated “working together” structure to their society; this could lead to problems for them in the future, internally, or cause a problem holistically with the rest of the world — if compromise and middle ground isn’t found or met to manage systems and behaviours.

  4. Guy Lepage

    I personally agree with Albert on many of these points. From basic income to privacy as a strategy. I believe that reputation is something that still needs solving and that it can and will more than likely play a large role in assisting in privacy as a strategy as well as assisting democracy.

  5. PhilipSugar

    The other phrase I like is fundamental asymmetry. That is it is easier to destroy than create.That phrase sums up why I am against UBI. It sounds good if everybody is a hardworking villager in Germany. If you have bad people, however, you are funding their bad behavior which ultimately will destroy to good hardworking people. Our current system places a limit on that.

    1. Amar

      A phrase that goes well with that is “unintended consequences” or second order effects. Hard to predict and protect against but history is full of caution there. The key being when messing around with incredibly wide ranging social changes like UBI (think mortgage interest exemption tax policy for comparison but 1000x bigger in magnitude) — it behooves us to approach with a lot of humility and timidity. #remember_pandora

      1. PhilipSugar

        Really strong point. I will use an old one: “The road to hell is paved with good intentions”

      2. Matt A. Myers

        Unintended consequences are likely known by a few, like now is coming to light that oil company scientists knew the coming global warming/climate change problem, like a few people warned of what would happen with the housing bubble. There are people who will take advantage of the crowd, and those that will try to counter the hype train moving at full steam ahead. We know to counteract this is through education, however who has the control over the content of education and the potentially biased messaging, is also a concern.To add, incentivized crypto-assets are like this. If you look far enough out into future, the wealth redistribution is unnecessary, unfair, unreasonable – and its earliest adopters are the loudest and perhaps joined by the most clever capitalists.

    2. Matt A. Myers

      UBI isn’t going to be as simple as giving people $X per month, it needs to be managed – like capitalism needs to be managed, else we wouldn’t need to even be talking about UBI because wealth would be distributed well-enough then, if it was the only part to the solution.

  6. Mario Cantin

    At their core, and by their definitions, privacy and transparency don’t cohabitate together very well indeed, much like acidity and alkalinity. The entropy point is well-taken too. To me, this means more innovation is needed in the humanities if we want to truly keep up with the technological advances.

  7. Kirsten Lambertsen

    Albert never ever disappoints. Such a thought-provoking and thoughtful presentation. And somehow he always leaves me feeling optimistic. Who else can work privacy, transparency, mindfulness and UBI into one talk?!I’d be curious to learn how your appreciation for Ray Kurzweil is faring these days.It feels like a challenging time for optimists right now. Fundamental asymmetry certainly applies to making money, in that it’s much easier to make money by destroying people’s optimism than it is by helping build it up. There’s so much fodder right now for the fear mongers to profit from. I find myself having to ‘talk up’ my family members (including my kids!) on a regular basis.

  8. awaldstein

    Back when Apple was running its Think Differently campaign I was given the opportunity to design and run a global series of events around creative methodologies and tools for managing and monitoring online businesses.I had posters everywhere of the Apple campaign.One of those posters could have had Albert’s face on it.Love this talk.

    1. Kirsten Lambertsen

      Agreed!I still have one of those posters (I think it’s Einstein) 🙂

  9. jason wright

    Is commenting a right or a privilege?

    1. Drew Meyers

      Privilege. Everything about our lives is a privilege (and certainly everything on the internet)… our life here is a fairy tale to most of the world.

  10. jason wright

    does privacy include the principle of personal choice about what about ourselves is and is not in the public domain? If we are self sovereign does it not naturally follow that as individuals we each get to decide what is know beyond ourselves and what is not?n.b. ultimate privacy is isolation. that is not the human condition. there has to be the right to choose the degree of privacy.p.s. privacy and secrecy are different. governments are secrecy.Also, the problem is that if we all come to a consensus no one will discover a ‘secret’, a different way of looking at things, that will be the way forward.

    1. Drew Meyers

      “personal choice about what about ourselves is and is not in the public domain”There is no personal choice. Pretty much anything entered into any website could in theory end up on a public website. Most of that data is sold in some capacity already, and it’s not that hard to match IP addresses/device back to an individual person.

  11. Ronnie Rendel

    Of all the things the usv team have been right, it’s Albert’s ideas that keep me up at night.

  12. SubstrateUndertow

    All new tools bring both services and dis-services.Automated, network-effect, synchronizing, distributive AI tools bring organismic complexity right into the very core organizing principles on which our new social/economic mechanisms must operate.All this foundational-dynamic change has installed itself well before any collaboratively effective narratives, metaphors or language memes for framing them have begun to take root let alone been widely appreciated/debated.Theses are not your old school linear “unintended consequences” these are civilization threatening organic-runnaway-feedback challenges! Fool rush in and all that stuff.Albert has here created a very thoughtful starting point discussion to challenge our framing assumption!At first blush I’m almost convinced that “privacy” should be reframed more as a strategy rather than an immutable core value.A “BIG BUT enters into this framing1- blockchain mediated basic income2- blockchain certified data ownership/authenticity3- Working on ALL our own brains (brains with exploitable evolutionary potholes)The “BIG BUT” here is the problem that these three reframing goals require relatively quick, relatively SYNCHRONOUS and relatively universal execution to effectively actualize such a strong 3-way interdependent outcome. That 3-way synchronous technical evolutionary interdependency seem counter to any form of previous evolutionary dynamic either cellular or social.I have always held fast to the idea that “PRIVACY” is a coreabstract-property-ownership value at the very heart of any defendable free agency.To reframe “PRIVACY” as an evolving organizational strategy and not a universalabstract-property-ownership value-proposition is a big ask for me.But great job Albert!I’m now forced to at least reprocess the contemporary coherence of my previously sacrosanct working conclusion !Great effort! I vote for Albert to be interviewed by Sam Harris!

