So It’s Okay Then?

Posted by Pete Mar.26, 2014 in Passwords & Security

We pounced on the link as soon as we saw the headline:

Admit it, You Don’t Care About Digital Privacy.

By now, it’s almost intuitive that most people really don’t care that much about their privacy online. It’s not that they want someone snooping on them or knowing everything about them, but privacy is hard and, you know, there are all those links to click and so little time… and just think of passwords to create and manage, firewall settings, a malware program to run once in a while. Just thinking about it all makes us break out in a sweat.

The author (Evan Dashevsky) does a nice job with his slide show history of society’s affected but ineffectual protests as technology, but especially our own laziness, eats away at what used to be our rights to privacy. While happening gradually, it really didn’t take long for the water to go from lukewarm to uncomfortably hot: Mr. Dashevsky’s examples go back only 10 years. (We wonder when the frogs will be done.)

Think back to your reaction to finding out that Gmail scans your private email, or that Google Street shows actual photos of your and everybody’s houses and whatever happened to be going on outside at the time the picture was taken; or that iPhone was tracking, well, everything about you.

Remember all those people who stopped using Google and threw away their iPhones in protest? Not so much.

It’s easy to say you don’t like something, but it’s harder to take a principled stand like not getting the latest iPhone. After all, look at all the stuff the Joneses and the Kardashians have that you still have to get.

The problem – and it’s a big one – we have is the way the author downplays government involvement in all this stomping out of privacy.

Mr. Dashevsky tells us that the primary reason we accept the erosion of our privacy barriers is that ‘The government’s probably just not that into you.’ That’s cute copy, but for anyone paying attention for the last 10+ years, it doesn’t ring true.

Polls showing that many Americans aren’t concerned about revelations of NSA spying have more to do with the huge promotion effort by media (such as Mr. Dashevsky) constantly repeating ‘move along, nothing to see here’, than because they are actually thinking about the ramifications of a bureaucracy that is collecting and cataloging conversations, electronic communication, travel.

The problem is that the majority of people don’t think about their privacy online at all, much less care about it. They don’t even have a mental picture of what digital privacy means. For most folks, a violation of privacy is catching someone in their bushes peeping into their bedroom window.

We readily agree that most people will hungrily sacrifice their privacy (even their security) in return for what they perceive as a good deal or convenience.

Exchanging an email address (or urls visited, ip address, location information, …) to get a discount or targeted ads sounds like a great deal, because the option is getting nothing in return.

If ‘we the people’ really are such cheap dates that we’re willing to lay down and give up our privacy for a few 20% off coupons on cookies and chips, does that make it right or acceptable for government to take its turn with us? While you always have the option to throw away your iPhone and quit googling, you don’t have any such opportunity when it comes to government.

If you’re like us, you at least want the chance to say ‘we just want to be friends!’