Privacy And Why It’s Important

Privacy | Self Governance Project
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Contrary to popular belief, the U.S. Constitution does not expressly protect your right to privacy.

The idea of the right to privacy actually comes from a combination of amendments (1, 3, 4, 9, 14, to be specific) and many court cases. So, technically, you can make a pretty good case for the right to privacy. (Fun fact: the first argument in my marriage was actually over this court case involving privacy…)

Without getting too into the weeds, the right to privacy in America typically only protects citizens against government intrusion into their daily lives (even though the government oversteps its bounds on this issue every day).

Most people don’t understand that they do not have a right to privacy when engaging with corporations. However, one of the greatest threats to privacy comes from the technology companies that give us free stuff.

A Little Story

But in order to really paint the picture of why this is important here is a little story. (I know, this is so early 2000s, but bear with me because it highlights the point.)

Imagine you’re at a shopping mall, and as you and a friend are strolling along, someone comes up to you and offers you a free ice cream cone- the best ice cream you’ve ever had. And he’ll keep giving you free ice cream whenever you want it. The only catch is that you have to sign a piece of paper that says something about reading the additional terms and conditions and some sort of privacy policy, available upon request.  

But you don’t have time because those documents are over 5000 words, so you sign your name and take the ice cream.  

As you walk into the first store you want to visit, you notice that a sign near the entryway says “Welcome, [your name]!” 

‘How strange,’ you think. ‘How could they possibly know my name?’ 

As you look through the jeans section of the store, you don’t see anything that you like, so you tell your friend that you’re going to go somewhere else. The store you want to visit is on the other side of the mall.  

When you arrive at the next store, an associate comes up to you, calls you by name, and tells you that you’re in luck because today they’re having a great deal on jeans- your exact size.  

A little more shocked you wonder if this could all just be coincidence or if something else is going on. 

As you step out of the store, you notice that the man who gave you the ice cream cone has been following you and writing down your every move. He has also been notifying other stores about you and the information he has collected.  

Wait, What?

You confront the man and ask him why he’s following you. To which he responds, “What do you mean ‘why am I following you?’ You told me that I could when you signed the contract for the free ice cream. That was a legally binding contract which stated that I could collect your personal information and sell it to whoever wants it. Were you really so naïve as to think that you can get something for nothing? Nothing is ever really free.”  

Feeling stupid for not reading the “contract”, you tell him to stop. He offers you another ice cream and tells you that he’ll be more upfront with you about everything and that he’ll back off a bit because he is committed to making sure that you have the best ice cream you can find. You agree, but then decide to leave the mall.

But the man continues to follow you. He follows you all the way home and watches you, taking note of your every move.  

When you go to the bank, he follows you there. When you go to church, he follows you. 

No matter what you do, it seems like you can’t give this guy the shake. Unsure of what to do, you accept that this is just going to be part of the new normal for you.  

This seems a little creepy and deceptive doesn’t it? What if this happened to you every time you got on the internet?  

The ‘Benevolent’ Big Brother

Well, it does. Facebook and Google supply the ice cream, and they use your information to make them money.

The fact of the matter is: Facebook and Google are surveillance companies. They provide “free” services in return for data that we willingly hand over that they then sell to the highest bidder.

Think about how much information the big tech companies have on us.

They know where you live. They know where you go each day. They know who your friends and family are. They know your religious beliefs, your political affiliation/preferences, and your financial situation. They know what you look like. They know your birthday. They know what you say in emails, what you have searched for, and what you have watched. They know your very thoughts.

Essentially, they know you better than you know yourself. Only the price to pay for ‘free’ stuff.

If that’s not bad enough, recent studies have shown that with all the information that Google and Facebook have on you, they can shift your opinion on almost any topic.

Unethical and creepy? Yes.

Illegal? No.

Why You Should Care

If you’re still reading this far, I know exactly what you’re thinking: “Well I don’t have anything to hide, and they give me free stuff, so I don’t care if they know everything about me.”

This is one of the most common responses to privacy, but it conflates secrecy with privacy, and they are not the same things.

Let me give a few reasons why you should care:

1. Freedom Of Speech And Thought

Privacy is critical to freedom of speech and freedom of thought. When Big Brother is always watching and correcting, you start to understand what is “acceptable” speech and thought. Eventually, Big Brother doesn’t have to try and censor you, you will begin to censor yourself.

2. Security And Safety

Do you really know who your data goes to and what they do with it? And how do you know that your data is secure? Maybe we should ask Cambridge Analytica. Or the 50 million Facebook users who had their data exposed.

Not only could your data be in danger with those to whom you have entrusted it, criminals and individuals who would do you harm often use social media and location information to target victims.

3. Government Spying

Unfortunately, this is true. Not as a potential threat, but one that happens all the time. The government (most notably the NSA) has not respected the privacy of its citizens, for quite some time, and the tech companies like Facebook and Google are among their top suppliers of data and information.

Why is this a problem?

If the government knows everything you do and say online, how do you know they won’t use that information against you? This is an apolitical position because regardless of which party is in power, that party will use that power to spy on political opponents or even anyone who does not conform (see 1984).

5. Control Over Your Own Life

When someone knows everything about you and what you will do in certain situations, do you really have control over your own life?

By freely giving up private and sensitive information to tech companies, we have essentially allowed them to do with that information however they please, which is usually to manipulate our behavior for their own monetary gain.

How can we say we are in control of our own lives when we allow companies to manipulate us with our own information? The only way to take back control is by limiting what information we share online or cut off Big Brother’s access entirely.

Maybe not like Ron Swanson, but you get the point.

Conclusion

The lack of respect for privacy, particularly digital privacy, is a growing problem. But it also seems that more and more people are becoming aware of the problem.

Many of our freedoms rest and our sense of control over our lives rests on the idea that others will respect our privacy. We get to choose who we share information with and how that information is used. You wouldn’t tell a secret to your neighbor if you knew that he was going to blab it to the whole neighborhood. So companies should not be selling your information to other parties without your knowledge.

So what can be done?

The short answer is: #DeleteFacebook and #DeleteGoogle.

Yes, I know. They are so entrenched in our digital lives, that this seems impossible. But it is possible. Over the next few weeks, I will be doing this myself and creating guides on the most effective way to do so. If you would like to receive updates on this, please subscribe to our newsletter.

In the meantime, think about what it actually costs when someone offers you free ice cream.

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