Vint surfed the wrong wave
Siva Narendra, CEO, Tyfone, Inc.
First, let me be very clear - I have the highest respect for Vint Cerf. He and Steve Crocker are considered to be two of the Founding Fathers of the internet.
Coming back to the topic at hand, Cerf's recent comment about privacy being an anomaly and a challenge that is too difficult to implement is unacceptable. To support this idea, Cerf provides an example of the small town where he grew up where privacy was (largely) non-existent. Everyone knew everyone, and nothing was a secret. While the absence of privacy in a small community may be tolerated and may even be a considered charming, to equate this paradigm with modern day privacy concerns is a flawed analogy on several grounds.
Allow me to explain. Motorbikes travel much faster today than they did a century ago. Consequently, today, we mitigate this risk by wearing helmets and there are laws that require them. Privacy is no different. The right investments must be made to invent tools that protect privacy just as safety measures increased as motorbikes became faster. In addition, the small town that Cerf uses to define privacy, or lack thereof, is based on person-to-person, two-way relationships. In today's internet era, we are talking about the privacy concerns surrounding the digital footprints all of us leave, both knowingly and unknowingly, with companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter. This is a one-way relationship. Just read the terms and conditions!
Technological advances should not stand in the way of personal rights. Simply because this problem is very challenging to address, does not mean there is license to knowingly and overtly ignore it or in the worst case, serve as a free ticket to break the law. While the U.S. Constitution does not specifically address how to protect privacy in the internet era, the intent and the spirit of the 14th Amendment, couldn't be clearer about the importance of privacy and the intrinsic rights that accompany it. So let us not resign and say it is too late, that is not an option. Enabling the protection of privacy rights for individuals is of paramount importance in our shrunken and interconnected world. Imagine if a couple of brilliant engineers in China had invented the Internet and one of them made such a statement about privacy. Would we be comfortable with that?
While it is very convenient for companies like Google and others to not have additional requirements imposed on them for ensuring privacy, a nonchalant statement that brushes aside the importance of privacy is unjustified and irresponsible. Service providers, especially the ones that rely on “eye ball” metrics for market capitalization, have more than sufficient profit margins and reserves to implement holistic privacy protection. If you want to learn more about these issues, I recommend watching this fantastic documentary called "Terms and Conditions Apply.”