Privacy ramblings

About the new oil that powers our world


Why rant about Privacy? It’s been done to death, there is nothing new to add here!

I may not be adding new deep insights into the field, consider it an opinion-pice. And there are never enough of those - said nobody ever. Here it goes anyways:

Part 1: River flows in you

Aright - what even is this “privacy” they all keep rambling on about? Here is my personal definition that might be relevant later (at time of writing this i don’t know yet)…

Privacy is the right to control flows and aggregation of personal data as well as the right to see what others did to it.

Let’s break that down: control flows and aggregation of personal data contains 2 concepts: data-flow and data-aggregation. Both orbit around the questions “who has my data” and “what do they have”. Transparent data-flow would be something like an easy to understand privacy and cookie policy, what exactly gets tracked and a list of groups that the data gets sold to. The goal has to be the ability to trace that annoying spam with personal data in it back to the source, if not literally then at least theoretically. It shouldn’t need a phd in IT or a private investigator to find and understand how the datastream flows from group to group, where it gets combined and who might be misusing it.

Part 2: Castle of glass

Now that we understand that privacy basically boils down to control - over what gets shared and what’s not, what can be done with that data and what… well… not - we can exit theory land and come back to the real world.

2.1 We’ve come a long way

Almost all of the internet is provided for free, if you’d tell that someone from a few hundred years past - that there is all the info and content, new etc. for nothing - they would call you a hallucinating idealist. Taken at face value it’s true tho: you don’t have to connect your wallet to every page you open, every service or tool you use. But you - living in <currentYear> - know that this isn’t completely true: You know that we “pay with our personal data”.

So the pitch is no longer “get stuff free” but “get stuff for your most intimate secrets”, a proposal that out hypothetical pre computer-age person would most likely reject on moral or religious (or any number of other) believe and knowledge grounds.

2.2 What we trade away

I could go and simply try and list all the stuff that gets tracked by the most popular pages to finance their company like:

  • Age
  • Sexual interests
  • Political affiliation
  • Hobbies
  • Friends
  • System data
  • Reading speed
  • What pages you open when
  • Time spent looking at products

but that would be lame. The short of it is: basically everything that can be collected, will be. It’s common sense really: If the people don’t pay for the product then they are the product and now it’s their turn to get their monies worth. In this climate the one who tracks the best and tracks the most, with the darkest dark patterns and least morals, wins.

We have accepted and internalized that the trade of you may exploit all my interests and personal beliefs for “don’t directly charge me cash”-services so far that the “I’ve got nothing to hide”-excuse is seriously believed (and defended) by some without hesitation.

The curse

The business-model described above has gained so much traction that it is now expected that service be free (in sense of “requiring direct payment”) that doing anything else is hard to justify. Even those that charge for their services realized that the two things aren’t exclusive and many figured out that they, if they combine the two, can make much more profit for basically no downside. There is no escape, no corner of the world-wide-web that isn’t being monitored by an ad-network or analytics-system, page metrics or sometimes even malware. It’s gone so far as workarounds for tracker blocking tech and usage of psychological dark-patterns to get consent to ever more invasive toys for those providers.

Dawn breaking?

I’d love to be able to end on a happy note, a silver lining or an advert for some amazing “privacy-tool” (sponsorships anyone? </satire>). Sadly i am not able to do that. The sad fact is that until we - as a society - realize the true cost, nothing changes.

And even if we stop all those services tomorrow, what do we do with everything in profiles and shadow-profiles out there? Because whatever we gave away once is then gone forever, out in the semi-open to haunt us ever after.

- Steve