A shift in focus on privacy

I have become more aware of my privacy and security of late. There hasn’t been any particular reason for that, but a gradual process of retaking control of my data. I try to discern what core value is moving me whenever I start feeling strongly about something. In this case, is the right of sanctuary. This is not my term, but rather something I learned reading The age of surveillance capitalism. The right of sanctuary is the fundamental human right to have a home and feel safe in it. I do have a home, my the solace of my home is constantly invaded by surveillance capital using all sorts of sensors. Many of these sensors I even paid for in the past. In a way, I was happily paying for my own domination.

The skeptical person would now feel like I am exaggerating. They are reading my emails, so what? I have nothing to hide. And they’ll be bored from it anyways. This is a common reaction to my dinner table conversations around privacy. My counterpoint is usually Would you be OK if there was someone standing right next to you taking notes of what you say, what you wear, how you feel, how well you drove here, how early you go to bed, how often you have sex, etc. All the time? The honest answer is hardly ever Yes!. We are treating online privacy as if it was different from plain privacy, but it is not.

When you decide to go to your street, you put yourself in a public space in a given time with a given set of circumstances. Nowadays that is no longer true. The circumstances to us are unknown. Some companies have decided to take your decision and expropriate it. They claim that if you are in a public space anyone can see you, therefore your behavior can be recorded for their economic gain. Let’s continue with the example. Sarah has an acquaintance in the town next over. This acquaintance would like for Sarah to let her know whenever she comes into town to meet. However, Sarah doesn’t have the time to meet today. She decides to go to that town in a moment that she knows this acquaintance will not be there. One could say that Sarah took a free decision to go to a public space with a known set of circumstances. She will be in dismay when she learns that some private firms took it upon themselves to record her presence in that location, aggregated it, sold it, and if there is profit on it, sell the result to a product that Sarah’s acquaintance uses.

Her decision to run that errand without notifying the other person has been unilaterally revoked by an unknown set of companies. She wanted to run that errand in private, and that right was taken away for other’s profit. That is, to me, what privacy is about. I don’t think it is morally acceptable that private companies extract my personal experiences for other’s profit, using for that a swarm of surveillance devices disguised as technological progress.

In the past, I have felt like I needed to justify myself for caring about my privacy. As if there was some shady behavior I want to hide. On the contrary, I believe that we all need to share more. However, I also feel strongly that my behavior should not be taken without my consent, and without explicitly explaining what are the purposes of the data they are collecting. Until laws are passed in that sense (this matter is something that may concern left and right parties), I will try to secure my surroundings as much as I can. I know there is a limit on what I can do. For instance, I cannot ask my mother to learn about encryption so my chats with her will be insecure on her end. But I can help her get rid of things like the Android Google keyboard (or Swift Key for that matter). Note that Sarah didn’t do anything online or enjoy a free service in return for her behavioral surplus, yet her privacy was compromised. That’s why I think the term online privacy is a misnomer.

My intention is to blog more about this topic. This will include philosophical ramblings, and technical tips I have learned in the process.

One step at a time.

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