The Internet With A Human Face:
Public and private surveillance are in a curious symbiosis with each other.
A few weeks ago, the sociologist Janet Vertesi gave a talk about her efforts to keep Facebook from learning she was pregnant. Pregnant women have to buy all kinds of things for the baby, so they are ten times more valuable to Facebook’s advertisers.
At one point, Vertesi’s husband bought a number of Amazon gift cards with cash, and the large purchase triggered a police warning. This fits a pattern where privacy-seeking behavior has become grounds for suspicion. Try to avoid the corporate tracking system, and you catch the attention of the police instead.
As a wise man once said, if you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.
But there are also dangerous scenarios that don’t involve government at all, and that we don’t talk enough about.
I’ll use Facebook as my example. To make the argument stronger, let’s assume that everyone currently at Facebook is committed to user privacy and doing their utmost to protect the data they’ve collected.
What happens if Facebook goes out of business, like so many of the social networks that came before it? Or if Facebook gets acquired by a credit agency? How about if it gets acquired by Rupert Murdoch, or taken private by a hedge fund?
What happens to all that data?
[Great piece. Beautifully expresses so many of my worries about the current trend in technology.]