And I agree with them. The reality is that the stuff you put on Facebook doesn't belong to you. It belongs to Facebook. Grudgingly, I think, people are now beginning to understand this. Call it the "creeping Facebook realization."
But let's take it one step further. Privacy concerns are often raised when discussions or legislation turns toward the use of electronic medical records. Some people get really incensed over the idea of doctors, employers, insurance companies, or governments accessing their medical records without their permission. I suspect these people have a painful reckoning coming similar to that of the Facebookers who are distressed at discovering that Facebook is using "their" information without their permission.
Who owns your medical record? Today, the consensus opinion probably supports the concept that you do. But I believe we are moving towards a society where that will no longer be the case. In this strange future, the entity that owns your medical record will be the one that owns the data network on which it resides.
People generally have one of two reactions when I propose this concept to them--and they usually break down along clear generational lines.
1. Older generation: "Impossible! What a dark and horrifying view of the future. Such a move would spell the end of the individual. We must fight against it at all costs!"
2. Younger generation: "So what?"
Although I don't necessarily support the change, I think progress is on the side of the younger generation on this one. The older generation will go kicking and screaming, but eventually we will enter a time when the very concept of "online privacy" will lose its political force. No one will care about it enough to ensure that online systems even take it into consideration.
There will certainly be some dystopian elements to that future society, but there will also be some benefits that we currently can't realize. The issue of our medical history and the services we need to access is a thorny one, but imagine a world in which the sharing of information we now consider personal is used to fuel greater discovery and innovation to benefit our human species. Imagine a global network of researchers with access to a new and complete database of human disease and pathology. Imagine any physician, anywhere, anytime, being able to provide an individual patient with the interventions most suited to their personal case history.
Just writing those last two sentences I know that they will terrify some people. Our culture is too laden with images of Big Brother and mistrust of bureaucratic institutions to expect anything else. But our culture is changing, and in many ways I think the creeping Facebook realization is the leading edge of it. Over the next twenty years, we'll see our notion of online privacy change from its current all-consuming fight for individual liberty to a compromise that will be struck between that liberty, the corporate interests of the network owners, and the general benefits that its erosion can deliver to society.