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Privacy: Information as Currency

Readers of this continuing series on privacy will recall that, in the last installment, I discussed the concept of information parity. When information is in a state that enables us to exchange it freely, or when others are able to access the same information as we can, without restriction, then we can say that parity exists.

I suggested the rising demand for privacy -- a topic which has come to dominate many discussions about technological innovation, particularly with regard to digital domains -- is connected to information parity.

This week, I want to introduce another attribute of information: its potential to be used as currency.

bitcoin

Currency and parity are related. When information is in a state of non-parity, then the opportunity exists to use it as currency. It is harder to do that when exchange of information is unrestricted. Consider academic databases, for example. They charge a fee, often a steep one, to users wishing to access a particular academic paper. Parity does not exist in this case, because access to the information is not unconstrained. If it were, no one would pay the fee.

What is information as currency then and how does it lead us to ending privacy altogether? Let’s find out!

Currency, in the privacy context, has two potential expressions. The first expression deals with currency as an object that can be exchanged.

This exchange is volatile and can modulate according to external pressures. Oddly, the exchange of information defies the apparent nature of information, in that an information exchange operates under the premise that one party gains information at the cost of the information itself (to the other party). Exchange is not an expense to information though. Rather, exchange is perceived to be at the expense of exclusivity of knowing information. We’ll come back to this point later.

Secondly, currency is a container for value. The specific value of note in this context is power. The power associated with information has two additional aspects: power over information through people and power over people through information. Yet, information as a currency is not a modern abstraction, as many proclaim. Certainly, information has been capable of exchange since the earliest form of oral transmission. Similarly, we can envision how information has served as a container for power once a method of fixation become available whether that was stone carvings or Twitter posts.

As information is exchanged, we perceive negative exchanges more strongly than positive exchanges. This is to say, the exchange of information away from our power base creates a more intense mental imprint than an incoming exchange. As such, the net perception is an information deficit. Deficits are powerful incentive pathways.

Privacy comes back into the picture because it counteracts such (negative) information exchanges. More specifically, privacy counteracts undesired information exchanges. The fact that undesired information exchanges exist strongly implies that disparity is a dominant information state. A fantastic example of information as a currency in this regard is social media.

Social media have done more to instigate the rising demand for privacy than any other system. Social media have made clear how information is brokered between entities. More importantly, the power of information serves as the access fee to these information brokerages.

Yet information is not money. We do not provide a specific quantity of information to access social media. Thus, social media reinforces the feeling of information disparity based upon information as currency. Certainly, the combined ideas of currency exchange and currency as a container for power fosters a perception of privacy being an equation balancer in some sense. This is just an illusion, however.

To dispel this illusion, I suggest that privacy must end. We need more information, and more information sharing free from the bonds of an illusionary currency. We ought to recognize the real currency of information - power- and work towards equitable exchanges thereof. Such exchange presupposes that information is around long enough to be exchangeable. Thus, tune in next time when I discuss the permanency of information.