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Why was this secret? (sivers.org)
411 points by mkuhn 1050 days ago | hide | past | web | 209 comments | favorite

Why was her diary secret? Well, because she wanted it so. And that should be enough.

When it comes to information that any given person regards as intimate about oneself, that should always be enough. It doesn't matter that someone else might peruse that information and say, "there is nothing special here." Why? Because it is not that person's judgment to make. There may be nothing special about my exact bank balance or net worth or state of my health or sex life or political or religious affiliations (or lack of affiliations) or any other information that I may consider private but that doesn't mean I want that information broadcast to the world only to invite identity thieves, malicious third-parties, political enemies, or anybody else who might bear a grudge or harbor an animus to have a field day with it. But they are just "facts", you might say. No, in the wrong hands, they are ammunition by which to hurt you if people want and, even if the facts themselves are innocent enough, people have a ready capacity as may suit their whims or prejudices or any other ulterior motives they may have to do you wrong and what may appear as innocent "facts" to one person can easily be transmuted into a vile weapon that can cost you your job, your important relationship, or any other of many things that might be the subject of someone's jealousy or other animus toward you (a lifetime of courtroom experience has certainly shown me how easy it is for a motivated adversary to take otherwise innocent facts and twist them into malicious aspersions if they really want to). What is more, even if nobody had any interest whatever in harming me through misuse of that information, it is part of my essential humanity that I can separate that which I regard as intimate (to me) from that which is made freely available for public consumption. There is a reason why the word "vulgar" developed negative connotations over the centuries: it originally meant nothing more than "belonging to the crowd." Well, crowds can trample on things you might regard as precious and it should be your choice and no one else's whether you want to open up important parts of your life for public consumption.

If I happen not to want to keep any part of my life secret, well, that is fine too. That is a choice every person can make for himself so long as he doesn't go about over-sanctimoniously proclaiming that others must do the same or harming others about him by revealing things that they consider intimate as he opens the book of his own life to the world.

It is the same in the business world. One can open-source his own works as a matter of commitment to the idea that all information ought to be free or for any other reason but that doesn't mean the law ought to abrogate protections for proprietary, trade secret information that most businesses need to keep confidential information as a matter of competitive advantage. If I am a broker who depends for his livelihood in serving a customer base that it took years to develop, I would be rightly upset if someone came in and simply handed all my customer information over to my competitors. So too would a development team that has invested huge amounts of money and time into a development effort that gives them a significant competitive advantage over others and whose business model turns on keeping that advantage to themselves exclusively. So too would most any company management if its confidential business plans for winning key markets suddenly got broadcast publicly over the web. Examples of this type can be multiplied endlessly and really are self-evident to anyone who has had much in the way of real-world business experience.

Again, any private business is free to make a contrary judgment and to open itself up at every level so that it maintains no private or secret information whatever. That is their choice. But, if I want to keep things secret in my business, no one should be able to force me to do otherwise or to try to shame me into believing that I am doing something wrong.

Laws and public policy cannot make these choices for us as individual actors but it is essential that they set up a structure to protect those who would seek to keep their confidential information private. How and to what degree that happens in practical execution can be a complex topic in our technological age but the abiding principle, to me, is very clear: privacy is valuable in any society and laws should be shaped accordingly.

So, why, then, is this secret? Because the person it most affects wants it that way and the rest of us should respect that person's wishes to keep it so.

I don't think Derek was arguing that she shouldn't have the right to keep it secret, or that we shouldn't respect her wishes.

The point of the piece is that many of our "secrets" -- things we guard carefully and fear being exposed -- wouldn't surprise, or even interest, other people.

It's just a shift in perspective, not an attack on anyone's right to privacy.

"That you will become way less concerned with what other people think of you when you realize how seldom they do."

(David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest)

(But this isn't to disagree with the grandparent post, either. Just a statement on perspective.)

That may be true if you're the kind of person who never stands up to anybody. If you never voice disagreement or opposition, then you can be that 100% transparent citizen.

But it's difficult or impossible to reverse this, once you've gone down that path.

And as soon as you'll feel like saying something critical, you can very easily be manipulated to remain silent, because the other party will know all your weaknesses. It will know where to attack you efficiently. (And if you take a look at our dumb and immature culture, you will notice that we still think it's ok to judge people, btw. all based on the illusion of "free will").

It's also true if you're from a privileged background. Straight cis men have a lot of advantages that way.

I would know other people weakness too.

And then we would end up with the tyranny of the genuinely ascetic, the puritanical and those that lie so well they can mask everything from everyone (sociopaths).


You are misinterpreting the post.

Derek isn't claiming that your decisions about what to keep private shouldn't be respected, but rather that you - the person who wishes to keep things private - might benefit from thinking twice about what is it you are actually afraid of, and whether it is all rational.

Claiming that her diary was secret because "she wanted to" is really beside the point. People constantly "want" many things which are harmful to them. It is of much higher value to try and help them, than to deny attempts to do so on the grounds that "they have a right to do whatever they want".

People constantly "want" many things which are harmful to them.

In this case, Derek and his friend appear to want something which is harmful to them (almost completely transparency in all their activities, to the extent of revealing a private diary on request). People are just pointing out why this is harmful, and why he should think twice before proclaiming that 'secrets are just facts'.

You can't ever take back having released a lot of information into the public domain - for example a diary would reveal your location on almost every day of your life - very useful to catch you out on some technicality on tax or some other issue. People are already (in my opinion) giving out too much info, sometimes deliberately (Facebook), sometimes without their knowledge (Tempora).

I actually agree with his point about code and ideas (that it's better to share than not), but think it is completely wrongheaded and downright dangerous to extend that as far as a private diary of thoughts and events.

Derek isn't claiming that your decisions about what to keep private shouldn't be respected, but rather that you - the person who wishes to keep things private - might benefit from thinking twice about what is it you are actually afraid of, and whether it is all rational.

It is completely rational to believe that a growing lack of privacy is a serious problem in our society, and would undermine our freedom from government or corporate interference and manipulation on every level of our lives. You don't have to look far for examples of gross misuse of personal data.

And yet whether Derek is right or not is unrelated to whether people should have a right to keep things private - of course they should. This is why grellas is misinterpreting the post, and this is also why your last paragraph is also a misinterpretation of the post.

As to the content of the post itself - there are obvious edge cases where releasing private information is harmful. I don't think Derek is claiming that they don't exists, or that total transparency is the best way to go. Let each of us think for ourselves what kind of information we should keep private because of real, rational and justified reasons, and what is based on irrational fears of exposing something that nobody cares about in the first place. I think you will find that often the majority of what people consider worth hiding is of the second kind.

People don't keep private diaries because they believe that "a growing lack of privacy is a serious problem in our society", they keep private diaries because they feel psychologically inclined to do so.

Thanks for this. I had read Derek's post and was uncomfortable with it, and you have articulated the downsides well.

I think blog post appeals to a part of us which wants to be very trusting and open. I actually had a flashing thought of open sourcing our code (which we have been growing for years) but better sense prevailed soon. Of course there are things which we won't want the competitors to know etc.

Although as other commenters have said and I agree, that Derek probably didn't want it to be a blanket prescription. But still it had a pop feel good sense to it. And well thought out 'reality check' kind of response was needed.

If you write down your secrets on a diary, or tell some of your friends about it, or God forbid! write it up on Facebook, then you're asking for trouble (or maybe you want those "secrets" to not stay secret forever).

My secrets are in my head, I don't talk about them to anyone, I don't write them down. They will die with me.

Of course that doesn't work for a business. But a business is NOT a person, so it's disingenuous to claim that businesses have a right to "privacy". Businesses have no "human rights". Businesses are things, like a table or a shoe.

