If you’ve just woken up to the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal erupting you might be asking yourself many different questions about your digital imprint.
Like how did one company act so brazen with so many people’s private information? Or what do I do with all my data living out there on the web? I’ve seen numerous posts suggesting you delete your data or your entire Facebook account for that matter. Or ones that imply that you were warned this was going to happen but you didn’t you listen.
Perhaps you’re not sure how to respond to all of this. I myself downloaded all my Facebook data as an exercise in curiosity, if you want to do it try it here. There I found all sorts of videos and photos dating back to 2010 when I initially signed up. Nothing there astonished me. I was aware that everything I put up at the time would have an everlasting shelf life. This doesn’t make me a saint just highly suspicious of what I commit myself to.
This made me wonder why so many people all of a sudden have become so worried about how their data is being used. In the age of data exploitation, this should come as no surprise, at least to me, the online world is still very much the Wild West and like all barren wastelands, there is no appointed sheriff to police it.
We live in a world where your information to any corporation remains the ultimate currency, the new oil that is, until it’s not. Which is why you probably have started seeing so many articles suggesting we should own it and sell it if we want to. At a time when there isn’t even a global treaty on how to protect the user’s data or a genuine failsafe in place, we are very far away from having any assurance of genuine privacy.
This doesn’t really affect my trust barometer. My trust was always sifted through a very skeptical filter and acknowledged that when we switched the web on all bets were off. Why are we not out on the streets protesting? We either don’t want to know what’s going on or simply have a really bad case of care-fatigue. How much can you look after in this day and age? It all gets too much and I don’t blame you.
Alternatively, do you want to live as a digital hermit? No, obviously not. Everyone you know is online. Yet, every platform you sign up to marks an erosion of your independence. That’s just the world we inhabit. There is no such thing as pure unadulterated fun online, everything has a dark corner. Ultimately your world is turned into 1s and 0s and with that, is easily manipulated. Just think every web page you have been to, every cookie stored, every conversation you have had or every app you have interacted with is potentially exploitable. There’s probably hundreds of harvesters trading on your information right now and there’s nothing we can do about it. I think the Facebook saga is the tip of the tip of the iceberg of how deep this issue really goes. Technology is so dynamic and so all-encompassing that I would go as far to say that we’ve passed the point of no return.
It is important to remind yourself, that your data will never be private no matter how encrypted or safe you think it is. Every breach of privacy should tell you this over and over. Whether it’s top secret agents exploited through running apps or credit agencies having 15 million accounts stolen.
I remember watching a lecture by renowned investigative journalist Glen Greenwald in which he recounted an interaction he had with someone about privacy who said to him, Glen, I don’t care what information is exploited about me, I have nothing to hide, to which Glen responded swiftly, ok, if that’s the case send all your data to my private email. He never heard back.
Here lies a powerful message, if you really care about this issue don’t put up anything that you wouldn’t commit to a postcard that is until the web changes, and I mean really changes.
When for hundreds of years institutions have earnt our trust and now almost overnight we’ve turned it over to tech companies, we are in a state of moral flux and panic. I think it’s a good thing, we need a very public discussion about what kind of power tech giants have and how they should operate. For too long they have operated as independent lawless states perhaps now it’s time to find a sheriff.
Written by founding editor of 52 Insights, Ari Stein