Privacy online isn’t a right: it’s a condition for other rights


Olivier Glassey

Geneva, Switzerland (GenevaLunch) – “Our definition of privacy is fast-evolving right now and we don’t control it,” says Olivier Glassey, from the University of Lausanne. But don’t panic.

“I believe privacy is gone for good,” argues Christian Heller, a self-described “futurist” who relishes taking the debate a step further. Heller likes to remind his listeners that privacy was not a common notion in the Middle Ages, when people lived in small, tightly interwoven communities.

The two were part of a presentation on the redefinition of privacy at the Lift 2010 conference in Geneva Wednesday 5 May.

Teenagers understand privacy and they have their own definition, says Glassey, but a dilemma as the Facebook generation grows up and their elders catch up with them, is how to ensure forgetfulness. “One of the main challenges will be the long-term memory of privacy,” he points out.


Christian Heller

People use social networks like Facebook to recreate their lives, to record their biographies, and this role of social networking has not yet been sufficiently studied. “We need to build in social forgiveness.” Criminals but also the rest of us, who routinely commit small sins that we want to forget, and we want others to forget, should be allowed to fade away, but how do we do that digitally?

Heller reminded his audience that we tend to forget: the 20th century was a time when privacy replaced a more openly shared, more public life, and the shift has not always a positive thing: privacy can also mean loneliness and shame.

Ed. note: WRS radio carries an audio interview with Glassey and Anil de Mello