It's not that binary. Something can be a "secret" and yet you have to tell some people, but not others.

What if your "secret" is that you're gay and you're in an evangelical hardcore religious family and you want to get out? How do you talk to a help group far away without telling your parents? Is "I'm gay" a secret? You have to tell the help group, but don't want to tell your parents. "Keep it in your head and tell no-one" just doesn't work then.

We write things down for a number of reasons. Are you really arguing that a person "is asking for it" just for writing it down?

I'm only saying, what's not written can't be read. What isn't said can't be heard.

My mother was a lawyer and always taught us never to talk over the phone about things that were potentially incriminating, much less writing it down -- and this was in the seventies-eighties, long before anything resembling the Internet or the mass-surveillance capabilities of today's NSA.

What I'm saying is that a real secret is something not shared with anyone; if you need to share a "secret" with another person:

- you need to take extreme precautions, such as not talking about it on the phone, not writing about it, not alluding to it when in presence of other people

- you can only talk about it in person, not over any kind of wire, regardless of what you think are good encryption methods

- and even if you do all of the above it's very likely the secret won't stay secret forever

I'd say this is all common sense.

It's a practical thing. If you write a secret down, then there's another instance of it in the world; an instance that might (and most likely will) be mishandled or otherwise discovered by third party, accidentally or not. So if there's any instance of the secret outside of your head, it's better to treat it as 'public but not yet discovered by people', and adjust your OPSEC accordingly.

Businesses have a need for secrets, as grellas explains. Whether or not you call the need "a right" or refer to the secrets as "privacy" isn't really important.

Businesses may have "needs" but just because they do doesn't mean we should help them meet them. It may be to the benefit of the public (made of humans) that businesses have no secrets or that their secrets can be investigated.

It's of utmost importance that we never refer to businesses' needs as rights.

But a "right" is the legal entitlement to do something, as well as a moral entitlement.

Such an amazing answer and no way I could ever word it so eloquently and thoroughly.

If a competitor came in and took your customer list, would it be good for your customers?

It's not about what's best for the customers, it's about the rights of the company to that list, and their choice to make it public or private. Privacy is a right, not a privilege, and requires no justification.

Yes. Clearly. Competition benefits customers, and better market information allows better competition.

Would it be good for you? Yes, probably, but it'd be scary. If your competitor can take your customers from you then you need to improve your offering. If they can't then you can probably take their customers from them.

Who benefits from keeping your customer list secret?

It sounds like you're saying that the ends justify the means.

I think you read to far into the anecdote. He was saying that her secrets were not super valuable to him. So why should his secrets be valuable to her or anyone else? It would appear he is just promoting an open transparent culture. Not attacking the idea of secrets or privacy.

In the context of coding projects, the author's conclusion seems realistic.

Given current events though, I can't help but wonder if there's a subtext about privacy and snooping. If so, then I would venture this observation: Your friend's super-secret diary is meaningless to you only because you have no desire to abuse the access you've been given. Suppose instead your friend's devious enemy obtained the diary. Then, he could probably use it to damage your friend's relationships and/or career.

Now imagine a dystopian future when all such diaries are available to a privileged subset of society. Imagine the power that subset would hold, and all the ways it would likely be abused.

Unless we want to ensure our every communication and personal note is fit for public consumption, some things are by definition our secrets.

For me, the information asymmetry is what's upsetting. Everyone's location data being free and public seems, well, ok to me. But no exceptions for any reason.

Really? You think that, for instance, someone trying to leave an abusive partner doesn't have more reason to want their whereabouts unknown than someone with no psychotic acquaintances? Someone who turned state's witness against their drug dealer friends?

Let's flip that around. The key point would be "everyone's location ... No exceptions". Then you'd know if that abusive partner was approaching you (and call relevant authorities). The dealers would probably also be known without needing a witness. Of course, we'd also know who was sleeping with whom and when.

It's an interesting thought experiment to imagine such a world but for it to be viable, society would have to have very different views on a lot of things.

I don't think someone fleeing an abusive partner would necessarily benefit as much from knowing the abuser's location as much as the abuser would benefit from the victim's location. The information would be symmetric, but the value from it might not be.

Maybe the abuser has a car and victim is relying on mass transit. Or maybe the victim's best bet is staying with a friend whose residence is unknown to the abuser.

Agreed. I think even arguing this point shows a lack of understanding of how these cases work. Believing that information equality is the same as power equality is a fallacy.

That said, information equality does suggest a marginally higher baseline of power-sharing than gross information inequality is able to achieve.

In the case of witness protection: The witness does not know every member of the mafia, but the mafia knows the witness. There is inherently an asymmetry of power in such situations.

The abused wouldn't be able to track their abuser's allies without knowing who they all were.

But if any of the abuser's allies did anything to the abused, they could be easily identified and tracked down; this could act as a deterrent.

If we're not capping the level of abuse it could easily be too late though. Let's take it to the extreme, somebody wants to kill you and you have no choice but to broadcast your location to everybody. Some people receiving that data, you don't know who, are happy to do the killing for the person who wants to kill you. Afterward they can be identified and tracked down, but at this extremity it's too late.

The punishment for killing is the deterrent.

For people that have rational minds. What about people who are irrational or have some sort of mental illness? I guess that's just a "too bad" for the person who is now dead?

Yes its too bad when I'm dead. I could done anything I could have done to prevent that but there will always be somebody who are irrational or have some sort mental illness or anybody who could eventually find a way to kill me if they really want to. This is happen in open or private society.

You're being ridiculous. So if someone has someone else they fear will hurt then, there is no reason whatever that that dangerous person shouldn't know their whereabouts because in principle it is possible for the potential victim to know their whereabouts?

Assuming most people on HN are good programmers, there is clearly no linkage between a person's ability to write RoR code and how to reason about normal things in the world. I'm just being honest.

Assuming that the location is based on tracking a mobile phone, the aggressor could quite easily leave their phone at home and if they need a phone take an unregistered one.

The problem with open information is that those with evil intent can take precautions to ensure their activities aren't monitored.

This is not the problem with open society in itself. The same problem happen in private society. Anybody motivated enough can hack through your secret given enough effort.

"Given enough effort" is the key there. Just because someone can break into your house given enough effort doesn't mean you leave your doors off the hinges.

I would not even need to lock my doors.

I'm very happy for you that you feel that you not in a position where that is a risky step. Are you able to fathom that others may not be in that same situation, or are you content to be blasé to their differing circumstances?

On the other hand if they and everybody else knew the whereabouts of their abusive partner, wouldn't that actually contribute to their safety?

How so? Are you going to stay awake 24/7 to stop those abusers when they get too close to their victims?

If the theoretical data is available on the theoretical abuser, the police could monitor it, or you could have a non-profit service which monitors the proximity and alerts authorities / sends a "get out of the house" message to you.

So, instead of living a life in relative safety, you get to spend the rest of your life on alert and in fear. I really don't see how you can argue that this would be an acceptable solution.

No I would have no problem if they just watch, only if they did something hurt then its problem. In open society they can be tracked easily.

Great for you, but I think that you understand that not everyone would feel the same in such a situation?

The most theoretical part of such a scenario is the police force that follows procedures perfectly and aren't ever overworked.

Assuming such data isn't easily falsified.

The problem is you can not make the judgement, that making everyone's location public is ok, for everyone. People have different preferences towards their privacy. We should respect other's choice.

The reasons for privacy are always so contrived. "Dystopian futures", "enemies trying to ruin lives" etc. etc. It never resonates with me.

I think what the author is trying to say is that if you live an open life with few secrets, then your life will be less stressful. He's encouraging us to really reevaluate what we keep secret b/c when you sit down to think about it, it's most likely all in your head.

