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Privacy and normal people

As Wired Magazine said back in 2014, “If you use an online social network, you give up a serious slice of your privacy thanks to the omnivorous way companies like Google and Facebook gather your personal data.” But why do I need privacy if I’m not doing anything wrong? If I’m an average person, not too much money, without any political involvement or aspiration, nothing to hide or fear, why privacy matters for me? 

Carissa Veliz, an associate professor in philosophy at the Institute for Ethics in Artificial Intelligence at the University of Oxford, has a very short definition for privacy. According to her, privacy is power. In Carissa words, “Privacy is the key that unlocks the aspects of yourself that are most intimate and personal, that make you most you, and most vulnerable. Your naked body. Your sexual history and fantasies. Your past, present and possible future diseases. Your fears, your losses, your failures. The worst thing you have ever done, said, and thought. Your inadequacies, your mistakes, your traumas. The moment in which you have felt most ashamed. That family relation you wish you didn’t have. Your most drunken night.”

It is not new that we have readily given up nebulous rights over our data for the conveniences of the digital economy. The predictive algorithms that feed on our personal information are designed to anticipate our wants and needs, and most important, to create and shape what we will do/buy next. For Rainer Frost, a German philosopher, that is exactly the power definition “the capacity of A to motivate B to think or do something that B would otherwise not have thought or done.”

It is also true that previously to give apps and website access to our data, we must give our consent, but this “consent” is very vague. People don’t know the scope of use of the data. Of course we can infer, but we cannot be 100% sure what will happen after, if the data is sold and how it can be manipulated.

You, normal person, be sure that there are a lot of companies and also politicians, paying a considerable amount of money to have information over you, to understand your behavior and how you respond to incentives. Michael Foucault taught us that knowledge is power, and in this case, personal data information is a form to be empowered with knowledge.

European Union and the state of California in the US are taking the lead and implementing data protection regulation, moving towards authoritarian models like the Chinese one, and bringing awareness to the riskiness that the lack of privacy can cause. 

Through the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the EU is aiming to comply with the European Convention on Human Rights, dated 1950, which states, “Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.” GDPR is a bloc of rules, introduced in 2018, that imposes obligations onto organizations anywhere, so long as they target or collect data related to people in the EU. 

The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) started at the beginning of 2020, given residents of the state tools to protect their data and personal information online, which is translated into more responsibility to businesses that collect information from customers. Under the new regulations, California residents will be able to demand companies to disclose what information is collected on them and request a copy of that information. Companies will be forced to delete consumers’ data upon request and they’ll be prohibited from selling information if the customer instructs them to via a mandatory “do not sell” link on the company’s website.

We live in a fragile system called democracy, that we wrongly act as it is granted. In professor Carissa words “Privacy power is necessary for democracy – for people to vote according to their beliefs and without undue pressure, for citizens to protest anonymously without fear of repercussions, for individuals to have freedom to associate, speak their minds, read what they are curious about. If we are going to live in a democracy, the bulk of power needs to be with the people. If most of the power lies with companies, we will have a plutocracy. If most of the power lies with the state, we will have some kind of authoritarianism.”

Democracy is absolutely not granted, and it might turn into an authoritarianism regime that has the possibility to not favor your preferences and ideas. 

Do you really need the fridge connected to the internet? Is accept all cookie pop-up really worth?


Related links:

https://www.wired.com/2014/10/privacy-friendster/

https://www.carissaveliz.com

https://gdpr.eu/what-is-gdpr/

https://oag.ca.gov/privacy/ccpa

https://aeon.co/essays/why-foucaults-work-on-power-is-more-important-than-ever

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