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Data Privacy: How to respond to the "I have nothing to hide" argument

“When it comes to data privacy and accountability, people always demand the former for themselves and the later for everyone else.” ~David Brin

In a controversial interview back in 2009, Eric Schmidt (then Chairman and CEO of Google) was questioned by a CNBC about user privacy. Eric famously responded with, “If you are doing something on the internet you don’t want others to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it.” Kind of a shocking statement from the most powerful man at Google, huh?

But Eric is not alone in this sentiment. Many people have the “I have nothing to hide” mentality when it comes to internet privacy and data mining. Data security expert Bruce Schneier calls this the “most common retort against privacy advocates.” And if you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to worry about - right?

Now I am not arguing the fact that the vast majority of people use the internet for non-nefarious purposes. The problem with the “nothing to hide” mentality, though, is that it insinuates that privacy advocates must indeed have something to hide and places the burden of proof on them to provide (or, in this case, allow Google to discover) evidence that they are innocent.

So here are some things to consider if you currently have the “nothing to hide” mentality. Would you be willing to allow the police to search your home without a warrant or just cause? You know - just to make sure you aren’t secretly plotting criminal activities. No? Because they are the police? Ok - fair enough.

What about your neighbor? Would you be willing to share your credit card statements with them? Allow them to enter your house without permission while you weren’t home? Give them access to all of your text messages? Heck - if you truly have nothing to hide, why bother wearing clothes? 🤔

All kidding aside, though, hopefully these questions are helpful in understanding the concerns of privacy advocates. A large part of the problem is that there is no clear cut line between what is and what is not off-limits to the Googles and Facebooks of the world.

Obviously, I was being facetious when I asked why you wear clothes if you have nothing to hide. But how personal is too personal? Where is the line?

Let’s be honest - who has time to read every privacy policy we agree to every time we install a new app on our phone? Did you know that agreeing to the privacy policy for most messaging apps means you are agreeing to allow them (and possibly even 3rd party partners) to access your messages and other information?

So if you prefer to wear clothing and otherwise keep your personal life private, you might want to choose a messaging solution that puts the user first and makes privacy a top priority… ahem, one like Wafer Messenger.

How would you respond to the “I have nothing to hide” argument?

About me: I’m mostly focused on internet growth, culture, and startups and am the COO at Wafer Inc. When I can find time between being a co-founder and life I enjoy writing, mostly here and occasionally on LinkedIn. If you enjoy my writing, subscribe or follow me on LinkedIn to see more in the future.


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