Have we reached peak Privacy Paranoia?

Editorial / Security / Tech
Privacy Paranoia Big Data Is Watching You signpost

The privacy angle is the sensationalism of the moment. The media pushes this stuff daily and now we have innovation being impacted by it.

You can’t look at the online news today without some mention of a privacy violation. From your face being captured out in a public place to your voice anonymously being listened to so AI can be trained, everyone is going crazy over the end of their privacy. Is it really the end though or is it just privacy paranoia being blown out of proportion by the media?

You are but an anonymized cog in the wheel of a data flow. So what if your voice is being heard and what you said was captured in a 15-second window? Who cares if you were acting all bored while waiting to cross the street under the watchful presence of a CCTV? What does it really matter if “Cog You” is being sold to some ad firm? In all honesty, none of it matters much on the level you exist upon when you consider the grand digital scheme of things. No one is out there looking specifically at YOU. If you were Taylor Swift popular they may be looking at you but at the same time, that loss of privacy kind of goes with the popularity.

CCTV cameras intrude on our physical privacy
Privacy concerns extend to the physical, such as CCTV cameras, and online entities like Facebook, Google, Apple, and more.

I’d rather have a smarter home assistant over a really dumb one. If that means that my voice is being listened to so context can be gained and then fed into the AI, then fine. I’m okay with that. Why? Because it’s just my voice and it doesn’t really lead back to me. It leads to my anonymized digital cog persona. Trust me, if you were the one listening to voice snippets all day long, are you really going to be interested enough to go hunting for a particular person or even care about any of them? No, you won’t. Without a human guiding the AI in these early stages, the AI will remain dumb. In other words, you can see that the training is working to push Innovation and AI development. When you tell your sweetie something naughty after asking an assistant for the weather, while it may be picked up on the recording, no one is going to think twice about the anonymous person who said it.

We also had this entire Cambridge Analytica scandal with Facebook that even got an overblown Netflix documentary (The Great Hack) to try and make it all seem so dastardly. So is social engineering and statistical analysis only bad now because it can be tabulated quickly with large numbers by scraping a social network? Let me tell you something, social engineering and statistical analysis has been happening long before we had social media or the internet. You didn’t have to participate then but at the same time, assumptions were made and certain things you did were most likely used in statistical analysis. The fact that you are putting all of your information out there publicly just means that there isn’t a person that has to call you on the phone or hit you up on the way into the mall. The methods may have changed but you are the one that allowed that.

It doesn’t matter what social network you participate in, they all give you some form of control. You can set your posts to default to be visible only to certain people, to followers, and even to the general public. It’s your personal responsibility to make a decision on how you want to do it. You clearly have the control. You don’t have to open yourself up or even use one of these platforms if you don’t want to.

Privacy Facebook login screen
Often the subject of privacy articles, Facebook and other social media sites do allow you to adjust your privacy settings.

But what about the passive connections and tracking, you ask? This is a fact of life now. If Joe (a social media user) has Lilly (a non-social media user) as a contact and opts into platform X, then platform X will be able to determine connections for Lilly. It will be able to determine connections to other people and provide associations that may be relevant to Joe. I fully admit that this is a huge issue for psychologists, doctors, lawyers, and others who need to have client discretion. As such, people in professions like that should ALWAYS keep their work devices separate from their personal devices. People should know this by now. It’s not a big secret. Now you could also say that we in the tech sphere know this but the users out there are totally unaware of it. That could be true too but at the same time, that isn’t a reason to regulate it by government power or to impose strict rules for how things operate. Ignorance is not a reason to push legislation. There will always be some people that just don’t care to learn or listen and they will always be the ones complaining after something bad happens. That’s no reason to stifle Innovation or conversation for everyone else.

We currently have politicians on both sides of the aisle in the U.S. who are pushing radical regulations based on a complete lack of understanding for how the technology actually works. The EU pushed their GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) based on the feeling that they had to do something. Now they are dealing with the fallout from companies that have to neuter their innovation offerings to comply. Thankfully this nonsense is only enforceable in the EU and is not a worldwide law that tech companies have to bend too, yet. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I really want a Congressman or Senator crafting tech policy when they are technically illiterate. At the same time, I don’t really want Google, Facebook, or [insert big tech company here], lobbying representatives to use policy they write that works for them. We’re in new territory now and honestly, the old ways of legislation do not scale to fit the technology issues of today.

I’m also not saying that we should just turn a blind eye to clear privacy violations. When a company like DoorDash is hacked and 4.9 million people have their information taken, then clearly there has to be some kind of fallout. However, hacking to gain your private information is clearly illegal, while scraping your public profile that you put out there… not so much. It shouldn’t be. You made the choice to put it out there and you need to have a level of personal responsibility applied to your own actions. What harm is it actually doing to you though?

You’re getting ads shown to you which you can ignore. You’re getting political commentary, in most cases from an echo chamber of an opinion you already agree with. At what point was your privacy ripped apart though? If it is about the last U.S. Presidential election, and whether you agree or disagree that social media was used in social engineering a win, then I have news for you. Social engineering via commercials on TV, skewed interviews, commentators that have a side, billboards, and town halls have been being used for years. This is just the next step in political campaigning. Obama used it first, and then Trump followed suit in a ramped-up way. This is the game and this is the new level of playing it. Both sides are doing it so it comes down to the same old story as it has always been, who can be the best at targeting the cogs needed to get those votes. Legislating social media and enacting hard-hitting regulations on tech won’t make that go away.

This is a new world we live in and everyone needs to be responsible for their own actions when moving forward in it. Simply saying, “I didn’t know” isn’t a valid excuse. I think we’ve hit a level of paranoia that has become extreme. If you didn’t think twice about the Snowden release, and the spying that our own governments do on us (clearly the biggest privacy violation in history), then is a targeted ad by a company really worse? The companies don’t have the power to take away our freedoms, the governments of the world do. Clamping down on the internet and social media with a government hand may just be the first loss of a freedom we currently enjoy. I’ll take the Googles, Amazons, and Facebooks of the world and manage a level of privacy on my own terms before any government gets involved and demands that those companies just hand over their data no questions asked and in the process throw out my ability to even have a say.

The privacy angle is the sensationalism of the moment. The media pushes this stuff daily and now we have innovation being impacted by it. It would be great if we could just take a step back, look at all of the various angles, and then look at the benefits we are actually receiving from technology vs the low cost of having our information used. When you actually look at it that way, you’ll find that in the majority of cases you are not being slighted or abused by the technology companies that utilize your data. You will find that the technology you are getting and using from them is actually making your life easier. Is that really so bad?

What do you think about the current state of and paranoia over privacy? Let us know in the comments below or on Twitter, Facebook, or MeWe.

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