Whose privacy is it anyway

"I have your privacy at heart", I say, as I write down all I can find about you, and scribble "SECRET" on top of it.

Urban Sketch 433918 – I’d like to make it a habit to lead the letter by sharing some digital art of mine, or promoting someboy else’s. Sounds good?

Hello beautiful reader,

Funny how surveillance-advertising companies all deeply care about our privacy. We get endless reassurance that Google, or Facebook, or some credit bureau are all really responsible, and secure, and serious, about… the data they collected on us anyway?

I’m sure it doesn’t surprise you that I use Google and Facebook as examples. But, if you live in a country where they’re a thing, have you thought about credit bureaus? It seems they are the first large-scale success of surveillance capitalism. I live in Canada, where we have “only” two of them, Equifax and TransUnion. Their access to my financial activity, without my intervention, is basically protected by law!

By keeping tabs on how everyone’s credit is being managed, their role is to make transactions safer, and reduce risk when lending (so that a borrower can’t keep hiding to lenders that they’re a horrible borrower, for example). It’s a relatively simple concept, and it illustrates the main benefit of surveillance: if you have more of it, you’re probably safer. In most situations, the issue isn’t as simple as always going for more privacy. There’s always a balance to strike.

Still, the first line of enforcing privacy is not to police how data about you gets protected or used. The first line is not to collect data. You can unplug Google Analytics, even pull targeted advertising out of a big newspaper entirely, and still fare fine – maybe even better!

I can’t wish away the risky corporate rhetoric about “protecting” privacy by still collecting as much data as possible, but I can get on my minuscule soapbox and tell you, reader, about it.

❤ Loved lately

  • Bert Hubert has a fantastic article on Reverse-engineering the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine. It’s very accessible, entertaining, and I find it so fascinating that we’re starting to have this sort of fluency in the language of DNA.

    And - there’s a comedic quality to a language where one might say “Well yes, we can chain these things together, but there’s a chance for this precise syntax to fold onto itself and mean something else all of a sudden!”

  • Here’s a better-written Wired article on the topic of surveillance advertising, by Gilad Edelman, called Why don’t we just ban targeted advertising. It brought some new data points to my thinking about the ad industry.

  • I really like the vision for Readup. It’s an app-slash-reading club, where your “vote” for an article is the reading time you’ve given it. Here’s a recent article from their blog, on the topic of moderating online spaces.