Mind the Gap: Privacy in the West and in China

ReadWriteWeb has it: Google’s new Chrome browser could potentially start indexing the “dark web” — that’s the password protected Web. This, of course, raises red flags, alarm bells and fire alerts for too many of us — that is, if you count yourself in as a Westerner. Love letters to our significant other, bank account passwords, and secret recipes are probably the very last thing that we want to be exposed on that great big World Wide Web out there — we do, after all, have this thing called privacy to keep in mind.

But is privacy big in China? You bet. The way I’ve seen the Chinese Internet in action, people often “go private” (so to speak):

• by posting with fake IDs (we’re talking abou the “standard type”; as in posting with names like JoeBloggs7220 instead of Joseph A. Bloggs, Sr)
• by refusing to (or finding ways around) registering for stuff on the Internet with the word “government” in it (such as at Internet cafés or even websites, unless they’re “legally” forced with no second way out)
• by speaking out against any attempt to let blogs become a “real-name” system (which was very big some time back)

Note, though, that all of this is very much a “recent thing”. Just a couple of decades ago, nothing was deemed private: if you had something to hide, folks thought that you were wrong morally. It was only “as of late” (sorry I don’t have exact dates) that privacy became “a thing”, or something of concern.

The way I see potential problems with Chrome indexing your secretes, is that I see this as a potentially big issue, and oddly enough, one of those issues that could, for the first time, showcase those outside the PRC how privacy-aware the Chinese actually are. Many otherwise “Western” issues — for example property rights — have already made inroads into the Middle Kingdom, and privacy could very well become of those issues. These are issues which must be solved.

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