If you haven’t seen this YouTube video a guy secretly made of his wife throwing a tempter tantrum, you don’t know what you’re missing. It’s been downloaded 1.3 million times and would definitely make Alec Baldwin and Mel Gibson proud.
But the video is worth a lot more than a good laugh. It’ll tell you everything you need to know about the state of privacy in America. As Sun Microsystems chief executive Scott McNealy famously said nearly 15 years ago, “You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it.”
As unpopular as that viewpoint was at the time, McNealy was right. Dead right. I actually think that’s what upset all the consumer privacy advocates and watchdog groups back in 1999. That the guy had the guts to speak the truth.
And you know what? After all these years, people still don’t get it. We did this to ourselves.
We love capitalism, and this is how companies like Google (GOOG) and Facebook (FB) make money. We don’t want regulators telling us what we can and can’t do online, so they don’t. And we take full advantage of that by spilling our guts on ourselves and each other all over the Internet.
Whatever the reason, it all adds up to the same thing. There ain’t no stinking privacy. I’m not sure if there ever was, but there certainly isn’t any now. And if that’s news to you, then you really need to lay off the Kool-Aid and get a nice big dose of twenty first century reality.
Let me tell you, I grew up in a tiny Brooklyn apartment with paper-thin walls where gossip was a way of life and everybody knew everybody else’s business. Now I live on 10 acres in the middle of nowhere and even I know I don’t have any damn privacy anymore.
For one thing, there are video cameras everywhere. Every stoplight, every business, and half the homes have them. You used to have to rob a bank to get on video. Now everyone has one in the palm of his hand, just like the guy who filmed his loony wife.
If that train crash in Spain had happened here, the cops would probably have three or four personal videos of the conductor yapping on the phone when he should have been stepping on the brakes.
If you’re at all concerned about your medical records getting into the wrong hands – you know, the reason why we have HIPAA privacy rules – then I bet you can’t wait until the IRS has access to your entire medical history courtesy of ObamaCare. That’s right, the same IRS that’s been targeting conservative groups and individuals and asking for private information they have no business collecting.
I hear the good internal revenue folks are going to adopt “Every Breath You Take” by The Police as their new theme song; they just tweaked the lyrics a bit: “Every breath you take, every move you make, every bone you break, every pill you take, we’ll be watching you.”
And I really hope you trust everyone who works at the local drug store and collects your recycling. Come on now, don’t tell me you actually rip the labels off all the pill bottles and shred them. What, you don’t think they tweet about that stuff? Of course they do.
You know the biggest drug problem in America isn’t illicit drugs; it’s prescription drugs and alcohol. Well, how about all the wine and booze bottles you go through? I don’t know who notices what housewives deposit in the recycling bin, but somebody named Gabrielle Glaser apparently wrote a book about it called “Her Best-Kept Secret.”
Then there’s Google. The company knows every search phrase you’ve ever entered and email you’ve sent via Gmail. That’s what the merger between ad giants Omnicom and Publicis is all about: amassing enough of your personal information so they can sell it to advertisers and compete with Google and Facebook.
Not to mention that your Internet service provider knows every website you visit, adult sites and all.
And why should anyone care about the privacy policies of Internet companies when they post the most intimate details of their lives on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube for all the world to see. We’re talking dumb stuff like personal videos and pictures (Anthony Weiner), information about family and friends, even when they’re going to be on vacation.
Frankly, I think it’s surprisingly naive for people to freak out about Edward Snowden’s NSA revelations when they’re recording each other left and right, posting it, and praying it goes viral. Isn’t that what the whole video at the top of this story was about? The guy was apparently sick and tired of his wife texting that he’s a jerk and he wanted everyone to see what he was seeing.
On the business front, it’s amazing how executives that should know better document their stupidity in emails that inevitably make their way into courtrooms via the discovery process. That’s what the SEC’s case against Goldman Sachs and its former VP Fabrice Tourre was partially based on. There were even a few embarrassing emails from CEO Lloyd Blankfein in the mix.
The truth is we all want to have our Internet and our privacy too. Unfortunately, you can’t have it both ways. You just can’t. So here are two pieces of advice I give everyone:
The Internet is forever. Whatever you post there is there for good, like a bad tattoo you can never get rid of. Somewhere in the cloud, you’re idiocy is documented forever. Never forget that.
Assume everyone knows everything. You’ll sleep better at night and live a far happier life. Don’t assume anything you do or say will stay private. If it’s worth repeating, it will be repeated.
Steve Tobak is a management consultant, columnist, former senior executive and author of the upcoming book, "Real Leaders Don't Follow: Being Extraordinary in the Age of the Entrepreneur." Learn more, contact Tobak or follow his new blog at stevetobak.com. Any opinions expressed are those of the columnist.