Privacy, public health and the moral hazard of surveillance

My new Guardian column, "Privacy, public health and the moral hazard of surveillance," discusses the way that the governments' reliance on social networks for intelligence purposes means that they can't intervene to help their populations get better at trading their privacy for services.

That's a crisis. If online oversharing is a public health problem, then the state's decision to harness it for its own purposes means that huge, powerful forces within government will come to depend on oversharing. It will be vital to their jobs – their pay-packets will literally depend on your inability to gauge the appropriateness of your online disclosure.

They will be on the same side as the companies that profit from oversharing, because they will, effectively, be just another firm that benefits from oversharing.

It's as though Scotland Yard decreed that obesity was critical to its ability to catch slow-moving, easily winded suspects. It's as though the NHS announced it would cope with the expense of an aging population by encouraging chain-smoking. The dangers of oversharing are hard enough to manage when it's just the private sector that benefits from them.

Privacy, public health and the moral hazard of surveillance


  1. I believe that the preferred term for ‘moral hazard’ is now ‘public/private partnership’…

  2. I can’t keep up. I freely admit I can’t keep up. Every once in a while I can follow the news for a whole day, reading secrecy blogs until my eyes bleed. But the moment I get up to take a shit, when I come back every congress and parliament in the world has simultaneously proposed CISPA, SOPA, PIPA, OPRAH, SUPRA, PANTHRO, JETHRO, AFRO and like forty other laws that want to put a camera inside my butthole and charge me a fee for not liking it.





    1. If you don’t have a camera inside your butthole, how can you tell if the tiny men are doing their job?

  3. “Oversharing” is certainly not a public health problem. If people shared all their health info, public health (and science in general) would greatly benefit.

      1. well said
        there are are lot’s of ways to statistically improve life, if you kill all the sick, your country will have no disease, if you kill the homeless you will have no homeless people if you put everyone in full body restraints and feed them intravenously you will have no crime.

        it’s all about what you gain to what you lose, not just statistical improvements.

  4. So very sorry to interrupt on this thread…but without a contact…I had to pick a spot to communicate.
    Boing Boing…what is up with the sudden change to such a small font? My word, some of us are older & this smaller print really poses a problem.
    We may be older, but we’re still interested & engaged.

    1. It looks normal to me,  but I’ve had a lot of problems with styles lately.  I keep getting pages in all bold, but I refresh and it goes back to normal.  Can you post a screenshot if refreshing doesn’t fix it?

      1. I’m so not good at this…but here’s what I (think) I captured on  print screen & saved.

          1. Try pressing ctrl-0 (or command-0).  This will reset your browser’s zoom settings for  I can approximately reproduce your screenshot by zooming out four steps in Chrome.

  5. I don’t know what you’re complaining about.
    With the establishment of standardised metrics for the measurement of performance, no manager who abides by the numbers can ever again be proven to have made a wrong decision.
    Habituation to making decisions based on such a valuable surfeit of information will surely never lead to manipulation of the interpretation of the data to reflect performance gains!

    A system, in bed with the enemy, gathering data through its clandestine partnerships for use in manipulation of those under it’s auspices.
    A system which is structured to then do it’s best to completely ignore the true implications of that data and to manipulate it beyond recognition, forcing a fit with falsely emergent performance metrics for the purpose of proving efficiency.

    Someone is forthrightly ticking the ‘Everything is OK’ box and everything is not OK.

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