    1. sigmaalgebra

      > AI tools bringmostly just nonsense. E.g., so far nearly all of AI is just poorly done applications of some relatively elementary applied math 50+ years old. What AI will “bring” is in all respects less interesting than what the possum somewhere in my back yard brings.

      1. SubstrateUndertow

        Sam Harriss – “AI: RACING TOWARD THE BRINK”A Conversation with Eliezer Yudkowsky…Eliezer Yudkowsky is a decision theorist and computer scientist at the Machine Intelligence Research Institute in Berkeley, California who is known for his work in technological forecasting. His publications include the Cambridge Handbook of Artificial Intelligence chapter “The Ethics of Artificial Intelligence,” co-authored with Nick Bostrom. Yudkowsky’s writings have helped spark a number of ongoing academic and public debates about the long-term impact of AI, and he has written a number of popular introductions to topics in cognitive science and formal epistemology, such as Rationality: From AI to Zombies and “Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality.” His latest book is Inadequate Equilibria: Where and How Civilizations Get Stuck.”mostly just nonsense. E.g., so far nearly all of AI is just poorly done”

      2. SubstrateUndertow

        Besides my main point was”Automated, network-effect, synchronizing, distributive AI tools” not just AI itself.You wrote: with hubris nonsense “What AI will “bring” is in all respects less interesting than what the possum somewhere in my back yard brings.”Even our present very week AI is already bringing significant social/economic impacts !!!

        1. sigmaalgebra

          > Even our present very week AI is already bringing significant social/economic impacts !!!Hype.

    2. Michael Elling

      You are confusing digital with analog. Everything new is old, only different because of the velocity and scale of digital. Property rights and privacy issues go back 1000s of years. Rules and protocols developed and evolved, understanding the interplay between edge and core. They have not evolved for digital.But what was not understood, and still isn’t is this notion of “universal”. The elite, or core, or rule makers, or power brokers or wealthy (aka the strong or intelligent) somehow believe their virtues justify this control and wealth disparity. So they care not a wit about universal. But then networks ossify and collapse.Simply put the individual is nothing without the network (society) and society is nothing without the individual actors that contribute to its functioning (value). At times throughout history we have recognized this, and tried to act on it, but we’ve never quite understood the fundamental (network) maths behind it.When we as a society wake up to this and understand that networks are only sustainable and generative if there are a) incentives and disincentives between the actors and b) value equilibrating mechanisms to align the geometrically driven value captured at the core with the linear costs more or less evenly borne at the edge.The internet is the best example that we do not understand this. But no wonder, the concept of network effects wasn’t even written about before Rolfs in 1974. This is not a new age, merely the reality of digital network effects.Therefore age-old concepts around privacy should still very much hold and not be so easily discarded as they’ve been.

  13. sigmaalgebra

    First, there’s no doubt that Albrecht is guilty of grossly excessive levels of oxidizing glucose between his ears!!!Second, I’ll give him a pass on the increased CO2 he generated!Third, as much as this pains me, I can’t argue with everything he says!Fourth, there is for now a relatively easy way to keep sick-o government from walking all over the citizens: Have the citizens get, see, and carefully review what government is spending and, then, vote to cut off the money for the sick-o stuff. Uh, this is not nearly a new idea: E.g., the US Founding Fathers made sure that all money bills had to originate in the House, the house of the people, NOT the elitist Senate! Since our Founding Fathers saw all that point clearly 200+ years ago, we should be able to see it, and EXECUTE on it, now.Sure, for these get, see, and review thingys, we could use some more applications of some more in “information technology”.

    1. SubstrateUndertow

      At least for large controversial expenditures the press should play up the cost per citizen. It is easy to calculate!ExampleWall = 50 billion or about $150 each man/women/childMay be for such controversial expenditures one could mandate a surcharge each tax year. See if that shapes the collective decision making ?

      1. sigmaalgebra

        For a long list of strong, old reasons, the newsies are in the entertainment and propaganda business, not the information business. So, they won’t seriously report on the budget or the activities of government.Yes, that means that now there may be some good opportunities for better news via the Internet.

        1. SubstrateUndertow

          Think such expenditure per-capita would be quite entertaining to all:-)

    2. Michael Elling

      There were a bunch of greeks who saw things pretty clearly some 2400 years ago, but we never learned. Ahhh, but they didn’t know about network effects; which govern everything in the universe. Alas, those on this thread really don’t either.

  14. ZekeV

    Privacy is the power to choose when to reveal your identity. If you don’t have privacy, how can you have control over your own computer? And vice-versa, if you have control over your own computer, to some extent, why can’t you use that to engineer privacy? To me, engineering better privacy-respecting systems is an example of progress, and not in tension with it. Unless we think that progress == enabling more profitable tech monopolies.I am confused as to how Albert can say he supports the freedom of individuals to choose what software to run on their own machines, while also saying that privacy is at odds to this freedom.

  15. Lawrence Brass

    I think that the first priority is “fixing democracy”, to have any chance of success on the other important problems to solve of our time. Democracy is being challenged by totalitarian regimes and interest groups systematically around the world.Fix democracy first.