>The reasons for privacy are always so contrived. "Dystopian futures", "enemies trying to ruin lives" etc. etc. It never resonates with me.

That's because you're an average Joe.

And even you, you use a pseudonymous account name here on HN.

Now think of all the lives of change-makers, dissidents, activists etc that were fucked up with the use of such private information (from their sexual preferences to who they meet), under all kinds of regimes, in the US and abroad.

Try reading how some of the pioneers of civil rights for blacks were treated, for example, what kind of files were kept on them, how they were setup and pressured etc. It's not like MLK emerged from nowhere, said "I have a dream" and everybody cheered and that was that.

Heck, you don't even have to go that far. Even opinions expressed on HN can get people fired from their jobs if they go public. Even mild ones, including mere jokes said in private: a guy was fired for telling a "dongle" joke to his friend at a conference -- because someone eavesdropped.

Plus, your notion pressuposes that things will always be totally fine (save a "dystopian future"), and nothing will ever make citizens question the government, big corporations, etc. Which does not hold, really. From McCarthyism to the Civil Rights movement, down to the Vietnam War protests and recent stuff like Occupy Wall Street, there's always such discord, and there will be even more in a future with rising inequality and diminishing middle class.

Hundrends of millions (perhaps including you) might continue to be oblivious to all this (as they were oblivious about Vietnam War protests and/or rock n' roll in rural Idaho), but tens of millions were and will be affected.

Thanks for this post. This is exactly the issue. No dystopian future is needed to prove the value of privacy, one only has to look back at history to see that.

> That's because you're an average Joe.

And I think this article is written targeting the average Joe. Everyone is getting off on tangents about how the gov't is going to go fascist and that privacy is the best thing in the world.

He isn't arguing that privacy is inherently bad, or you should never ever have secrets. Yeah, if your trying to overthrow an fascist regime, it makes sense to have secrets. But again, that's a contrived reason. If you're MLK, that's not really the norm.

The point Mr.Sivers making is - generally people have more secrets than they really need and in the process they're making their lives more stressful. He's suggesting trying to re-evulate your need for privacy (I'm repeating myself).

It's just a call for some self reflection. Everyone needs to chill out a bit.

If you're a black person what happens to MLK-type figures matters to you, even if you're not them.

You don't get it: You can't have democracy in a surveillance state.

It's not even about the surveillance state. You never know what will happen in the future and who will use the information. Maybe you're happy with the code you write now, but in 5 years you may regret publishing it for everyone to laugh about. I'm old enough that there are some pretty embarassing usenet posts from me archived forever. Luckily they take quite a while to find nowadays, but I've certainly learnt my lesson.

You definitely can have democracy in a transparent state - what happens to MLK type figures is not related to what potential oppressors know about MLK (they already knew all they needed to) but instead what they're allowed to do to restrict MLK.

I assume you meant surveillance state.

It's nonsensical: In what way do you propose to not make the subject of surveillance disempowered?

In what way was MLK disempowered by the fact that FBI knew all about his personal life, travel plans, who he communicated with and so on?

The key is that government should be unable to prevent you from excercising your rights to action despite knowing that you want to change things. If you really need to conspire in secrecy, then it's probably already too late for anything other than an armed revolution to fix that.

They blackmailed him using the fact that he was having an affair for example. The rule obviously can't be "you can't tell anyone person X is having an affair".

>The key is that government should be unable to prevent you from exercising your rights to action

No that's not the key. Severely impairing your ability to act or discouraging action by causing pain is essentially as effective as outright prohibition as is lowering someone's public esteem.

That's a variant on 'nothing to hide nothing to fear'. Plenty of average Joes in East Germany under the Stasi may disagree with that notion being even potentially benign in its outcome. I'd imagine you have doors and curtains/blinds in your house - most people do and it's not out of neurosis and paranoia.

Or further,

Good fences make good neighbors.

It's not because I dislike my neighbors, I just like being able to not look at them and enjoy my home in privacy.

Invasion vs invitation.

I'd happily share 99% (maybe even all) of my life with the whole world, every step taken and every breath taken, but that would be on my terms. (I kinda am, by agreeing to everything Google asks of me)

Would James Buchanan have a chance at becoming the President of the Unites States in today's society? Assuming he actually was gay: would a 2013 version of James Buchanan be able to keep that a secret if the right person in the right chain of command happened to be ill-willed?

But I think that's completely untrue. I'd rather argue that most people are too oblivious about what they should and shouldn't keep secret.

What in general would you say people keep secret that adds to their stress?

Maybe some people here on HN might be over the top paranoid, but Joe Average? Sure, maybe they shouldn't have that secret affair and hide it from their spouse, but they probably already know that's a bad thing.

>He isn't arguing that privacy is inherently bad, or you should never ever have secrets. Yeah, if your trying to overthrow an fascist regime, it makes sense to have secrets. But again, that's a contrived reason. If you're MLK, that's not really the norm.

That's a contrived reason too.

For one, it SHOULD be the norm. "Be the change you want to see in the world" and everything. It's not just something to pay lip service to.

Second, it doesn't matter if it "only" affects only 1 in 100,000, because what those 1 in 100,000 do affects millions of lives themselves. Heck, MLK was 1 in 250,000,000 and he affected the whole of the US.

>The point Mr.Sivers making is - generally people have more secrets than they really need and in the process they're making their lives more stressful. He's suggesting trying to re-evulate your need for privacy (I'm repeating myself).

Given the widespread violations of privacy, such an attitude is harmful even on the personal level. It can be seen as essentially a "giving up" to pressure from the goverment/spying corporations like Google.

But it gets worse, because it's also quite trivial, and the example he gives is bad. His friend might not mind showing him her "private notebook", because he is just a friend (probably not even a close one at that, since all of the stuff she wrote, he said it was irrelevant to him).

How about showing that same notebook to her husband, her children, her parents, her boss, close friends, some person she writes negatively about etc? Despite her giving lip service to openess, there's a reason she reffered to it as "ultra secret".

There are lots of secrets people want to have. And not just some MLK types: hundrends of millions of people.

How about trying to smoke a joint in the privacy of your own home?

According to some stats, tens of millions have done it, including in states that it's illegal. Should they all go to jail?

Or have an affair without your partner knowing?

Or what if sometime you visited a prostitute?

Or tell your friend that your boss is a jerk?

Or watch porn? Perhaps even kinky Japanese tentacle stuff.

Or write a comment against GOP / Obama in an internet forum.

Or discover you're gay at puberty and not announce your friends/parents until you decide the time is right?

Are you allowed to all these "secrets" (and tons more)? Why the fuck should anybody else, and especially the government, have this information on you?

Only a puritan society, that thinks all such stuff as "immoral" would see as OK to not be able to have secrects on such matters ("cheating on your partner? That's bad, and they should now it").

As for, "how the gov't is going to go fascist" -- who said it isn't already in certain aspects? Fascism is not a "take it all or leave it affair", you can pick and choose from it's practices. A basic characteristic of fascism was spying on their own citizens. And there are lots of others (e.g the ratio of incarceration and the militarization of police force is unprecedented in a regular Western democracy like France, Britain and co).

Okay, I reread the article b/c I was starting to feel like I read something completely different.

At no point does the author mention the government and at no point does he mention making every aspect of your life public.

Seems like most of the people replying either didn't read the article and they just want to vent. There are legitimate reason to have secrets, and there are reasons that are stressors and actually serve no purpose.

Completely different topic:

"Be the change you want to see in the world"

I didn't think anyone actually believe that literally till now. You want everyone to picks and chooses what laws to abide by?

The reality is that punishment goes into the cost benefit analysis everyone does. For example: Say I believe I should have the right to hire a prostitute. Should I do it out of principle? How about if I don't want to risk going to jail? Is that not a valid reason?

