What does Google have in common with a public library?
They’re actually much more different than you may think. While the two are both a free service in terms of money, Google comes with a different type of cost with each use.
Data has become its own form of currency, and while it can provide many benefits, we need to stay wary of both the pros and the cons of this new value that we’ve recently encountered. Speaking in terms of Google, this is a service that comes without one of the monthly subscription fees that we see so often on many streaming services. It does, however, come with an epistemic subscription fee, as each time you place your curiosities in to the Google search bar and hit “enter”, you lose more and more of your privacy.
Libraries do not have this cost. While they may be slightly harder to use than our all-knowing benefactor in Google, they provide their users with an unprecedented level of privacy protection. Why is it valuable to protect our privacy? This Ted Talk from Nelio Leone gives insight into one big piece:
One point that Leone raises in his Ted Talk that is interesting is the idea that a loss of privacy would be incredibly embarrassing. While this is not necessarily an epistemic value, if one takes such a hit to one’s pride, it can be difficult to maintain relationships with those who are aware of this embarrassment. Depending on the nature of the information, its release can even close some doors in the future, similarly to the LinkedIn example. Some companies have identified patterns in specific data on LinkedIn to single out users who are more likely to quit a job soon after being hired. As this is obviously not a sought-after quality, this can severely impede these users’ chances at being hired.
Leone seems to have almost no incentive to provide us with this warning, as he works in a field that gains the most from the lax privacy regulations that we see around the world. However, it can and should be argued that because of Leone’s vast knowledge of how to abuse user privacy, he is someone who can understand the dangers of a loss of privacy. We can relate this back to Alvin Goldman’s point on bridges, Goldman states “Although the standard mission of civil engineering is, arguably, to promote sturdiness, it is equally capable of designing flimsy or collapsible bridges if customers desire them.”
These two points may not be exactly similar, but what they do show is that those with a greater amount of knowledge are trusted to use that knowledge responsibly. Just as a civil engineer is intended to build a sturdy bridge, Leone is intended to inform us about the dangers that a loss of privacy can bring.