PRIVACY IS AN ILLUSION (AND BASHING ON FACEBOOK WILL NOT CHANGE THAT)
Navigating in a world of abundance of data.
I can’t believe that people still think there is privacy in the world of 2018. If you have any electronic device — yes, not just a smart phone, drive a somehow modern car with airbags, have friends or EVER leave your house in cities with population greater 10.000 inhabitants you almost certainly don’t have privacy anymore!!! But you don’t know that because you don’t take the time to read articles like this.
LET’S START HERE: Just because you believe you have privacy, not knowing you have lost it or thinking a government that is run by old white people who still use 2011 Blackberry’s (for security reasons) is protecting you, does not mean that in fact privacy is real. Snowden payed a high price educating us in this regard. And now, after weeks of bashing Facebook and other companies I am wondering more than ever if the companies that work with personal data are the problem or if the lack of interest and/or knowledge among the homo sapiens is the real reason for the public outcry.
So, to make something clear, privacy is an illusion. It is just an impression of a legal framework that seems to protect us combined with the lack of knowledge about how data is gathered and used by whom. Just so you understand: if you take a hammer and work with it there is a good chance that at some point you hit your finger. Happened to all of us. The same is true for social networks. If you use them and YOU are not careful, YOU might get hurt — or hurt others. But the hammer itself is just a hammer, not more or less.
SO BACK TO PRIVACY. Institutions and companies all over the world gather data. The church gathered data since its existence and probably build one of the most advanced database in the analog world. Hitler’s regime for example used the church’s database to allow people to proof they are not Jewish. And he didn’t even have to force the people to present the information or get forced access to the database. The people gathered the information themselves to be able to be part of the regime. But also, cooperation’s like energy companies for the last 100 years collected and stored personal information about you, the household, the consumption and payment information. And just because you never thought about the fact that this data could be analyzed to learn about your travel patterns, when you have visitors, if you are just frugal or poor and if still two adults are showing while you are on a business trip does not change the fact that it could have been done. But also, the government is collecting information about you, or your doctor, your school, your university and so on — the list is indeed endless. And these are just the obvious examples, because even your local car repair shop or your favorite hotel do it. Yes, I was indeed surprised that one of my favorite hotels could tell me which room I had in 2011 because I wanted to have the same room when I called in 2017. How convenient.
AND THAT’S WERE IT ALL STARTED: WITH CONVENIENCE. Once data went from paper to the hard drive and later into the cloud, services became seamless and more convenient. In Estonia, I can now do almost any bureaucratic act online — great! On Netflix I can now continue watching on the iPad what I didn’t finish on the TV by just clicking play, in Uber there is no more typing of addresses or copying and paste since my Google calendar is now connected to the Uber-App telling the App which location is next and Facebook now even reminds me of the things I put online one, two or five years ago or who my good friends are — but wait a minute. Who told them that? Was it me by interacting with the friend or was is the friend by interacting with me? Or is it my fault because I connected to him in the first place? Or did Facebook force me to share this information? Or did the Like-Button trick me into sharing that? Well, let’s be honest. YOU signed up for the service and started sharing information. And YOU keep going back to the network and log into every app that allows it using Facebook.
But maybe this all just happens because I assume most people didn’t understand the full extent of their action in a digital world. Are you aware of the fact that every device you use has a unique IP? Are you also aware of the fact that you can be easily identified online using the IP? Are you also aware of the fact that companies just don’t have an interest in identifying you yet, because at least until now advertisement is still based on quantity instead of quality. But let’s ignore the fact that this might change and soon it will be very interesting for them to identify you for a moment. Are you aware of the fact that Google has stored every search enquiry since the early 2000s and even the speed of typing on your devices is analyzed to estimate your IQ which correlated to your spending habits? Are you aware of the fact that your geo location is analyzed by more than 50% of the App’s on your phone? And did you know that the flight modus in your iPhone does NOT mean that once you are back online all the information your phone has collected in the meantime is NOT transmitted to the providers? Because it is. I also hope you do know that Alexa, Google Mini and Siri listen to every word you say no matter if you are talking to the device or not. And have you seen a Tesla lately? Well, he saw you too. And I hope I don’t disappoint you by telling you that even if you delete stuff online, it doesn’t mean that its gone. Unfortunately, it usually only means that you (and maybe others) don’t see it anymore. And, since we are talking about bashing Facebook. Have you ever seen like buttons on other pages that you visit but not clicked it? Well, I hope you are not surprised if I tell you that you don’t need to click the like button to let Facebook know you visited the page — the button sitting there is enough for them to know you where there.
