We are moving dangerously closer to a future where a select few have control of our information
Big Brother is watching.
In the dystopian novel 1984 by George Orwell, individuals have had their privacy snatched from them. Any thought, feeling or action they have or take against the government is a crime. They are watched at all times from telescreens, Big Brother ever present and omniscient.
It is interesting to wonder how Orwell would react were he alive today — a world where his novel is seemingly prophetic, where ‘telescreens’ are omnipresent, a lack of privacy rapidly increasing.
What would horrify him the most, however, would probably be the fact that our privacy was not forced away from us. On the contrary, we voluntarily give our privacy away.
According to Mark Zuckerberg, “Privacy is no longer a social norm”
In 2010, he explained that:
“If people share more, the world will become more open and connected. And a world that’s more open and connected is a better world.”
In many ways, he is correct. The democratisation of knowledge means that as a high school student, I have access to cutting edge open source machine learning libraries, help for just about any homework I can get, and solutions for most problems that I will face in my daily life. The internet is quickly becoming an amalgamate of all human information, and the fact that we are sharing information is only accelerating the process.
One must wonder then, why privacy is even a good thing in the first place? Why not share everything about us at all times? We can speak our minds whenever we want on Twitter, post images of where we are on Instagram, update our ‘friends’ on Facebook about whatever we are doing. Is Zuckerberg correct? Is privacy really just a social norm that’s quickly becoming unfashionable?
Well, imagine that some faceless person behind a screen halfway around the world could access your precise GPS coordinates, speed, altitude, and the ID of the router you were connected to, for geolocation.
In fact, there is no need to imagine, it already exists. The popular weather sharing app AccuWeather does exactly that. Even if you turn off location data, AccuWeather still has access to your routers ID and can use that to find out where you are.
Now, to be fair, AccuWeather did come out with a statement when TechCrunch contacted them saying that they did not use this data for malicious purposes. But it is still undeniable that if malicious intent was present, this data could be used for very bad things.
Uber, an app most of you will have on your phones right now, ended their controversial “always” tracking feature that they claimed only tracked users for five minutes after they got off their car. However, it was also used for “internal employees stalking ex-girlfriends and celebs; the company spying on reporters’ trips, and misusing an internal tracking tool; and claims by a former employee of poor security practices around private data”
It is unfortunate that a lot of money can be made by selling data. The behemoths of tech can all make a lot of money by doing so to advertising firms. And the fact that companies like Facebook and Google rely on advertising money to stay afloat means that user data is highly coveted and any data they can use to their advantage will be used to their advantage.
It is interesting to note that Apple has come out with a firm stance supporting data privacy. However, a majority of Apple’s profits come from people buying their hardware. One is left to wonder whether Apple’s choice to support privacy is out of goodwill or only because doing so doesn’t affect them at all.
Data, therefore, is power. And power easily corrupts.
And even though Mr. Zuckerberg thinks privacy is outdated, he literally had to buy the houses surrounding his to maintain his privacy.
Perhaps the worst thing about this situation is that it is completely our choice.
We surrender our privacy for convenience.
Maybe the repercussions of that choice aren’t felt now, but I wonder what the world will look like when they finally are. It is time to wonder, if left unchecked, in what direction will our privacy go? Will Orwell’s science-fiction dystopia turn out to not be much fiction at all?
Check out my other stories!
Apple’s Speciality Isn’t Hardware Or Software — https://medium.com/swlh/apples-speciality-isn-t-hardware-or-software-af1e6337d5f2
A Message From A Fifteen Y/O to Anyone Working With Chatbots — https://medium.com/swlh/a-message-from-a-fifteen-y-o-to-anyone-working-with-chatbots-fd1bc6292028