In this case I'm okay with having my right infringed, because I realize that it's not just my world to live in, and we as a society agree on some rules - some of which I don't like.

"At no point does the author mention the government and at no point does he mention making every aspect of your life public." That's correct. I made the root post for this particular comment thread, and I consciously expanded the discussion to include broader questions of privacy. That's why I began by saying that the author's explicit claims were fine, but that I also noticed a possible subtext. We're not declaring the author wrong, because he never explicitly said the things with which we're now disagreeing. We're stating a position that some people hold, then disagreeing with that position.

>At no point does the author mention the government and at no point does he mention making every aspect of your life public.

No, but others in this discussion did (mention both) -- a discussion is not constrained by exactly what served to start it, it explores other tangents. Especially in this case, it was inevitable that TFA's advice, while meant for personal use, also had to be considered in relation with the current privacy issues in general.

>"Be the change you want to see in the world" I didn't think anyone actually believe that literally till now. You want everyone to picks and chooses what laws to abide by?

No, I want everyone to fight against injustice and for his principles, instead of self-identifying as an "average Joe" (only concerned with his personal affairs).

>In this case I'm okay with having my right infringed, because I realize that it's not just my world to live in, and we as a society agree on some rules - some of which I don't like.

Perhaps, but there's still a huge part of life, involving perhaps 100% of the population, that's against some law or another. From a 19-yo drinking beer with his friends, to a guy ripping of a DVD using DeCSS, to Kerouac using his drugs and America getting a literary masterpiece out of it. And to millions of gays, for example, having sex besides sodomy being a crime back in the day ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sodomy_laws_in_the_United_State... ).

What makes society tolerable is that not all those laws are (or can) be 100% enforced all the time. A total lack of privacy brings any of those "offenses" towards being discoverable and punishable, which is a dystopia in itself.

I really don't understand the statement of more secrets than someone needs.

I bet your own mind isn't an open book, you have desires and wants, knowledge, aspirations, and things that belong solely to you. This isn't to be looked down upon, everything shouldn't be an open book for the world to read and judge upon and they should belong to you. That isn't unhealthy, it doesn't mark a lack of moral character, it's your own internal conversation, and frankly, more people need to learn how to work within themselves instead of making everything an open book for everyone else to judge and comment on like they are the Kardashians.

Well said, there may be legitimate reasons to keep secrets but secrets for their own sake are bullshit and make the world worse.

Rumor has it that President Obama met with the dictator Raul Castro recently. If only there was a photo of that meeting, it would destroy his career!

If you don't have any of that to worry about -- no regrets, no past mistakes -- that's great for you. That might be why the thought of someone having access to your "secrets" seems so contrived.

But what about someone with mental health problems? Depression or anxiety? A past drug addiction, or merely alcoholism? A criminal record? How about something as "innocuous" as a drunken one night stand while in a committed relationship? Is it so difficult to imagine how, if widely known, these facts might impact someone's ability to hold down a job, or their relationship with their neighbors?

For other people who do have things they'd rather keep private, it's not just in their head-- it can have a wide variety of implications in your interactions with people & society if it becomes common knowledge. If nothing else people will look at you differently. And a lot of it has happened in the past and is unchangeable, and therefore unactionable in the present.

In an open society, I would expect society people view toward this issue will change as well. If everybody know my things and I know everybody things, hopefully stigma or negative impact an toward the issue mentioned will be less.

You've got to be kidding ... Sure, the world would be different if everyone was a computer that was written by you ... OK, fine, but what does that have to with anything?

There can never be something such as truly open society, not in the foreseeable future.

As truth becomes the norm, the value of lies becomes greater. If you lie constantly your lies have less value, than if you tell truth but lie about important facts.

IMO Truly open society can only be established if faking a signal is impossible. Which I doubt it will ever be.

Yeah not truly open society like you said but I imagine with the advancement of technology where information can be gathered easily by anyone, it will be close enough.

I don't think gathering is a part. As long as you can easily fake it, it will not lead to "open society".

"I would expect" "Hopefully"

Good enough for me!

You don't have to imagine contrived futures to see why privacy is important. You only need to look at the present, or even easier, the past. Rational people dominate neither governments nor society. Privacy and secrecy are the first line of defense that the oppressed have against prejudice.

As far as "enemies trying to ruin lives", it's wonderful that you are so privileged as to even be able to think of that as "contrived", but you would do well to pay attention to other people's situations.

Thank you, blah32497. That's exactly what I was trying to say, and wonderfully succinctly put. :-)

It could also mean reevaluating what you've made public, and deciding what should be secret.

I'd love for you to ask the person what she would think about you sharing her diary with everyone she knows (her family, her coworkers, her boss etc). Would it be equally meaningless and uninteresting to them?

Hats off re good promo and topicality - but I'd expect something a bit more broadly reflective and nuanced. Really don't think you've thought this one through. You seem to have taken a line for a walk and inadvertently reinvented the asinine 'nothing to hide' argument here. The whole thing about say, the Stasi, was that they were interested in all the everyday comings and goings, not the James Bond stuff. That's the depressingly mundane and terrifying reality of mass surveillance. That's why it was referred to as the 'boot in the face of humanity' by a smarter and better informed person than any of us.

> It could also mean reevaluating what you've made public, and deciding what should be secret.

aka chilling effect - surely you're not seriously advocating for it?

Could you please post your real name? If not, you are by definition a hypocrite in what you have just said.

And the address and the phone number too. And where you work. And where you spend the nights.

The benefits of privacy go somewhat beyond what you've listed. As I often do in these conversations, I suggest starting with Daniel Solove's paper, "'I've Got Nothing to Hide,' And Other Misunderstandings of Privacy" link: http://tehlug.org/files/solove.pdf

Except that some people really do have people who want to ruin their lives or at the very least a motive to use information against them.

It's fine if it doesn't resonate with you, but that's evidently because your perspective is limited by your relatively good fortune.

"Dystopia" wouldn't seem so contrived to residents of East Germany under the Stasi. We're not speaking in hypotheticals. There is precedent for societies using the available technology to erode privacy as much as possible.

"Enemies trying to ruin lives" wouldn't seem so contrived to some people who've had abusive, stalker exes. Read about some of the things people do for personal vendettas. It may not have happened to you, but it probably happened to somebody you know.

"I think what the author is trying to say is that if you live an open life with few secrets, then your life will be less stressful." Until someone unexpectedly uses your personal information to materially harm your well-being. Then your life becomes much more stressful.

And when you step out of line, or just step on the wrong toes, and someone decides to make your life miserable for some trivial reason, you've given them a whole arsenal to use against you.

You consider yourself part of the 'in' group. I follow all the rules, why would anyone bother me? And that works fine until one day it doesn't. The day that happens you'll get no help from the other people that think the way you do.

Yes, Dystopian future doesn't resonate with me either, but a Dystopian past would. I'm sure there's a scary example from history.

There are many, Eastern Germany is perhaps the worst example where 1 in 6 people were at least part time informants.

Oh please. I call shenanigans on everyone promoting this view, including the OP. I find it hard to believe you are all special humans that have no things you wouldn't want other or particular people to know. It's like pretending a monk or something, it's sort of pretentious.

Learn more about life in East Germany.

> it's most likely all in your head.

It's one thing to never have been persecuted or discriminated against yourself, but it's not really excusable to be so completely unaware of your own privilege and sheltered life.

Yes open transparent society, this the future I'm looking forward to. I would no need to hide my credit card number, bank account, sexual quirk, etc, If anybody trying to abuse that, they will be easily tracked.

Keep private things private.

The world doesn't need to know your sexual quirks, or your bank balance, and you shouldn't feel the need to broadcast it.

