Privacy Is Like Virginity: No One Really Wants It

Jan 13, 10 | 8:07 AM   byMichael Wolff
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It’s worth asking, did people ever really want privacy in the first place?

Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook founder, is arguing about the emergence of a new “social norm.” This is partly to justify Facebook’s ever-more aggressive business model of turning private data into searchable and targetable information. Facebook, which began as a way to share individual information with friends, has now turned into a business based on individuals broadcasting their information to a more or less anonymous public.

Zuckerberg stands at the nexus of two conflicting rights. There’s the old one, which is the right to protect your privacy. And the new one, which is the right to give it up.

The old one is arguably about fear and shame—and anonymity.

The new one about openness and pride—and ambition.

The old one is about an aesthetic that is discreet and modest and careful.

The new one about infinite vulgarity.

The history of the modern world has obviously been about the latter—a public desperate to express itself. At the same time, much of that history has involved a fight to protect our individual space and secrets against prying governments, corporate marketers, and, to a lesser extent, an intrusive media.

Nobody ever asked, however—until now—if, given the choice, would you forgo your privacy. Or the question was asked incorrectly: Instead of, do you want to be able to protect your secrets, it should have been asked, would you prefer not to have any secrets at all?

Or, would you prefer to be anonymous or well known?

The answer turns out, over and over again, in now a long history of public display, sexual revolution, and media attention, to be the latter, culminating in reality television and Facebook.

Young Zuckerberg has profitably understood the obvious. It is so obvious, such, apparently, a compelling human desire, this urge to shed privacy and anonymity, and discretion of all sorts, that it will be the thing that animates most media to come.

I sound, I realize, sarcastic. I sound as though I am engaged in hyperbole.

No, no. Rather, I am stunned that so many people for so long could have misunderstood the human heart this way.

We want to expose ourselves; we want to reveal and share it all; we want permission, not protection. We don’t want to conceal. Everybody wants to publish.

How did I miss this?

More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at You can also follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWolffNYC.
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