Some thoughts on the morality of privacy

Privacy is a complicated issue, and  increasingly, an important one.  Technologies like Facebook and Google have, over the last ten years or so, changed the nature of privacy issues faster than they might ever have changed before. And, like many issues in pop politics, subtlety in the discussion seems to have never emerged.  The slogans -- "Right to privacy,"  "Information wants to be free."  Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has been quoted as saying, “Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity.”*

It seems there's a polarity of views:  Either privacy is good, or privacy is bad.  Either concealing anything is a sign of dishonesty, worthy of moral scorn, or being forced to reveal anything about yourself without the right to decline is irredeemably invasive.

One of the major reasons this issue is so heated is that the key examples of privacy tend to share something in common:  They represent a high degree of personal risk, but only if the people you expose the information to behave unethically.**

I think it would be fair to characterize these sorts of identity facts as closet-issues -- that is, being public about them constitutes coming out of a closet.  The archetypal example, the trope namer, is homosexuality.  Coming out as gay can have serious implications about an individual's wellbeing.

But the more people come out as gay, the harder it is for homophobia to stick.

Whether to come out is a hard decision, and the answer isn't universal.  And the abstract reasons for which it's difficult can be applied to pretty much any identity fact that it might be convenient to leave out of your public identity.

It might be convenient not to mention that you're Muslim/Jewish/atheist/other religious-identification minority, that you're going to therapy, that you got a GED, that you're transgendered, that you have bipolar disorder, that you've attempted suicide.  Those labels can hurt your social standing or your career.  Some of them are a risk to your physical wellbeing.

But coming out helps break the stereotypes, and the sacrifices you make in coming out are sacrifices you make for everyone else who can't, yet.

Altogether, the more information is out there, available and open, the harder it is for people to get away with being wrong.  In that way, if everyone is more transparent, it could make the world a nicer, safer, more understanding and caring place.

Then again, pitfalls along that road include police states, filter bubbles, corporate takeovers of information flow, targeted attacks against minorities, and, I'm sure, plenty of problems I haven't thought of.

Like I said, it's complicated.  But overall, I'd like to propose a slightly more complicated view of privacy -- that it's a necessary evil which we can't afford to do without, but which should be diminished wherever it's safe to do so.  Especially among the people in power.†

*That quote also opens to a number of other philosophical discussions I won't be addressing in this post. **I'm taking it as read that morality has to do with harm avoidance and the wellbeing of feeling entities, rather than the taboo based morality of religion, purity-based morality, or financial success as equivalent to moral success. †I realize I didn't get into the issue of power dynamics much here, but I promise to do so soon.