In Defense of Privacy

More and more, our privacy is being eroded, Big Tech is utilizing the tools we use to communicate, shop, and live our lives to spy on us and sell ads and our personal information; they will do the bidding of governments around the world to expand their reach. Those who would stand up to this invasion have embraced technology such as VPNs, browsers with built-in privacy features, encryption, and cryptocurrency to maintain a semblance of anonymity and privacy online.

Recently, an opinion piece in The New York Times, “Why We Should Stop Fetishizing Privacy”, caught my attention. The author, Heidi Messer, made the case that wanting privacy and anonymity was old-fashioned and that by demanding it, innovation and job creation may be stifled. 

The first statement in the piece I have an issue with:Media coverage of the threat to personal privacy from technology tends to follow a narrative in which privacy is a virtue, Big Tech its evil predator and government the good knight capable of protecting it.”

This statement ignores the people advocating for limited governments, the people who see government intrusion into our lives as a threat just as dangerous as that of Big Tech, and the people of who advocate for privacy and individual rights. It’s not about running to the government to keep Big Tech out of our lives, it’s about wanting Big Tech and governments out of our lives.

The author says that “Regulating tech companies could create problems worse than the ones we seek to solve. If we constrict their fuel — data — we may hurt not only the quality, cost and speed of their services but also the drivers of growth for the world’s economy”.

While data is important to market research and machine learning, there is no stipulation in developing market research and machine learning that requires our phones to have hidden microphones listening to us even when we think they are not. Edward Snowden, in an interview with Vice News, took apart a smartphone and showed the interviewer the secondary microphone – why was it there? This feature, one that cannot be disabled under normal circumstances, is there for one reason only, to spy on us and facilitate the sales of our data.

What the piece also misses is the fact that government and tech have been in bed with each other for decades. When some praised former President Barack Obama for his use of social media to drive voters to his campaign and eventual win, where was the conversation about the dangerous reach of technology and social media? Fast forward eight years, and now that President Trump has done the same thing, Big Tech and social media are evil and need to be regulated?

Finally,

“If safety is the actual goal of protecting privacy, consider this: Large tech companies may be our best line of defense against hackers, state surveillance and terrorists. These companies have the talent and resources to match well-funded and sophisticated adversaries. As the threat of cyber warfare grows, shouldn’t we consider whether it would be prudent to break up companies that are our best allies against foreign and criminal intrusion?”

This statement is in line with the age-old “if you aren’t doing anything wrong, it shouldn’t matter if they look” mentality. The problem with this thinking is that it assumes wrongdoing or “we can’t trust these people so we need to keep an eye on them”. In the call to break up Facebook, Google had to do with the fact they undermined the public trust and were caught doing so. How could Facebook protect us from state surveillance when their platform is being used by governments around the world to spread propaganda and misinformation?

Apple’s unwillingness to unlock the iPhone used by the San Bernardino terrorist had more to do with protecting market shares and sales, and less with protecting privacy; our thinking that tech companies are looking out for our best interest or want to protect us from threats for any other reason than sales is absurd.

Google (YouTube), Facebook, and Twitter are de-platforming those they dislike, which in the age of the Internet is like saying that a person does not exist and is politically motivated. Tech companies have no business setting standards for speech, that is not their job or their responsibility.

We’ll be told that if we want to fight terrorism and criminals, we need to give up some aspects of our privacy, and that if you have nothing to hide, it shouldn’t matter. That is a terrible case of 1984 logic.

We should advocate for our privacy because it’s our privacy, and no one may invade it. Not the government, not corporations. Every day, we hear that this is a human right, and it is – privacy is the greatest human right, and the one most under threat.

True, we should not fetishize privacy, we should demand it.



Jason Nelson

@dragonwolftech

The New York Times. 2019. “Opinion | Why We Should Stop Fetishizing Privacy,” May 24, 2019. https://nyti.ms/2ECcWax

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