Here's another look at privacy, also from the Wall Street Journal:
Tracking Is an Assault on Liberty, With Real Dangers
A few years ago, the computer consultant Tom Owad published the results of an experiment that provided a chilling lesson in just how easy it is to extract sensitive personal data from the Net. Mr. Owad wrote a simple piece of software that allowed him to download public wish lists that Amazon.com customers post to catalog products that they plan to purchase or would like to receive as gifts. These lists usually include the name of the list's owner and his or her city and state.
Using a couple of standard-issue PCs, Mr. Owad was able to download over 250,000 wish lists over the course of a day. He then searched the data for controversial or politically sensitive books and authors, from Kurt Vonnegut's "Slaughterhouse-Five" to the Koran. He then used Yahoo People Search to identify addresses and phone numbers for many of the list owners.
Mr. Owad ended up with maps of the United States showing the locations of people interested in particular books and ideas, including George Orwell's "1984." He could just as easily have published a map showing the residences of people interested in books about treating depression or adopting a child. "It used to be," Mr. Owad concluded, "you had to get a warrant to monitor a person or a group of people. Today, it is increasingly easy to monitor ideas. And then track them back to people."
I'm not as doom and gloom as the article.
In my opinion, the real issue here is how nuts it is to point an accusing finger at other people. Getting into a lather over privacy concerns can be like debating which books should be banned, if any. The bottom line is a responsibility for personal discernment, personal choice. And, we're all in here together, one way or another.
Oh -- The other real issue -- you don't still use your mother's real maiden name as a password reset prompt, do you? Those things can be ferreted out by data miners. (If you've ever wanted to privately call your first teacher "Fido," password prompts are your chance.) While you're at it, don't share anything online that you wouldn't discuss in a public, face-to-face situation... unless you're very, very careful to omit absolutely all identifying traces.
I choose to see a reasonable degree of transparency as an encouragement to grow, to see those other people (people who read George Orwell or struggle with depression or have different religious or political affiliations) as no more foreign than other neighbors, no matter where they live. There is no wall we have not made ourselves.
Safety is another story. Remember how our parents white-knuckled it when first teaching us how to drive? Well, mine did, maybe yours were more laid back. Smoothly following traffic rules and knowing how much pressure is needed to put on the brakes are learned skills. We are learning how to steer personal privacy in a digitally connected world. There are potholes. There are dangers. This is still a new world.
The first web site was put up, what? 20 years ago? Just 100 years ago one set of my great grandparents moved from the Carolinas to the Pacific Northwest - it was like moving to the other side of the universe, into a different culture, probably never to see their friends and family again. A few years later the US got its first transcontinental highway, but such a thing wasn't pretty or smooth or universally accessible until after the Interstate Highway system was championed in the 1950's.
We're still figuring out how having an Internet super highway changes things.