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Privacy: The Worst Quotes of the Year

Dec 20, 20076 mins

From massive data breaches to insidious new ways to deliver ads online, we found plenty of privacy lowlights in 2007. So many, in fact, that we’re introducing a new award. Ladies and gentlemen, the 2007 Privvy Awards for outstanding quotability regarding privacy.

In 2007, Great Britain deployed “The Bug”—a surveillance camera with 360-degree visibility, “smarts” to detect mischievious activity and, yes, a speaker for making announcements remotely, just like in 1984. A company spokesperson explained away privacy concerns by saying, “The innocent have nothing to fear.”

It’s a callous defense that misses the point of privacy (it’s not what you reveal but whether or not you retain the choice to reveal that defines privacy), but even so, it didn’t make our list of the best quotes about privacy from 2007. That must mean the list is pretty good. It is. So good, in fact, we decided to make an award to “celebrate” the year’s most unfortunate quotes about privacy. Ladies and Gentlemen, the first ever Privvies.

To win a privvy, one must have been involved in or commenting on some privacy issue during 2007, and the comment must have been provocative or otherwise telling. The categories for which you can win a Privvy are completely manufactured, to up the fun quotient.

We ask that Privvy winners, when accepting their awards, please provide their SSNs, bank account numbers, home addresses and computer passwords. What? The innocent have nothing to fear, right?

On with the show…

And the Privvy for Doubleplusgood Newspeak of the Year goes to…Deputy Director of National Intelligence Donald Kerr

“Too often, privacy has been equated with anonymity; and it’s an idea that is deeply rooted in American culture…. But in our interconnected and wireless world, anonymity—or the appearance of anonymity—is quickly becoming a thing of the past…. We need to move beyond the construct that equates anonymity with privacy and focus more on how we can protect essential privacy in this interconnected environment. Protecting anonymity isn’t a fight that can be won. Anyone that’s typed in their name on Google understands that.”

Privacy advocates seized on Kerr’s Orwellian attempt to singlehandedly change the definition of privacy because, hey, it’s really hard. (Source: Office of the Director of Naval Intelligence.)

The Privvy for Outstanding Achievment in Not Exactly Inspiring Consumer Confidence goes to…The TJX Companies

“[TJX] believes our security was comparable to many other major retailers.”

So, many other major retailers are at risk of a data breach that exposes 100 million transaction records? We feel much better now. (Source:

2007 Privvy Awards
The Privvy for Best Premature Celebration goes to…Microsoft lawyer Tim Cranton

“This is a very good day.”

Cranton was celebrating the arrest of so-called Spam King Robert Soloway. The AP story quoting Cranton also noted that “Federal authorities said computer users…could notice a decrease in the amount of junk e-mail” they receive. But the arrest actually had no effect on spam distribution. Since then, there have been many not very good days. Spam has reached all-time high volumes and bandwidth consumption. (Source: MSNBC.)

The Privvy for Excellence in Grovelling goes to…Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg

“We’ve made a lot of mistakes building this feature, but we’ve made even more with how we’ve handled them. We simply did a bad job with this release, and I apologize for it.”

Zuckerberg’s slobbering was over Beacon, an insidious ad feature that broadcast Facebook users’ habits to friends and to the company and its ad partners. The program was difficult to find and built to be opt-out on a case-by-case basis, making it impracticable to turn it off wholesale. Social networkers raised a stink. Facebook eventually created a way to turn Beacon off altogether. (Source: Facebook.)

The Privvy for Outstanding Clarity in Data Breach Disclosure goes to…Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs’ Shadow Chancellor George Osborne

“Let us be clear about the scale of this catastrophic mistake—the names, the addresses and the dates of birth of every child in the country are sitting on two computer discs that are apparently lost in the post, and the bank account details and National Insurance numbers of 10 million parents, guardians and carers have gone missing.”

Yeah, but was your security comparable to many other major government offices? (Source: BBC.)

The Privvy for Most Brazen Corporate Bad-Assness goes to…AT&T and Apple

“Social Security #: ___-___-____. Confirm Social Security #: ___-___-____”

With the masses salivating over the iPhone, the two companies turned into monsters. They teamed up to charge $500 for the device, demanded two-year contracts on high-end calling plans, and “bricked” phones of users who hacked their way past restrictions by getting those users to download an “upgrade” that disabled the phone. But nothing was as brassy as AT&T demanding SSNs before the iPhone was activated, right when the company was entangled in a class-action lawsuit over allegedly giving the NSA backdoor access to its record databases in violation of its customers’ privacy. (Source:

And finally, the Privvy for Worst Karma goes to…Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg…his second of the year!

“I’m a little intoxicated, not gonna lie. So what if it’s not even 10pm and it’s a Tuesday night? What? The Kirkland facebook is open on my computer desktop and some of these people have pretty horrendous facebook pics. I almost want to put some of these faces next to pictures of farm animals and have people vote on which is more attractive. It’s not such a great idea and probably not even funny, but Billy comes up with the idea of comparing two people from the facebook, and only sometimes putting a farm animal in there. Good call Mr. Olson! I think he’s onto something.”

This excerpt comes from from Zuckerberg’s online diary. It was published, along with many other documents from Zuckerberg’s lawsuit with former Harvard peers who claim he stole the idea for Facebook from them, by Harvard’s navel-gazing mag called 02138 in a good piece of journalism by Luke O’Brien.

Zuckerberg suddenly didn’t like the openness and lack of privacy on the Internet that had made him rich, and he moved to have the documents removed from the site, saying they were improperly leaked by the plaintiffs. The reporter had done his due diligence, though, and the judge denied the request, saying in his ruling, “What 02138 undertook was, it seems to me, core First Amendment activity, to comment upon matters of public interest. Moreover, the appending of the source documents is, it seems to me, fundamentally beneficial to expression…[and] a salutary development in journalism generally, one that one can treat as providing for a more democratic, if unruly, form of expressive activity” (Page 93 of the ruling). Score one for journalism, and schadenfreude. (Source:

Congratulations to all the winners. Have a safe and private New Year.

Executive Editor Scott Berinato can be reached at

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