Who to trust less: governments, or corporations?
February 24, 2011
When someone residing in Europe pointed out to us how distraught they were that online companies like PayPal require seemingly irrelevant banking information just to handle money already in the account, something occurred to us: in general, Europeans are very sensitive about privacy issues as far as commercial entities go. That is to say, they prefer corporations to have minimal information on people, while they are generally okay with their governments having this same information. Considering that Europe is a land that has had plenty of authoritarian rulers, particularly those who had no qualms with repeatedly ignoring the idea of a citizen’s right to privacy, the Europeans remains alright with the idea that their governments may, from time to time, ignore privacy in the course of, say, national security matters. At minimum, this suggests that Europeans have a strong degree of faith in their governments and investigative authorities. However, Europeans don’t seem to trust corporations as much; corporations are seen as much more likely to abuse information collected in the pursuit of profit.
On the flip-side, we have the United States, where citizens pretty freely give up private information to corporations as part of the cost of going about their lives (e.g. Facebook, Mint, PayPal.) However, the idea that their government might try to obtain some of this information is distasteful, despite the fact that the United States does not have the same history as European governments for blatantly disrespecting its citizen’s privacy; the United States government has never been as corrupt as, say, the Third Reich, European monarchies, etc. Why do Americans have so little faith in their government when it comes to national security matters, while seemingly more “progressive” countries don’t consider this nearly as large an issue? Meanwhile, Americans pass an enormous amount of private information to companies they believe they can trust, who naturally tend to sell this information for money.
Who has the right idea?