Between US and European Privacy, I prefer the US one

It’s common for privacy advocates to claim that European privacy rules are better than US ones. There is some truth to it, but consider this recent experience from my recent trip to Germany, the country where I grew up.

I went to the sauna. (First German sauna in 18 years!) So here I’m sweating my insides out and for 10 minutes, I listen to the locals chatting, who obviously knew each other. Oh how German:

  • the son of this lady, oh what I no-good-for-nothing he is. All he does is sit around at home and go drink with his friends. (I could have thought of half a dozen explanations why that’s the impression they would get that are not “is a good for nothing”, but nothing even remotely non-condemning came up even as a possibility)
  • and her, she inherited so much money (over the conversation, it changed from a few hundred thousand Euros to several million) and how incapable she is and it’s all gone, and she should have listened to tax advisor X who was offering (at a reduced fee — one wonders where that information comes from, and it’s doubly suspicious) and now she has to work at Y and how awful that is … all hearsay.
  • the fact that I, a total stranger, am right in between the two people chatting about people neither of them knew particularly well, did not create the slightest inhibition in discussing everybody’s dirty laundry, and I’d guess at least half of it was probably factually wrong.

I’m sure there are people like that in the US. But I’m also sure that in 17 years in the US, I have never witnessed anything like that. Everybody generally minds their own business, and if they talk about each other, it’s generally factual, or at least qualified with “it might be”. Any spin, almost always, is positive. Not in that German sauna.

Unfortunately, memories come back, and this conversation is the normal case in many, many places, in many, many daily interactions. I’m tempted to say everywhere and all the time, but I might be wrong.

So … if you have a choice of a set of expectations where government and business privacy is written more tightly into law with the locals airing every single piece of your dirty laundry to anybody, real or imagined, vs. a society who does not generally do that but cheers Facebook, which do you choose?

I really don’t like what Facebook (and the likes) do with my personal info. But I hate the incessantly trading dirty laundry behind my back, even more.

Why can’t we have neither?