People I interact with know I have a wife, they don't need to know her favorite lube or position. That is crude and unnecessary, and a society that expects that knowledge and welcomes it with open arms has a major root issue.

In the world where information easily gathered I don't even need to hide these thing. If you know my favorite lube then whatever, I would know yours or other people too. These things would not be taboo or strange.

>> when you sit down to think about it, it's most likely all in your head.

Nicely done.

See also www.youtube.com/watch?v=i8z7NC5sgik‎.

While searching for the Dilber strip IvyMike mentioned, I came across one relevant to your post: http://dilbert.com/strips/comic/1994-10-24/

Now imagine a dystopian future when all such diaries are available to a privileged subset of society. Imagine the power that subset would hold, and all the ways it would likely be abused.

Surely that power comes not from the honesty of the words in the diary, but from the fear that those words become widely known. Do most people have something to hide that is so shameful, so damning? In many cases is secrecy a luxury we might quickly be happy not to have? Is this current need for privacy because society is less accepting of us as people? Perhaps our obsession with privacy is the problem, not the solution.

"Do most people have something to hide that is so shameful, so damning?"

Have you ever complained to a friend or family member about your boss? Then the answer is yes.

Have you ever said something really embarrassingly politically incorrect? Then the answer is yes.

Have you ever possessed an illegal drug, including alcohol while underage? Then the answer is yes.

That's your list?!

I can't even imagine about what privacy is going to look like in 20 years, or how society will adapt to deal with it. What seems missing from his thought experiment is how to address privacy for things that concern more than just a single participant.

I don't particularly worry about my individual privacy, or care about securing my things. If someone managed to get a hold of my email, I wouldn't be very put out. I don't encrypt my hard drives, or even back anything up. My lack of security and privacy hygiene, however, doesn't extend to my work stuff. I care about maintaining the confidentiality and privacy of that stuff because it's part of a social contract (and I suppose also an employment contract) that I have with my work and my clients.

Instead of his diary example, what if he had asked his friend "Can I copy all of the emails off of your phone, or all the phone numbers in your addressbook?" Maybe they still wouldn't care, or maybe they'd now have to take into account the fact that all that data also involves other people, and maybe they wouldn't find it acceptable for you to give our their cell phone number to anybody who asks.

So much of the data that we accrue is increasingly more interconnected with other people. I feel like that's where we run into trouble, because there is no universal consensus around what's private and what isn't. We have rudimentary laws protecting the smallest subset of data which the government has decided should be considered private, but everything else is a value judgement for individuals (and is part of the current internet company land-grab).

I feel like his position is going to be harder and harder to maintain, as more and more of the "personal" data he's okay with sharing includes other people's data.

> I can't even imagine about what privacy is going to look like in 20 years, or how society will adapt to deal with it.

You might like the book "The Light of Other Days"!

Thanks, I'll check it out! I don't generally like science fiction, but the premise sounds interesting and I did like some of Clarke's other books.

I think about that book a lot when any discussions of privacy arise. A great depiction of a post-privacy world.

Aldo the webcomic Private Eye. Google it, you will find it interesting

Really good book. I recommend it as well.

If I recall my history correctly, then through most of human history the notion of privacy has not been anywhere near as robust as it is today.

We live in "luxurious" times as it pertains to what we consider privacy today.

You bring up a very solid point. I've been in situations where I was "forced" to give out information such as my conversations with other people, emails, etc. on continuous basis. Although it had nothing to do with work or to a professional level, even on a personal level, that type of information, to me, was private between me and the people I communicate with.

With society heading more towards social media, connections, and networking. Holding secrets seem to be pretty difficult.

If someone were to ask me to tell them a secret, I wouldn't even know what to say. It seems like all aspects of my life is already known by one person or another, or maybe it's so secret that I don't even remember it myself.

I wonder if that's a good thing or a bad thing.

Nicely said, although I'd recommend backing stuff up, just so when you are old you show your kids 'what daddy used to do!'

I know, no one in the world has secrets, what's the big deal?

"So if someone is going through my private things, for example, and gets upset about what they find, then that’s their problem, not mine!” Must agree... until someone makes it your problem, by social standards, laws, or anything else they can use to make your life harder.

My thoughts almost exactly.

It's all fine until you wind up on some sort of watchlist because of something "someone" found, and then travelling by air is a nightmare.

I'm not sure why, exactly, we decided that people we don't like but we can't pin any crimes on are punished by having limited access to air travel, but that's how it is!

On a related and more personal note, I once got in a large amount of trouble for a slashdot post. The company I worked for found a post I wrote when I wasn't an employee discussing social engineering attacks on building security(not theirs, mind you, but general ones). This led to some very tense discussions where I was accused of being a hacker, not caring about security, and plenty of other things. My personal (though public) livejournal came to the discussion, too. It was to the point where, if they tried to haul me in again, I would have requested an attorney.

It ultimately blew over and was recognized for what it was; Corporate Security trying to justify the money they spent on data mining. But it was a very tense period.

After that incident I keep things a lot less public.

If finding a job isn't difficult for you, would you stay?

I wouldn't stay for a company that shows such contempt for its employees and such incompetent waste of everybody's time.

I had a similar thing happen to me back in high school, where my personal blog I was keeping had repercussions with some of the student populace. Pretty quickly after, I set the whole thing to private and stopped updating. I've run several blogs after that, but none of them where public and containing personal information.

Well then, the most important problem that needs fixing is those social standards and laws which cause harm without any acceptable reason.

>"I was surprised it was all meaningless to me. These pages meant the world to her, but to me they meant no more than any non-secret conversation we’d ever had. It was the same stuff that we all think."

Uh - yeah this is completely naive. Here is why; the informatin is meaningless to you only if you are not looking to manipulate, exploit, blackmail or have the upper hand of the person holding the secrets.

This is why the dragnet is insidious. Because it may be insignificant to the rural farmer; but valuable aagainst the urban lawyer seeking office, the corp exec or other heeled/monied power wielders...

If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest of men, I will find something in them which will hang him.

-- Often attributed to Cardinal Richelieu

That quote doesn't really work for me, because it seems to be assuming that no other lines are available to provide context.

Or rather, instead of meaning "everybody is guilty of something", I interpret the message as warning about the dangers of relying on a quote taken out of context.

...instead of meaning "everybody is guilty of something", I interpret the message as warning about the dangers of relying on a quote taken out of context.

It's not a concerned person's warning, it's a gloating celebration of ruthlessness, of power, and of the inconsequentiality of facts. It's bragging.

If your every statement is recorded, it will be possible to find something in that record to make trouble for you, should powerful parties feel the need. "Guilt" and "innocence" are, in this context, meaningless abstractions.

"Often attributed"...I like that hedge.

I don't think he's making a point the NSA dragnet (which I'm assuming you're referring to) - that's obviously a completely different thing.

He's talking about individuals willfully releasing information, not some secret government program to collect all your personal data that has ever been on the Internet.

While that may be true - this article is addressing the sentiment of privacy in general; "If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to worry about" -- and it uses a very personal anecdotal perspective on this matter: ones Diary.

He, as I quoted, notes that this information in the super-super private diary was not only provided to him for perusal over cider, but that it was nothing that was of interest to him.

This is a ridiculous statement, to me, on several levels. To illustrate, please provide me the email address of the friend with the super-super private diary; I would like to ask anonymously over the internet to be afforded the same luxury of reading this material. Do you think my request would be agreed to? No, this guy had a personal relationship with this diary author, however intimate/or not, but it was a personal relationship none-the-less.

The idea here is that there is private information that one should have private from anyone - but will choose to share it with those in their intimate circles. This is not the same as saying "Why is anything that is factual secret" and thus who cares if it gets read by some anonymous entity that may or may not have any vested interest in knowing my secrets.

