Publicity is Cheap, Privacy is Expensive

When I was 18 years old, publicity was hard to come by. Media outlets were limited to newspapers with very high editorial standards, television with few channels and very limited news time, and a few high profile news magazines.

My first 15 minutes of fame came in 1981 when I was interviewed by Dan Rather for a CBS Evening News spot on entrepreneurialism in the Silicon Valley. In 1982, I appeared in Newsweek, as a student correspondent at Stanford, writing about religion, politics and the culturally important trends of the day. In 1983, I appeared in US News and World Report in an article about the emerging importance of software.

Today, blogs, wikis, forums, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Google enable fame and publicity without editorial control. Use your phone to take a video of a squirrel doing something amusing and a few minutes later you’ve got publicity and thousands of people watching your work.

The democratization of information is a good thing. It enables freedom of expression and instant access to news and information. Of course, it’s hard to tell fact from fiction, opinion from news, and accomplishment from self promotion, but it’s left up to the consumer to turn data into information, knowledge and wisdom.

The downside of a completely connected world is that publicity is cheap, but privacy is expensive.

How much effort does it take to not appear on the internet, not be tracked by vendors maximizing sales by analyzing your browsing behavior, and not be findable from the innumerable legal/property/licensure records available on the internet?

In 1981, publicity was expensive, and privacy was cheap.

30 years later, publicity is cheap, and privacy is expensive.

In another 30 years, it will be interesting to see how the concept of privacy evolves.

My daughter’s generation shares everything about their day on Facebook. Maybe the concept of privacy will disappear for most aspects of life, except for those items, like medical records, which are protected via regulation and policy.

My advice to my daughter about privacy is simple – content on the web lasts forever, on the internet nobody knows you’re a dog http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_the_Internet,_nobody_knows_you’re_a_dog, and share what you will such that no one gets hurt including you.

To discover just how “expensive” it is to preserve your privacy, here’s a great WikiHow about deleting yourself from the internet.

30 years ago I had to wait for a call from Dan Rather. Today, I just press Post.  How we balance the expense of publicity and privacy is a question that society will need to continuously evaluate as we become more and more connected.

John Halamka, MD, is the CIO at Beth Israel Deconess Medical Center and the author of the popular Life as a Healthcare CIO blog, where he writes about technology, the business of healthcare and the issues he faces as the leader of the IT department of a major hospital system. He is a frequent contributor to THCB.

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2 replies »

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