The Facebook phenomenon has taken that simple concept of sharing with others to an industrial level. Any page you go to on the Web today connects into your online social life, so that while reading the news or watching a video you are exhorted to share your activity with your online "friends." I say "friends" in quotes because the way that Facebook involvement grows means that many of the people seeing your posts or learning about your activities are like second and third cousins; related to your friends but at least a step removed from the inner circle you relate to. It is easy to forget that those more distant relations are there, but bit by bit the links pull in more invitations and, since we have been told that it is impolite not to share, we rarely slam the digital door on those seeking our friendship.
To increase this digital sharing, the House has passed a revision to the Video Privacy Act. You may not recall the "Bork law" of 1988. It was one of the fastest privacy laws ever passed in the U.S. legislature. Here's the description from the New York Times article:
In 1987, the Washington City Paper, a weekly newspaper, published the video rental records of Judge Robert H. Bork, who at the time was a nominee to the Supreme Court. One of the paper’s reporters had obtained the records from Potomac Video, a local rental store. Judge Bork’s choice of movies — he rented a number of classic feature films starring Cary Grant — may have seemed innocuous.At the time the passage of the law had a comic aspect to it: you could imagine the thoughts going through the heads of members of Congress when they realized that any reporter could talk into their local video store and learn what they had rented. Zingo! New law!
But the disclosure of Judge Bork’s cultural consumption so alarmed Congress that it quickly passed a law giving individuals the power to consent to have their records shared. The statute, nicknamed the “Bork law,” also made video services companies liable for damages if they divulged consumers’ records outside the course of ordinary business.
The revised bill, stated in the article as being backed primarily by Netflix, would allow consumers (and that's all we are, right, consumers?) to sign a blanket waiver on their video privacy in order to facilitate sharing with friends.
The Times article has various quotes giving pros and cons, online services vs. privacy advocates, all talking about how much you do or don't want your "friends" to know about you. What the article fails to state, however, is that whether you like it or not, every site where you share is a de facto friend as well. If your Facebook friends get your Netflix picks, both Facebook and Netflix (and their advertising partners) also get your video viewing information. The more you share with your friends, the more you are sharing with an invisible network of corporations - who, by the way, you cannot "unfriend" even if you want to.
This is why we need to learn not to share: it's a lie, a deceit. We aren't really sharing with our friends, our friends are being used to get us to divulge information to faceless corporations who have insinuated themselves into our lives for the sole purpose of benefiting from our consumption. They have distorted the entire idea of "friend," and turned it into a buyer's club for their benefit.
Dear friends: I'm looking forward to seeing you ... offline.