"We got two ciders and she patiently waited while I spent 20 minutes reading through it. Pages filled with words about processing family drama, formulating goals, plans for life changes, romantic details, lists of regrets, contemplations, etc."

"I was surprised it was all meaningless to me. These pages meant the world to her, but to me they meant no more than any non-secret conversation we’d ever had. It was the same stuff that we all think."

The key here is "meaningless to me". It's obviously meaningful to her. And it would also be meaningful to her family, or romantic partners, or a potential employer, etc.

Privacy is contextual. I often joke that it wouldn't bother me personally if Google or the NSA poked around my e-mail. But it would bother me a lot if my mom did.

Yes it's a silly, flippant response by the OP. What if sivers.org posted her diaries for HackerNews to read?

I bet you could find people for which her diaries would not be "meaningless" and could make this person not feel happy about that information being known here. Here, we can make someone like Nelson Mandela seem horrible, just think how would we could make this women feel.

You don't have to get out dystopian examples of why this view is basically stupid. It doesn't stand up to common sense.

This is mostly how i feel about it. With the addition that, there's a big difference between a friend asking to read your diary (who, we'll note, was not in the diary, as he pointed out) and a friend (or anybody) asking to distribute your diary to the public. I think that's the main thing most other people are commenting on as well. There are many levels of private and making something public is not the same as making it publicly accessible.

When you live in a society where anything you do or say (or accidentally appear to have said or did) will be held against you, privacy matters. It matters so much you don't log-in to online messaging services because you're wary of SSL MitM attacks or send non-encrypted emails from that network or do a litany of other "normal" things. It definitely means you aren't 100% open like Sivers is suggesting.

How do I know this? I live in a very small, strict university setting that presents a picture of the potential of a future of "complete transparency". Even the hint of "lawbreaking" (i.e., rule-breaking) can land you in serious trouble. Trust me, I take privacy very seriously. Not because I have something to hide, but because I have everything (in the short-term) to lose.

I know what I've said is mostly anecdotal due to the implicit nature of choosing to be in this environment; however, were this environment the world at large, I believe my anecdote would be normative.

Since you've shared that anecdote, may I ask why you chose to go to such a university? I'm guessing it's probably a religious university (don't know of any non-religious schools with such strictures). Was it for spiritual reasons, or for financial reasons?

Personal question, obviously, so feel free to tell me to shove off, but I'm very curious how intelligent people make these decisions.

I'd be happy to discuss those personal decisions in a private setting (email me, if you wish, it's on my profile). I don't think a public discussion will yield much benefit.

Also, I would argue military academies have such demands upon the person.

It's also related the other way - if everything you do or say is public, it won't be held against you. Noone cares about your sexual kinks or comic tastes, if everyone knows about the even weirder issues of the president and all the congressmen.

Except that your parents' ultra-conservative church tells them what you're doing is wrong. And while your parents don't care if the politicians all go to hell, they definitely care if you do. Which means there's far less annoying family drama if you just keep it quiet.

Perhaps not in the greater world. However, the only way what you're suggesting would work in my anecdotal world is if everyone was 100% open (civil disobedience). That won't happen without a significant critical mass of people; people are, in general, sheep and cowards.

Is Sivers really suggesting that just because she was OK with him reading the diary, she would be OK with anyone reading it? That seems like a highly naive assumption.

And seriously, this is your entire project list? "Everything is listed..." As a programmer and someone who sees how other programmers work, I am not buying it.

Please don't lecture us on secrets with weak false examples. It comes off as disingenuous.

> And seriously, this is your entire project list?

I wish my list would grow past 0 items.

I honestly have no itches to scratch.

> I wish my list would grow past 0 items.

> I honestly have no itches to scratch.

Looks like you do have an itch to scratch...though I can't think of any good solutions to wishing for more projects.

This is such a great comment. I would have liked to put it so succinctly as this!

One of my favorite Dilbert strips is Asok asking "Why is this document stamped CONFIDENTIAL? If I spent my entire life trying, I would not be able to find anyone who cared to read it."

It makes for an interesting thought about what is intrinsically valuable versus what isn't.

The diary is 'non-intrinsic' because he doesn't have the context in which the information makes sense. A series of usernames and passwords is secret because it is self referentially useful.

Stuff in the first category can become useful over time (the Mosaic effect) when someone suddenly lashes out about something and that connects the context of a series of family dramas. Stuff in the latter category is useful right away.

Its useful to think about both cases. (oh and I really enjoyed reading through the ideas, they are fun) I should put my list up somewhere as well.

The important part missing here is that it must be a choice. If I want my location data public I can make it public. If I want my super-secret diary read by anyone I can post it on Tumblr.

But if I don't want to no-one should judge me for making that choice. And I should not judge those that choose differently.

There's an old joke: so this guy is trying to get rid of an ugly old sofa, he puts it out on the curb with the sign "free sofa!". Days pass; no luck. So he puts up a new sign saying "sofa: $50, call ###-####" and it's gone in ten minutes.

That's not a joke, if I want to get rid of a piece of old furniture on the footpath I'll always put a $5 sign on it.

Works wonders with largish appliances like washers or refrigerators. Free? Must be broken. $10? Must still work.

That's one of the paradoxes of pricing: price itself is inferred to be an indicator of quality, so "free" is often perceived as "lower quality".

While this can be true, it isn't entirely reliable.

The argument I imagine is that if you value something you produce or own as worthless, so will everyone else.

It's one of the reasons why I think game creators and music creators shouldn't be afraid to take a stand on pricing. What is your time and work worth?

This person realized that with the NSA and however many other agencies spying on us, and other issues, we may not effectively have any real privacy anymore, and therefore he has come up with one or more rationalizations for why this is OK.

This is probably a common thing. Seems a bit similar to Stockholm syndrome. Anyway its probably an automatic self-defense mechanism.

The scary part is that a significant portion of the population is probably also doing a similar sort of rationalization now.

People will eventually accept any circumstance that they can't change, unless it is going to kill them. Actually, even if it _will_ kill them. In fact, our inevitable death is one aspect of life that people will often rationalize in the most determined way.

We can change this circumstance though. We can have privacy, even in the digital age. Don't give up your natural rights so easily.

My favorite thing on GameFAQs is the angry verbiage at the end of every FAQ promising dire legal consequences should anyone attempt to appropriate and profit from their work. Do you really think anyone anywhere is going to pay for your Donkey Kong Country strategy guide?

If I ever write a game FAQ, it's going to end with "if you figure out a way to make a profit off of this, you are legally required to let me know how you did it so I can congratulate you."

That's actually a serious concern. There are lots of spammy sites that rip gamefaqs content and throw up really terrible advertising.

That said those disclaimers offer no more power than a faq without a disclaimer.

Surely this is to stop somebody from simply using a bot to scrape all of the website content and republishing it on a new ad-supported website?

People buy crappy "game guides" all the time. How easy would it be not to even pay a bad author, but just scrape the internet and use it without attribution?

It is meaningless to you because you have no use for that information which is probably why she shared the "super super secret" diary with you. In terms of your relationship with your friend, you present a harmless consumer of that information.

As a though process, lets replace "you" with:

a) her employers, colleagues, etc

b) any of her family members that she talked about

c) her significant other, partner, etc.

Now, do you think she will let these people read her diary? Do you see how dangerous these "secrets" are if these parties get their hands on it?

IMO there are always valid or invalid reasons for keeping secrets (privacy is actually the real topic here) but the real question is whom are you keeping this secret from.

My interpretation of Derek's point: "A lot of us keep things secret for the sake of keeping them secret without particularly evaluating whether the secrecy serves any purpose. On average, this means that there are things that are secret that shouldn't necessarily be. We might all be better off if we were a little more willing to share things that might not actually need to be secret."

