Why You Can No Longer Get Lost in the Crowd

Document Type


Publication Date



New York Times Company




We are constantly exposed in public. Yet most of our actions will fade into obscurity. Do you, for example, remember the faces of strangers who stood in line with you the last time you bought medicine at a drugstore? Probably not. Thanks to limited memory and norms against staring, they probably don’t remember yours either.

This is what it means to be obscure. And our failure to collectively value this idea shows where we’ve gone wrong in the debates over data and surveillance.

Lawmakers and industry leaders are missing the big picture. They are stuck on traditional concepts like “transparency,” “consent” and “secrecy,” which leads to proposals that reinforce broken mechanisms like consenting to unreadable terms of service. They are operating under the dangerous illusion that there’s a clear distinction between what’s public and what’s private. Most people probably intuitively know that their most deeply held secrets are private while the things about them that are commonly known or widely broadcast are not. But what about information about our everyday actions that is shared with some but not all?

This document is currently not available here.

Publisher Link