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Questions: Privacy & Identity versus Convenience


Issue: privacy

      The ethics of big data is a decision about fundamental value: what’s worth more, the privacy required to craft my own identity, or convenient access to enjoyable services and pleasurable experiences?  

Questions: privacy



One unobtrusive but penetrating scene of privacy and its dilemmas is the end user agreement check box. The wording adjusts slightly among diverse platforms and products, but the overarching reality is constant: users skip the reading, blithely or impatiently check the box (promising that they’ve done the reading), and end up losing control over their personal information.

  • Is there anything wrong with this? If not, why not? If so what? Who’s to blame? Why?


The standard philosophical definition of privacy is control over access to yourself. Privacy is a power, it’s the ability to determine who gets through to your physical body, to the numbers that measure and correspond with you, to your lived past and living memories, to your fears, aspirations and desires.

  • Coming from your background, what do you understand privacy to mean? How much is privacy worth?
  • How can the value be determined? (Is privacy worth money? How much?)
  • Does privacy have value intrinsically, or is it only worth having because it leads to something else?
  • Or, is it simply valueless?


Do you believe you/your firm/a firm infringes on privacy as part of the quotidian activity? Is there anything wrong with that?

  • Note: Nearly all economic activities potentially infringe on privacy
    • To make fashion shows work, runway models disrobe in semi-public rooms.
    • To adjudicate grading disputes, university professors access students’ academic histories.
    • To channel money correctly, credit card companies know what their clients are purchasing.


Is there a way to achieve the convenience that a service offers, while also protecting privacy?



In your business/field do you compare the privacy cost against convenience received? How? Or, is that simply for others to decide (perhaps by making the decision to engage or not engage the product/service)?


Issue: identity

      In philosophy and ethics, the root value of privacy is that it creates space for each of us to form an identity for ourselves. It’s required if we are going to create who we are, as opposed to suffering the imposition of others.  

Questions: identity


1. The identity prison

How can I escape the identity I have and create a new one when big data algorithms are fabricating experiences for me that correspond with the person I already was?

  • Big data platforms from social media to retail specialize in tightening feedback loops. Choices that you make are processed to establish options in the future that resemble the established preference. Subsequent validation tightens the feedback loop. Result: A narrowing funnel of possibilities, an inability to escape your own established preferences.
    • Example: Tinder promises to curate: as you reveal the shape of your desire by swiping left and right, algorithmic filters refine their output. So, a woman initially served random nearby males, progresses to guys in their twenties who like music, and ends up receiving image after image of 27 year-olds who play in jazz ensembles.


The experience of data-infected privacy for identity mirrors the experience of an actor typecast in a role: there’s no way to play a different kind of person not only because you're irrevocably associated with that one role, but also because the only roles you’re going to get offered in the future strongly resemble the one you’ve already performed well.


2. The neutered identity

How can I create an identity for myself when data platforms are sending information about my social, romantic, and consumer experiments flying around to anyone who pays a databroker?

  • Big data platforms don’t only grind out profiles, they also open channels of accessibility. So, it’s not just that information about each of us is gathered and processed at a single place, it’s also communicated losslessly and instantaneously, to nearly anyone who pays. The threat here is that fear and shame will conspire to neuter our identities. If we know that anything we write, say, or do may end up circulating widely, then we’re probably not going to diverge from the most conventional and anonymous behaviors.
    • Example: Audiences subjected to Tinder: Live emerge shell-shocked by the reality that peoples’ profiles can be so easily rendered into comedy fodder. So, when the lights come up silence descends because everyone’s frantically removing anything potentially laughable from their Tinder profiles. That’s prudent, but it’s also a retreat: risk-free profiles become conventional, impersonal, dull. There’s a palpable loss of edginess, of unique individuality, that follows the collapse of privacy at Tinder: Live.


The experience of data-infected privacy for identity mirrors the experience of an amateur trying to be an actor in front of a crowd. You can’t keep a straight face, you muffle your impulses, generally, you suppress the task of playing the character because you don’t want to make a fool of yourself. That’s reasonable, the problem comes when your reality is like that too.


Issue: convenience

      The philosophical and ethical approach to convenience asks: Why should we allow pleasures to remain elusive and difficult in the name of preserving our ability to define ourselves in the world? More, shouldn’t we embrace a world that alleviates our discomforts and better conforms to our desires, even if that means sacrificing degrees of privacy and individuality?  

Questions: convenience



Philosophy defines convenience as enjoyment, with effort decreasing toward zero: pure convenience. Example: we are sedated, floated in a tank, and fitted with an electrode headwrap designed to channel curated experiences into our consciousness. We are the consummate violinist, or acrobat, or novelist… This is pure convenience: perfected existence without any effort.

  • Is this life desirable?
  • Why or why not?
  • Is the experienced pleasure true pleasure? Is the subject who experiences the pleasure really a me?


Convenience facilitates enjoyment, but what is enjoyment?

  • In philosophy, happiness is sometimes divided into two categories: hedonistic and idealistic, the pleasures of the body and the pleasures of the mind.
    • Which is better, why?


How can convenience be measured? Does monetized convenience (it is worth whatever people will pay) function well?



Philosophy has a history of suspicion of convenience.

  • First, there’s the authenticity claim that people understand their place in the world at least partly through their labor and struggles. Existence without resistance makes it impossible for me to test myself, to find out who I am. So, when convenience reaches perfection, it becomes impossible for me to know myself.
  • Second, convenience may be corruptive. When Plato addressed the advantages rising from invention of writing he also introduced an irony: while writing is supposed to aid our memory, it actually creates forgetfulness because once we start jotting things down, we'll stop exercising our ability to remember. The message is that corruption may be lurking in convenience.

Is convenience inherently inauthentic? Corruptive?



Does Tinder ruin love?

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