This new Orwellian phrase is being used without irony by tech writers. Privacy, by itself, isn’t coherent to those who want to embrace “ambient privacy.” Matthew Green recommends we all read this. Its author compares the privacy problem to those facing environmentalists decades ago. One upshot of the analogy is a confirmation that individual action to promote and to protect privacy is futile.
None of these harms could have been fixed by telling people to vote with their wallet, or carefully review the environmental policies of every company they gave their business to, or to stop using the technologies in question. It took coordinated, and sometimes highly technical, regulation across jurisdictional boundaries to fix them.
According to Mary Meeker:
The internet will become more of a cesspool.
From Ted Chiang’s story “The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling”:
New technology doesn’t always bring out the best in people.
In the same way that fixing the oceans is not possible via individual consumer choices, e.g., choosing the “sustainable” fish at the supermarket, the problems of privacy are as large as capitalism, meaning a solution would require forces far beyond an individual’s choices. Joanna Stern gives some of the details surrounding the difficulties a person will encounter while trying to achieve technological privacy. Again, it’s about money and how your data can be converted into profit.
You could make these things up, but who would believe it? Elaine Kasket (was she destined to deal with the dead?) discusses the internet traffic of the dead in the latest Times Literary Supplement:
Social media companies are profit-making machines that connect living individuals, sell them things, and monetize their data. They are not charities, public health organizations, non-profit cemeteries or professional grief counsellors. In life we deliver an enormous amount of personal data into their hands, not realizing that at the point of original sign-up we are also appointing them to manage our data after we die as they see fit, a role for which they would seem to lack appropriate qualifications. Sir Tim Berners-Lee, aghast at what has been wrought with his creation, pleads that we urgently need to decentralize the World Wide Web and regain control of our personal information. The fact that big tech’s ownership of this information – which might include some of our most precious memories – continues unabated after we’re dead seems as powerful a reason as any to agree with him.
Recently Facebook has leavened its paternalism with autonomy, by granting heightened powers to “legacy contacts”. This unshoulders much of their own burden to deal with special requests, which is probably a relief because they have a lot of dead people and untold numbers of mourners to consider. If Facebook’s fortunes persist, they may find themselves hosting nearly 5 billion dead profiles by the end of the century.
It’s difficult to understand why more people haven’t left Facebook, especially when you read items like the one below. As Edward Snowden said: “Arguing that you don’t care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say.”
The editors of the Blog of the American Philosophical Association, particularly Nathan Oseroff, have been kind enough to publish my essay about Hans Blumenberg. The piece is intended for those unacquainted with the man and his works. The online publication of the essay serves also as an opportunity to thank the people working in the Interlibrary Loan department at the University of Texas at Arlington Library. They provide the treasures of research.