Jeff Jarvis wants blogs to use more cookies to keep track of readers and anticipates a reaction from techies wont to mount a “privacy” challenge:

Privacy is the boogeyword of the age. It is tech’s version of politically correct idiocy. All you have to do is invoke the spectre of “privacy” against someone and they’re assumed to be evil. It’s a particularly comical form of nerd McCarthyism: I have in my hand a list of cookies!

Jarvis is right: threats to “privacy” are an overhyped risk — but only because “privacy” is so badly defined. Traditionally we have thought of privacy as an intrusion into an individual’s personal space or affairs. But cookies, like most of the technologies that have recently been flagged as invading “privacy” don’t actually do anything to intrude on individuals in the traditional sense. Unless they have a very, very sophisticated database of personal details about you (that you have volunteered), like, say,, there is little to link you and your cookie anyway.

The surviellance facilitated by cookies, RFID tags, supermarket loyalty cards, credit card transaction records is used primarily to create classes of people to be used for marketing purposes, risk assessment, targeted political electioneering or various forms of subtle forms of social control.

So get over yourself. The cookies don’t care about you. They care about grouping you with others like you in a database that is not being watched over by any nosy big brother.

This is problematic for all sorts of reasons, but invasion of individual privacy is not one of them. Contemporary surviellance technologies affect indivduals through the advantages or disadvatages that organisations place on the category that the data has placed that indivudual in.

This all seems wonderful when predicts what books or CDs you might like to read based on your previous purchases &madsh; or hard-up bloggers can offer advertisers a sophisticated reader segmentation. It gets more problematic when different people start being offered different prices for similar products based on their previous spending patterns or credit history. Think health insurance or credit ratings if you want the nightmare scenario of ever more sophisticated data profiles.

The indivdualist-libertarian critique implied whenever someone starts talking about “privacy” is usually misplaced. The real issue today is about group discrimination — and how new technologies are facilitating this.