We Shouldn’t Fear Corporations Or Governments For Our Privacy – The Real Danger Is The Combination Of The Two
There is an ongoing discussion whether we should fear governmental intrusion into our privacy more, or corporate carelessness with our private data more. This is a false framing of the actual developments. What we need to fear is the “and”, not the “or”: the two combined make the real Orwellian nightmare.
It’s said that a VISA executive can predict your divorce one year before you’re aware of it yourself, based on nothing but your purchase history. A famous story recounts how a store chain was able to tell that a teenager was pregnant before her father knew about it, merely based on her purchases. Imagine what Facebook or Google would know about you?
Imagine, for example, that your physician calls you and says that you’ve been diagnosed with an unusual disease of some strange name. The first one you’ll tell about it is neither your immediate family nor your best friends. It’s Google. As for Facebook, it knows not only what you look like, but also practically all of your interests and preferences – not to mention if any of your friends are subversive dissidents; perhaps a little too many of them?
Taken in isolation, this is largely irrelevant for a very simple reason. We’re the customers of Google and Facebook, and they have no interest whatsoever in breaking down our front door in full riot gear if we think the wrong immoral or criminal thought. Our thoughts are only interesting to Google and Facebook (and the likes) as far as they are profitable in one way or another, cynical as the thought may be.
Now, enter clueless offline-born politicians into the equation, and mix in a bit of arrogance. They observe how the net generation freely shares a lot of their private details online, and falsely assumes that this means that the net generation doesn’t care about privacy at all – that the politicians have some moral leeway to move in and take the rest of it by force.
To illustrate how horribly wrong this way of thinking is, imagine that the same politicians had observed that most people are giving some money to charity, and used that data point to deduce that people don’t care about their money anymore, and therefore, that politicians have some moral leeway to intrude into citizens’ homes and take the rest of their money by force.
It’s a matter of whether you do something voluntarily or are forced to do it, and that difference is huge. Just because the net generation has different standards of privacy than the offline-borns, that doesn’t mean that they don’t care about privacy at all – just that they care about privacy in a different way, and that must be respected.
Sadly, it isn’t respected today. Not at all. The danger lies in the data we give away freely to some corporations – Google, Facebook, et cetera – combined with a nasty, omnivorous, and voracious governmental appetite for just going in and taking all of it at will, whether we agree to it or not. And where Facebook and Google won’t hunt you down for having the wrong friends or ideas, governments see it as their job to do so.
In summary, the danger isn’t in corporate sloppiness with our private data as we write a lot of private stuff or NSA spying and secret governmental orders. The danger lies in the combination of the two.
Your privacy is and remains your own responsibility.