John Stossel

Scarlett Johansson left nude photos of herself on her computer. A hacker grabbed them and sent them to gossip websites.

A Pennsylvania high school issued laptop computers to students and then remotely activated the laptops' cameras to watch the students when they were away from school.

On my computer, a program called Disconnect reveals that my favorite websites spy on me and track what I like to read, what I browse, what I buy.

Privacy is almost a thing of the past.

As I explain on my show this week, I follow the advice of "experts." I buy anti-virus software (today a virus is more likely to steal your credit card and bank info than harm your computer). I sometimes change passwords. But someone still might steal my data.

I'm told I should be upset about this. But I'm not. Already, I voluntarily give up privacy. Amazon has my credit card info. Facebook, Google, Reason.org, Cato.org etc., know my preferences.

I resent that websites demand I click "agree" to say that I've read their complex terms and conditions. (I click "agree," but no one reads them.)

By comparison, the National Security Agency's data mining seems relatively benign. They just gather patterns of phone numbers. They say they don't listen to my calls or know my name. Do we trust them?

But the distinction we care about shouldn't be whether they know my name. The important difference is whether what you do is voluntary.

You can decide whether to use Facebook or let private sites install cookies to track your info. Johansson didn't give that hacker permission to steal her photos. And I didn't give the NSA -- not to mention the IRS, FBI, etc. -- permission to access my information.

Sometimes people say that sharing information with Amazon or Facebook is just as involuntary, but the truth is that we're just too lazy to check their privacy policies.

And there's a good, rational reason we don't worry so much about companies: Even if they get ahold of my embarrassing information, all they can do with it is try to sell us things.

Amazon's not going to raid your home with a SWAT team the way government might if it gets the wrong impression from your emails. Facebook can't forcibly take my money or put me in jail.

Because of the Internet, I changed my behavior years ago. I try not to email anything too embarrassing. I'm aware that when I surf the Web, someone might watch. And if you find out what I like to do on the weekend, what medications I take or that I have seen a psychotherapist, so what? I'm not ashamed. Losing some privacy is a price I'll pay for progress.


John Stossel

John Stossel is host of "Stossel" on the Fox Business Network. He's the author of "No They Can't: Why Government Fails, but Individuals Succeed." To find out more about John Stossel, visit his site at >johnstossel.com. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. ©Creators Syndicate