Cross-posted on IoTeX’s publication.
“Arguing that you don’t care about privacy because you having to hide is like saying you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say.” — Edward Snowden
“Alexa, tell me a joke” sends a shudder through the intergalactic transmission web. Amazon servers bank the speech-to-text snippet. The algorithm belches a response after feasting on a data buffet where the Library of Congress is hors d’oeuvres and 90 million dinner conversations is the Rib-eye. The chronic, bone-deep privacy invasion by always-on location tracking, always-listening smart speakers, and always-watching surveillance cameras is a cliche of modern life: Who cares? Knowledge is power, and a data shared is a joke or a health tip earned.
“Privacy,” the term, needs a makeover. Privacy is not a smoke-screen to protect pedophiles who dredge the internet’s most despicable depths. It’s a shield for the anorexic teenager assailed with ads for weight-loss pills that dump gasoline on her burning anxieties. Privacy is managing boundaries through control of personal data, handing you the keys to your mind’s gate — stormed by social media, online news, and increasingly, physical devices like Amazon’s Alexa, and smartwatches that are doubling as palm-sized shrinks.
If you accept that our every step or click is propelled by infinite inscrutable forces, then you know how easily humans are manipulated. When your cell-phone buzzes, does your hand plunge into your pocket before you register what’s happening? Embracing privacy is an act of humility; it’s the acknowledgment that targeted ads and notifications affect you in subtle ways that you may not understand or control. Privacy means self-control; it means setting mental boundaries. Let’s talk a little bit more about what that means in practice.
Brittany Kaiser is the Cambridge Analytica whistleblower, the star of the Netflix documentary The Great Hack, and the Own Your Data foundation founder. IoTeX partnered with Own Your Data earlier this year for a webinar detailing practical steps everyday users can take to control their data. Brittany Kaiser’s Own Your Data cuts to the entrails of privacy: Describing personal data as personal property as intimate and proprietary as a bedroom, and as we’ve seen with hacks of indoor cameras including Amazon’s Ring, sometimes the data is literally a video feed of your child’s bedroom.
We should have the power to opt-in to data sharing. There are plenty of instances when sharing is beneficial — movie recommendations, directions, and targeted ads for helpful products. But the current model of bottomless extraction and secret manipulation needs to be flipped, handing data back to users who set the rules of engagement.
The idea that data should be personal property is not a fringe one. Andrew Yang’s 2020 campaign laid out a proposal stating: “ Data generated by each individual needs to be owned by them, with certain rights conveyed that will allow them to know how it’s used and protect it.” Legislators in New York State proposed a piece of legislation called the NYPA that goes far beyond Europe’s GDPR and California’s CCPA: “Unlike the CCPA, which gives consumers the right to “opt-out” from the sale of their personal data, the NYPA requires consumers to “opt-in” for the use of their personal data.”
The modern internet has been pillaged by digital imperialists who took our personal property without asking. Most people do not view their data in the same way they view their homes or physical property. But they should. Think about how much of your life is spent interfacing with a digital intermediary: Your laptop, your smartphone, and your smart-home devices, the latter of which serve as omnipresent eyes and ears inside your home. Amid this pandemic, it might be the majority. It’s time for a mindset shift.
Some companies embrace a Privacy-By-Design philosophy, putting the user in charge of their personal data and fulfilling the goal of the legislation proposed by Andrew Yang and New York state. Any device Powered-by-IoTeX belongs in this category, the first of which is a home security camera, called Ucam.
But this is not about any single company. It’s about changing how we think about our data and growing outraged at the injustices we suffer when our personal data rights are violated. Educate yourself and your friends. And if you are interested in receiving regular information relevant to the topic of user-well being and privacy, join our newsletter: The Good Disruption.