Internet privacy: why the government is not going to help, and what we should do about it
Recent debate around internet privacy and sharing of user data has resulted in a lot of blame, but no real solutions. The truth is that governments have a vested interest in collecting data on citizens. It may seem like they don’t like their citizen’s data being misused, but in the end it is much easier to ask Facebook for data on an individual than it is to collect it themselves. As consumers, what can we do to stop our data being shared, without giving up on the digital world altogether?
Free As They Want You To Be
Facebook and Google are the two sites from which most internet users begin every session. The amount of data they collect on individuals is staggering, assigning each user a unique ID from which they keep a virtual dossier on every search, every post, every click. They are companies which run for profit, as any good company should. Just because the service is free of charge though, it doesn’t mean it won’t cost you. The way these mega-corporations make their astounding profits is by taking that mountain of data they have on you and targeting ads or passing it onto third parties.
Even the most squeaky clean of individuals should be wary of this. It is entirely possible, depending on how much you use their services, that Google knows your name, age, where you live and work, how many children you have and how old they are, what car you drive, your socioeconomic status, your favourite food, where you holiday. I could go on. Every piece of data you have shared either directly or indirectly has been kept. Knowledge is power, and they use everything you divulge to paint an ever more accurate picture of your life. Every embarrassing Google search, every boozy 3am message – just let that sink in.
Of course, this is the price we pay for living in the digital age, but is there anything we can do to hold them account for respecting our privacy?
Big Government Vs Big Data
The recent Facebook senate hearing made it seem like the US Government was taking action against the social media giant for its misuse of user data. Unfortunately, the governments of the world are not who we should be looking to for help. With the mass covert surveillance of private citizens occurring in this day and age, one suspects that governments would actually prefer individuals to give over data freely and publicly, rather than trying to try and gather that same information legally. If citizens give their data freely to companies they can then manipulate into sharing that data, there is little incentive to stop these companies sharing it. Lip service will be paid of course, but there is another solution.
Power In Numbers, The Free Market In Action
If Facebook or Google had an option where a user could pay a subscription fee per month to guarantee their data will be kept only temporarily and never used or accessed by any entity, privacy would then become an option. This benefits both sides of the contract: the user is guaranteed privacy for a small fee, and the company profit margin from advertising is subsidised.
The way to do this is not via senate hearings or lobbying government to impose more laws on internet services. Concerned users could band together, demand the option for complete privacy while understanding that nothing comes for free. We choose to use their services, but we should also be free to choose whether we pay to use them with cash, since the only option we have right now is to pay with our data. The only way to change this is to make noise and make sure they hear it.
There will be those who disagree, but a company, even Google, isn’t under any obligation to provide you any service, free or not. If peace of mind was an option, available for $9.99/month, it would strike the balance between individual control of personal data and providing the company a revenue stream it may have otherwise lost.
Why Should We Pay For Privacy?
It is important to remember that these massive companies which, in effect, control the internet, do run for profit, as all businesses should. Their services are not a necessity to human survival like food, water or shelter, no matter how useful they may be. No one is entitled to the fruits of others labour free of charge, and right now we are paying with our personal information in the form of targeted advertising. Having the option to pay with money evens the playing field and both sides win, while Big Government power is kept in check.
At least this way, if we as consumers put pressure on the big data conglomerates to keep our data safe for a fee, the government won’t be able to make backroom deals for access, the police state will have a little less power, while the free market prevails as it should.
Image by Markus Spiske.