There’s no such thing as privacy anymore. By now it’s become painfully obvious that “free” software tools like social media platforms, search engines and internet browsers are not really free. The users themselves, or, more accurately, their time and attention, are the product.
But most people assume that this exchange is relatively benign. A tech company infers certain things about your preferences based on your searches, connections, “likes” or other information you choose to share and then shows you ads related to those preferences. Right?
Well actually that’s just the beginning.
“Advertisers aren’t just aware of the things you like to buy – they can figure out where you are, pretty much whenever they want.”
“Advertisers and app-makers contend that the data they accumulate is anonymous. They argue that they don’t know who’s going to the doctor’s office, then Rite-Aid, then a specific home address, just that someone is doing it. That in itself is an absurd line of reasoning—as The Times points out, it’s remarkably easy to figure out someone’s name and personal information after observing their movements.”
And if it’s not bad enough that companies you KNOW are tracking you in ways you never realized:
“If any of the companies that purchase this data are hacked – which seems to happen with alarming and increasing frequency these days – the claims of harmlessness no longer have any merit. Or, if the government wanted to use this information to quietly keep track of certain individuals in the United States, it isn’t clear what, exactly, would stop them from doing so.”
This level of surveillance, lack of accountability, and potential for disaster should be terrifying, but the truth is that nothing shocks us anymore. We’ve all become so numb to invasions of our privacy that another story about how we’re being watched barely even registers.
In fact, thanks in large part to the explosion of smartphones and social media over the last ten years, the effort now required to maintain personal privacy is widely perceived to be greater than the benefit of having that privacy in the first place.
And who knows? Maybe it really is fine. Maybe the Faustian bargain we’ve made with our phones will never come back to haunt us.
Or maybe it will.
Unfortunately, we won’t know until it’s too late.