GadgetGuy asked US correspondent Sam Bocetta to have a look at how US citizens feel about the tech invasion and how more tech means less privacy.
Sam is erudite and by no means a tin-hat (paranoid about tech) – he revels in it. But it seems US citizens are beginning to understand that privacy, not climate change (although a vital challenge) is the next greatest global challenge. Yes, more tech means less privacy.
So, let’s push the reset button, slow things down and give us back control of our personal data! Let’s see if FAANG et al., can survive if things go the way they should.
More tech means less privacy
First, a disclaimer – big tech is not yet breaking any laws. Big tech is working in unchartered territory that is yet to be comprehensively, globally legislated. The purpose of these articles is to get legislators to grow a pair and take the 1,000lb bull by the horns and corral it (sorry for those Trump’isms).
So, in 2004 Mark Zuckerberg stole the idea from the Winklevoss brothers to write an app – Facemash (that became Facebook) – that rated the chick’s hotness on campus.
But like almost every free app, Facebook needed cash to sate Zuc’s desire for fame and fortune. Its business model soon became “If the product is free, the product is you.” Zuc started selling advertisers the names, ages, and occupations of people who clicked on ads. The rot set in!
That was the beginning of the end of your privacy.
There are zillions of articles on how a new generation of tech firms are disrupting the market – and all use the euphemistic and ill-defined term ‘data acquisition’.
While such articles wax lyrical about how knowing more about you leads to more convenience and to serve you better, understand that every company that has a consumer app works by turning your data into gold – rivers of it.
It may be as innocuous as a shoe store knowing your age, gender, shoe size and favourite colours and emailing you with its applicable offers (loyalty programs). But worse, that shoe store may sell the data to Facebook, Google and many other programmatic advertising platforms or data brokers to hit you with advertisements for things it does not sell – colour coordinated shirts, hats, belts, socks… Then the cycle starts again – these new advertisers sell the data they collect and well, rinse and repeat.
It’s certainly possible to argue that having more competition when it comes to data collection and analysis is going to break the dominance of the “big five” companies that are currently tracking everything we do. Whether this would be a positive development is a more complicated question: won’t more tech firms just mean that more of our private data is captured, stored, and used to sell us stuff we don’t need?
Here’s what we think: yes.
But don’t just take our word for it. History is an excellent teacher. Back in 1963, the US government merged hundreds of federal databases into one centralised system. They called it the National Data Bank. Though this was just one database, collected by one arm of the government, it caused huge concern: The New York Times reported at the time that because the bank would “pool statistics on millions of Americans,” it could “possibly violate their secret lives.”
And look at the kerfuffle in the 80s with your own Australia Card that could have toppled Bob Hawke’s popular Labor Government.
Looking back, those US and Aussie worries seem remarkably prescient (prophetic). It is also worth pointing out that since then things haven’t gotten any better. The rise of tech giants has annihilated our privacy and we let them!
We are getting to the stage we need to control what Government and big tech need to know about us – and it is a tiny fraction of what they already know.