Recently, Google's CEO Eric Schmidt made the all to common claim that the only people who need to worry about privacy, are those who are doing something wrong. This is something I've heard all to often, and I've made it a point to have people who do say it to me read Cory Doctorow's novel, Little Brother.
So, to Mr. Eric Schmidt: Fuck you. Privacy is immensely important to anyone who has anything to lose, and we all have something to lose.
Admittedly, we sacrifice privacy all the time for convenience. Every time we make a web search, our IP is stored with that search for some (usually undisclosed) amount of time. When we store our e-mail on an external server (Yahoo! Mail or GMail), we let the provider scan the e-mail for all sorts of purposes, from spam filtering to advertising.
And, by entrusting this information to third parties, we empower them to turn over our information when required, say by a subpeona or a PATRIOT Act request. Ultimately, it's hard for me to blame Google, since their hoarding of this information is covered in their terms of service (which most people don't read), and some of that information is necessary for them to do their jobs, and to provide the level of service that they do.
The problems with Google's statements however, the fact that they don't view being the stewards of our data as a responsibility (not just not to lose it, but to keep it safe). The fact that they don't even address that users should be aware of the implications of putting all this information online.
And it's not just Google. Facebook is another huge offender in this respect. The Huffington Post this week had a story cataloging amazing Facebook faux pas, from kids finding out about parent's divorces by a Facebook status update, to complaining about and insulting their boss (who happened to be a Facebook friend). And yes, recently Facebook took some steps to revise their Privacy settings, but in many ways they've made things worse for their users, making the defaults such that user's are likely to reveal more not less.
While the biggest threat to personal privacy is the ignorance of the users, who often don't think about how much information they're providing, these major service companies that try to integrate into nearly every aspect of a user's life need a more enlightened attitude toward protecting that data. If you want to support a group working to push these sorts of issues forward, consider joining the EFF. I made my first donation this year, and I plan to make it annual.