But hey, not knowing that is ok. What’s not ok is that you are surprised about these things once you learn about them. Again, if you use a hammer, you should be aware of the fact that you can hurt yourself or even others. The same is true for any other tool you use in life, yes, even social networks in the digital world.
So, don’t be surprised once you find out that Amazon is not only selling you books and other stuff you don’t need, but also stores most of the internet’s activities in their cloud, because many companies store their information not on their own servers, but rather pay companies like especially Amazon, but also Google or Microsoft to do it for them. And don’t let the fact fool you that Mark Zuckerberg is apologizing for the recent events. This only shows appropriate humbleness towards the media and the users and that Facebook doesn’t employee crisis management people from the aviation industry, but it doesn’t change the fact that the users need to understand the tools they use. It’s not Mark’s or Facebooks fault that you allow fake information to influence you or buy pills because a shady add is telling you that Elon Musk is using them as well. What used to be in your physical mailbox is now online. Spam has always been there and will always be there. And these companies motived by billions of dollars are so good that they can easily show Facebook’s ad reviewers harmless content based on their IP. But that should not surprise you.
Oh, and please don’t be surprised once you find out that companies like Palantir that you might have never heard of are reading your mails and inform the authorities once you plan a criminal activity. But if you are surprised by this it will most likely also surprise you that Vodafone has been selling your geo activities for years to help companies like Starbucks to decide where to open stores or that Louis Vuitton is accessing car registrations to learn more about potential foreign markets or that the airbags of your BMW are sending your geo information to the headquarter in Munich or wherever BMW stores their digital information. Data has been used to make decisions and influence people for centuries. Russia forged maps many years prior to the French invasion by Napoleon 1812, moved Moscow a couple hundred miles east of its real location on these maps and spread them all over Europe so that Napoleon would prepare his provisions based on wrong assumption — and it worked.
BUT WHAT DOES ALL THIS MEAN. Well, it means we live in 2018, the age of information networks and an abundance of personal, human-centric data. Everything we have done online since the early nineties has contributed to this development and all the free tools that we have used were indeed free. But providing them for free and allowing this phenomenal growth also forced the companies to use the data to find ways to pay for the expenditures that we didn’t have to cover for in the first two decades of growing the online world. So, looking at it from a perspective that we were tricked into sharing them is just misleading. Or would you have paid for a search enquiry online in 1998 or a social network in 2002. You probably wouldn’t have. But that’s history. The internet is now strong and mature enough to survive misleading campaigns against the companies who allowed global access to knowledge and information regardless of your bank account statement. And Snowden — in case you didn’t know before — made us aware of the fact that we are transparent. The only thing he didn’t explain to you is that currently only very few people have structured access to the information — like for example the Pentagon, the CIA or other authorities which creates the impression that there is something called privacy. And we learned from 9/11 that even they at that point in time were not good at accessing, merging and sorting digital information. But the world has changed. The willingness of authorities to work together, computing power and almost free storage has enabled them to get fast, easy and almost complete access to any information about individuals. But this means soon others, non-governmental parties will be able to access the same information too. And you are better of assuming they already can. You are just not interesting enough for them. And you can already today google people and find out quite a few things about them that they share on LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or many other pages, or even in books, thanks to Google Scholar. And soon we will also be able to find information people don’t actively share, like what you buy, what you click, what you pay for and where you are at any given point in time. The GDPR, which is a new European law that people confuse with privacy regulation won’t change that. It will accelerate it by forcing the companies that handle and manage data to share the information if the users request it. And they will. We therefore soon will live in a world where transparency is key. China is already rating every individual based on certain information collected and evaluated in databases. Once the rating is bad, people will lose certain rights like traveling, access to loans or other privileges. And China is now also issuing tickets for jaywalking purely based on pictures taking by cameras and face recognition.
And that’s just the beginning. We are only 1% there.