A while back, Marc Zuckerberg built himself a mansion. Unsurprisingly, it is big. Yet tellingly, it also has a lot of space between it and anything near it.
I’m no hardcore techie, so I don’t know any of the digital specifics of the house, but I’m willing to bet that there’s a lot of protection. I’m sure that a computer hacker who wishes to penetrate the Zuckerberg intranet will have an easier time trying to get into the NSA.
And as I think about this, a grim realization comes to me:
Marc Zuckerberg probably has more privacy than just about anyone else in the world.
We spend a lot of time discussing how privacy is vanishing. Obviously, the latest news about Facebook confirms our worst nightmares. We have gone beyond the point at which we fear a lone hacker breaking into our life, and now face the reality that corporations are breaking into our lives wholesale, and selling the information about our lives to the highest bidder. Yet the founder of this company, in all likelihood, emerged from this unscathed.
Yet we forget that as the income gap between the ultra rich and the dirt poor widens—and as an ever smaller group amass an ever larger chunk of the world’s wealth—that privacy seems to be working the same way. We constantly notice the everyday breaches on our personal privacy, and because of this, we tend to think that we are all losing this privacy. Yet in the same way that a lucky few, as the rest of us see our net worth dwindle, are amassing grotesque hoards of wealth, so are an elite few becoming the most private people who ever walked the earth.
Wealth, it would seem, buys not only privacy, but silence. Lost in the whole to do over porn mogul Stormy Daniels and Donald Trump was the fact that Trump has a power that most everyone else doesn’t have: he can buy silence. And in buying silence, he can buy privacy.
The National Security Agency has built a massive data center in Utah. By all accounts, it confirms our worst fears. Considering that the program SoundHound can tell us the name of a song with a few sampled seconds of audio, it follows that it is possible to go through all of our phone conversations for any specific bit of information in an instant.
And, of course, there is massive secrecy behind this. In other words, the organization that seeks to watch all of us seems increasingly immune from anyone watching them.
It has been my experience that those who complain the loudest about people looking into their business are also those who take the most joy in poking into the business of others. So it has been with Trump. He gleefully sang the praises of the hackers who produced Hillary Clinton’s emails, but bleated and shrieked indignantly when the same mechanisms produced emails that, let us say, were not emails in which he was happy that they saw the light of day.
It is also worth noticing that many of these emails saw the light of day because of carelessness, not skilled hacking. Email encryption for the private elite is getting better and better each day. In other words, the release of emails regarding secret meetings with Russian business figures will happen less and less to these private elite in the future.
So Trump’s vitriolic indignance at a breach on his own privacy was to be expected, for it is something that, ensconsed in his wealth, he no doubt experiences less and less; he’s just not used to it the way that the rest of us are. We live in a time in which some are fortunate enough to live in a near impenetrable bubble of secrecy, in which they enthusiastically harvest the secrets of others.
One of the true currencies of utmost value in the 21st Century is privacy, and more and more of us have little, if any of it. Yet at the same time there are the Marc Zuckerbergs and Bill Gateses and Donald Trumps of the world, who seem to have most, if not all, of this currency.