Not everything needs to be secret != everything should be public

His post is written to describe his personal journey about his personal attitude towards his own work. I think a lot of people are misinterpreting him to be saying something broader and blunter than he actually is.

Thank you Visakan. You got it, and others didn't.

A major challenge in communication is to not be misunderstood. I must not have been clear enough. I never said anywhere that everything should be public. Only that I decided my code and ideas didn't need to be secret.

I think maybe commenters here are reacting more to other commenters, instead of the actual article, now.

I went and read the article, and I think it's obvious in retrospect why your point about your code is being ignored, and not just by people who haven't read the article. You start with this premise, which you appear to agree with:

I’m not worried about someone finding out my secrets, because secrets are just facts, right?

and go on to an example of a diary, one of the most personal artefacts we have, and imply that sharing it all with anyone who asks (as per the above statement) is absolutely fine. The implication of the above statement is that all secrets are pointless, including personal ones. In the context of a society in which governments and corporations are spying on every communication and looking for ways to justify it, this attitude is actively damaging and is an after-the-fact justification of that spying.

I think many people would agree with you that opening up your private code repos is a worthy thing to do, and it's certainly an idea worthy of discussion, with pros and cons (as you rightly point out, to do with maintenance and the public commitment more than anything else). The mistake in this article is relating that to personal privacy, and implying that secrets are just facts is a statement worthy of consideration.

If secrets are just facts and cannot hurt you, there is no point in keeping anything secret at all. Unfortunately other people in the world are quite capable of twisting the most mundane facts about your life (like your location at every moment, your sexual preferences, whatever), and using them to destroy your life, either because of their prejudices, or because of those of society at large. Witness politicians brought down because of some affair, or their private sex life - we don't know how many of those are leaked by our 'security services' for political gain but they certainly have done that in the past. No-one deserves that much power over others, and because of the asymmetry of power in our society, private information is far more useful to some people than others.

Perhaps that is not what you intended to imply, but that is the logical conclusion of the statement and your interpretation of it, and that's why people are reacting so strongly to it.

"Everything is listed..."

Everything is a pretty broad word.

I've often said that the best way to get a quick competitive advantage against our rivals would be to send them our source.

Ok, send me your source.

No one cares about other people's family drama. But if Valerie led a secret life as a private escort or ran a sex-cam operation from her bedroom to make ends meet, I doubt she would be OK with Derek reading about them.

When you open to the public the contents of your instance of Beekeep and Peeps databases, then you will have a point.

FTA: I still believe in privacy. It’s just a matter of questioning which things need to be private, and which things really don’t.

Doesn't this address your attempt at a point? He has some things which he realized he kept private for no reason so he opened them up. The content of peeps is, in fact, not his to share (if I gave you my phone # to contact me, I would not consider it reasonable, without foreknowledge, for you to dump it into a public DB).

You should've asked her if you could scan it, OCR it, and upload it to a publicly available, web-crawlable, SEO-optimized website where it would be scooped up and stored on archive.org for all eternity.

This was indeed the conclusion I came to as well though my journey through there was a lot more convoluted.

And then, there are things like: http://www.xojane.com/it-happened-to-me/charlotte-laws-hunte...

Now imagine that instead of her boyfriend, someone who hates her finds the diary. Yeah.

You're stupid. That's not a secret tho - it's just a fact. I'd happily sugar-coat it but I'm tired of feeling like we're degrading our minds since internet came around with fast paced sensationalistic crap.

Derek -- what are your credit card numbers and SSN? No reason to keep those private!

It is only meaningless to others until they choose to abuse it and use it to put you at a disadvantage. That is when this argument fails.

Yes my code is probably useless to others and so are my super-super secret diaries. However, it is only a matter of time that a smart con-man will connect the dots to ruin my life - my relationships, steal my identity etc.

"Going through my stuff... if they become upset, its their problem, not mine!". Right, until I realize that going through that stuff actually made them happy instead because of how they could use it to profit themselves.

I think the diary analogy is great, but the author fails to explore it properly. It ignores aspects such as self-awareness, self-consciousness and self-censorship. Notice a lot of 'self's in the previous sentence? A diary is a very personal thing. When you are writing in your diary you poor your heart out about everything and anything. You can do this because you are the only person who will ever read this stuff. Imagine writing something that other people will read, like your mom (anything sex-related is out of the question), your colleagues (better not say your boss is a total jerk), your friends (don't mention that secret Anne told you about Peter, or you wlll lose 2 friends) or your government (no wait, they already know everything anyway).

Similar things happen when you are writing code for yourself and yourself only. When I write code for my own pleasure. I don't care so much about documentation, clarity, robustness, polish, etc. Yes, I am a bad, bad person. Anyway, compare writing code for yourself with code you share with friends (generally supportive, but add some polish and fix that hack so they don't think you're a complete idiot), colleagues (semi-critical yet supportive, maybe try to score some bonus points using a FactorySingletonVisitorBean) or hackerne.ws (super-critical, probably rewrite it in the language-du-jour first, prepare to be burned at the stake anyway).

This is such bullshit - poorly formulated hippy dribble.

If he was really interested in such ideas, he would know and use GPL/AGPL/MIT/Apache licences already for his code, and CC for his writings.

Instead he makes everyone hippy dippy stupid about secrecy and privacy. It might all be fine when you are rich, cis-straight and white, but a single non friendly idea and you are a threat to the state.

People that cheapen our privacy and secrecy rights shouldn't be allowed this much airtime.

Ridiculous. -1

> It might all be fine when you are rich, cis-straight and white, but a single non friendly idea and you are a threat to the state.

There's certainly a large amount of people prejudiced and powerful enough to harm those who don't fit their worldviews, but be careful, too, to not let cynicism taint your views or you might become a bit like them.[1]

Derek's post tells a personal anecdote, but the conclusion has a business angle: "I wanted to challenge that fear that someone is going to steal our ideas."

Sometimes you're hiding a business idea. Sometimes you're hiding a state secret, or keeping a state from discovering a secret. However, most of the time, we're hiding personal secrets about our lifestyles because society doesn't like them.

Since you mentioned "cis-straight", I think Derek's argument is in the same vein as the advice given to LGBT children: do not try to be someone else just because some people don't accept what you are. Be yourself and be proud, or at least comfortable.

[1]: You're right about the state or another powerful entity going after people who are somehow unsettling them. My question is: is it better, in the long run, to hide and stay silent, or to stand up and be heard by the rest of society?

Not sure why you feel the need to be so aggressive?

This is honestly the most worthless comment I have ever seen on HN. Besides ad hominem, there is literally nothing here other than a giant pile of conspiracy.

To play devil's advocate: The comment was poorly worded, but there is a kernel of truth in it.

Being openly gay in the 1940-50's in some places in the US may very well have been a death-sentence. Those people would have been wise to keep their sexuality private (or move somewhere a bit more progressive). Likewise today, you wouldn't have to look too hard to find countries where people have to hide their true beliefs from repressive governments or society out of a justified fear of harm.

What I think the commenter meant to say was that the blog author is a member of (I assume) a privileged class in (again, I assume) a privileged society. The public/open lifestyle he suggests might be a worth-while pursuit for others in a similar position as he, but it may very well be foolish for those less fortunate. Context matters.

So samstave put it better, but essentially my argument isn't ad hominem, it's attacking the notion that YOUR secrets mean nothing to ME, which can be generalised to ANYONE's secrets mean nothing to ANYONE. Which is obviously untrue.

Yet that is the conclusion he comes to.

The other possible conclusion, as I noted, is that he has previously been unaware of Free/Open Source and Creative Commons based licenses. In which case he needs not talk on secrets but rather on licensing.

