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American Enterprise Institute’s Jim Harper on the many shades of digital privacy

American Enterprise Institute’s Jim Harper on the many shades of digital privacy

Aug 2, 2021

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"I've found that there are many different things that people are talking about when they use the word 'privacy,'" said Jim Harper, a privacy expert and senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a Washington, D.C.-based think tank that researches government, economics, and social welfare. He was speaking with Orchid's Derek Silva on this week's episode of Priv8.

"The main definition of the word 'privacy' is 'control of information about yourself," Jim continued. "It's the right to decide how you want to portray yourself to different audiences: commercial, social, governmental, or whatever the case may be."

Jim and Derek discussed how people define privacy in different ways and how these definitions can be used in legislation. "It's important to know [what] values you're talking about, especially if you're going to be regulating to improve privacy," he said. "If you know [what] you're getting at, you'll be able to tell whether you've done a good job or not."

The rights to fairness, autonomy, peace, and security are essential components of privacy. Understanding the concept in this way, as a series of connected values, can help grasp and solve important challenges. For example, "The main challenge [for privacy] in the private and commercial sector is understanding how information moves," Jim said. In other spheres of life, the emphasis is likely to be different.

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"There are many social and cultural mores around information hiding and sharing that we are used to because we've grown up with them," he explained. These include things like bodily privacy and the privacy of home life.

But the world has changed. "If you draw a broad parallel between ... 20 to 30 years ago and how it works now, it's really complicated and difficult ... The online world is an all-new environment. People don't know that when they log on somewhere, there's an IP address that they must have to receive the data they're downloading, or that it's trackable."

Today there are many tools that can be used to track online behaviors, including browsers, user names, and other identifiers. "It's very hard for people to understand how to protect privacy in this environment." This is particularly relevant in the face of rising concerns about "commodification," which Jim described as "everything about your life being turned into a commercial opportunity."

"There are some things in life that should be held apart from commerce," he said.
Check out Derek's entire conversation with Jim. And don't forget to subscribe to Priv8 Podcast on your favorite streaming service.

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