I’ve written about privacy a few times, and while my opinions are pretty well formed, the question rages on. What IS Privacy? What privacy do you have a “right” to, or what level of privacy can you “expect”?

With so much information finding its way onto the Internet, I’ve taken a pragmatic approach: nothing is private. Don’t expect privacy. Period. Laws are nearly meaningless. And court rulings mean even less.

Germany is considering a law that I don’t believe can be enforced, but at least sounds good. If passed, the new German law will make it illegal to use “private” data when looking for information about prospective employees.

Start with the “can’t be enforced” part: the distinction between what’s private and what’s public under this proposed law is unclearly  based on a broad understanding of “intent”. So Facebook information would be off limits to prospective employers, while LinkedIn data is fair game.

I agree that the intent of using Linkedin almost always runs toward “hey! look at me, world!” whereas people who use Facebook generally mean to shout only at people they already know. And that’s where the law being considered in Germany becomes most interesting.

In the United States, “intent” is a prime consideration in determining guilt in a criminal proceeding; it’s the reason that “gee officer, I didn’t MEAN to be over the speed limit” can actually work. If the German legal system extends intent to privacy issues, this law is a great idea.

Specifically, if you friend someone on Facebook just to find if there’s any dirt on them, you aren’t really trying to be friends.

I don’t know how this is all going to play out, and certainly a law in Germany doesn’t mean anything elsewhere. But given that privacy and data usage are currently being played out on a completely open field, I love the idea of this law.

And I’d love for you to think about intent the next time you use data to create business change.

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