You seem to have changed what he said into a bizarre absolute. The point of Derek's post is that many of us unnecessarily keep many things secret for no rational reason at all. He's just suggesting that we ask ourselves, "Why is this secret?" Because a lot of the time, we're just needlessly building paper walls around our insecurities rather than keeping important secrets.

And given that Derek has code licensed under MIT, your conclusion that he was unaware of that license is obviously incorrect.

Flawed argument by the poster...

>> "Pages filled with words about processing family drama, formulating goals, plans for life changes, romantic details, lists of regrets, contemplations, etc"

C'mon, those are her super super private secrets? Thats ridiculous. 'romantic details' may be a little bit...

Thats why she says "So if someone is going through my private things, for example, and gets upset about what they find, then that’s their problem, not mine!”"

But things people like to keep really secret (and not coyly secret) and worry about others finding out, are those that would upset themselves (and not the readers) if they get discovered. These would be things that one is ashamed of, that one is afraid of being discovered, that if known to others will result in loss of respect/love/admiration/consolation etc that they are currently receiving from others. Or those if discovered by the wrong person can leave one vulnerable to exploitation/blackmail etc. Any other type of secrets are just silly and overblown.

This is an interesting point, I think the tendency of most people who are creative/idea types (myself included) are kind of an over thinking of their own ideas, like they are somehow more important and prone to "theft", but the more I work on my own stuff, and the more I do on in open source, the less and less I think that’s the case.

Like when I was working on Capsulr (http://capsulr.com/, shameless plug), I worried about showing people stuff too early, until I just realized that most people probably wouldn’t even see the site, or if they did, most wouldn't even see the product the same way that I see it evolving. It’s kind of helped me to start documenting my work, and I find that sharing notes publicly (just with myself) is a load of pressure off my shoulders and is worth the tiny possibility that someone might take it and run with it.

I've basically made the same realization a few years ago and decided to stop going through the trouble of keeping my personal code private.

It's been great so far. I get all the benefits (like godoc.org providing docs for my code, free github repos, easy to share links with people, etc.) and none of the disadvantages.

It's a personal choice, and not for everyone. But it just makes life so much easier. In fact, I'm trying to reduce the number of things that I'm forced to keep private because they're considered to be "security questions".

On theft of ideas: https://twitter.com/shurcooL/status/266294572949327872

How about this: No one can predict the import of what's recorded NOW. Not the person who records it, not the person who observes it, not the person who comes upon it 5 minutes, 5 years, 5 decades later.

Keeping your material projections close to the vest, keeping them out, as far as possible, from the unpredictable hands of the future is just good sense.

The times are changing. We have very little grasp on how what we record now - private, public, or otherwise (?) - will impact us in the future.

There's a virtue in openness, to be sure. But maintaining privacy is no bad thing. No matter what the talking walnut says.


Hopefully he removed all private keys from the earliest commit before pushing them publicly ;-)

I have a Google doc with the same exact title of "Ideas." Yours is far more extensive though.

I've had this going for a year or two now. It's hard to come up with ideas when you want them, and they seem to come to you quickly when you don't need them or once you've started paying attention to problems. By no means is my list complete or good, but I've found it helpful to write them down otherwise I'll forget them.

You got some good ideas in there. I love your Yelp idea!

“I’m not worried about someone finding out my secrets, because secrets are just facts, right? So if someone is going through my private things, for example, and gets upset about what they find, then that’s their problem, not mine!”

Sure, it's their problem. But they might have power over you. If some intolerant family members discover you're gay, you might get kicked out of the house. If parents discover their child is trans, they might try to "beat it out of them". An abusive husband might find where his wife has run off to and "finish the job".

But, hey, they're problem! right?

This is bullshit naievete.

Move the clock back 40 years on the romance section. Imagine it references homosexuality, and ask yourself if the author's theme of "what's the big deal" is appropriate.

OP is under the mistaken belief that everyone else shares their morals and mores. They have plenty of time to be rudely defenstrated.

This is the danger of confusing exhibitionism with free-spiritedness.

It is a first-principle error to devalue privacy. OP should be ashamed of themselves. They need to read up on humanity's very short history of tolerance for true individualism. OP should read up on Alan Turing for fuck's sake.

Fuck this fool.

"Keeping it a secret" is a non-solution that killed Alan Turing.

Telling the intolerants to suck it up, in particular by openly leaving the closet, was the solution that worked to solve the problem.

I think you could also ask the opposite question about pretty much anything - why was this public? And I think the answer is the same - because I wanted it that way. Why should it need to be justified either way? If I want to keep something secret for a reason or by default or just on a whim, I should be able to, and if I want to make something public, I should be able to do that too. I don't think one choice is any better than the other as a default.

Regarding source code in a business context the question is: What is your competitive advantage? Well, as an experienced software developer who is not nearly as experienced in other things, sometimes my only chance to have competitive advantage is private source code. You may argue that I do not even have that competitive advantage, but then why bother competing in any market at all?

Just because privacy is worthless to you does not means it's not of value to me. Throw away your privacy but please don't contribute to the meme that privacy is disposable.

Lots of people have secrets that are harmless but can destroy them if they end up in the wrong hands, e.g. homosexuality within a conservative community.

Discretion and secrecy are related but not interchangible concepts. Is this author really suggesting discretion be non-existent? That opportunistic manipulation has never occurred? The need for NDAs has never once made sense? What it is disporportionately valuable to you, is more costly to you, once taken away, too.

With respect to ideas in start-up phase , I think if it's your idea , you will pursue it more passionately as compared to others . Idea can struck to anyone , wonder out of billions of people around how many are pursuing similar ideas ? It's the one who do it in right way and right time makes it big.

Wonderful! Seems to be public domain, too?

It's not public domain — he hasn't put in a license at all. I'm sure he'll correct the oversight sooner or later. Right now it looks like he just switched the private flag on his existing repos.

I am not sure why an article goes to Nr. 1 that has a made up table full of silly unjustified numbers in it.

If you have nothing about your personal life you want to hide, I think you're pretty boring

I think this is just la la land jibber jabber. You all can pretend privacy is irrelevant and you don't care if everyone knows everything about you because it is "meaningless" or whatever ...

But unlike some on HN, I will continue to live in the real world.

This is consistent with what I see about supposed corporate secrets, and source code. What's on paper matters less than the people behind it, their interest and motivation, and how creating the "secrets" changed them.

overused but appropriate.

There are 2 rules to success:

rule 1: Never tell everything you know.

edit: read a bit about Derek Sivers, this guy is either the counter example or his rule no2 is really worth knowing. Almost all my best reads of the past 10 years are on his book list.

He sold his company to a perpetual charitable trust which then sold it to a third party, shielding himself and saving a bundle in capital gains tax and providing residual for his whole life + supports his cause(music education). Kudos Derek. I'll be reading the books on your list; maybe to catch a glimpse of your rule no2? :-)


Don't worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you'll have to ram them down people's throats. -- Howard Aiken

Interesting how the author, and the woman who's the subject of his anecdote (and several here), conflate and confuse privacy with secrecy.

She probably would of said no, if there was any negativity about you in there.

You should of asked what her pincode was for her ATM card...

All I want is your GitHub password.

About half of my friends post every move they make throughout the day, photo-illustrated, to Facebook. They also have numerous short conversations with their friends, that are clearly just between the two of them and would normally be of no interest to anybody else. It's the equivalent of having private conversations out loud in front of everyone each of them have ever met in their lives.

I do not understand any of this behavior. I'm said to be a 'private person.' But it's clear to me that the zeitgeist is definitely not on my side here. I also wonder what all of this will be like in 20 years, given that Facebook has only been in widespread use for an utterly paltry 5 years.

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