After a decade of sometimes embarrassing open secrets around user privacy being spotlighted, the less agreeable fine print of online giants’ user agreements has now been tested. Oddly enough, even though it was largely tested in the court of public opinion and before parliaments – and found embarrassingly biased in favor of the social media platforms billions of people use – the inured consumers of this millennium somehow stayed on board. More importantly, the entire concept of privacy itself seems no clearer now despite the EU’s GDPR and similar legislation in other parts of the world.

Privacy Debate is far from over

Privacy is as fuzzy as ever, although many users assume their personal data won’t be sold to third parties without their consent (false), that unless they’re politically active they won’t be tracked on a daily basis (false), and that data-driven products and fintech services really are somehow for their convenience, and not the offering platform’s profit and data compilation (again, false).

The extent of gathering is what has people aghast. Although over half of collected data is ‘dark’ – meaning it is either unsorted or meaningless – it’s the reach, the absolute stripping of privacy that tech has enabled, that remains dubious for a growing number of consumers. In addition, the data captured by the more sinister elements in society is not dark, but crystal clear. Companies might have yet to mine their enormous amounts of data, but some government agencies do a sterling job of it.

It’s possible that privacy might have a Lazarus moment and come back from the dead, but that depends on how much users know of the depth and invasive extent of data collection, and start to revolt against it.

Since that would involve hundreds of millions abandoning their iPhones, there’s not much hope of that sentiment emerging in modern consumers – although the votes haven’t all been counted yet. Personal and commercial system users are starting to want to know exactly who is collecting their data, what they are doing with it, and where their right to privacy is being upheld by their countries’ constitutions in it all.

The Origins and Insistence Upon Identification

In major metropoles across the globe, SMEs are particularly showing renewed interest in limiting data leakage. Spurred by both espionage (and ransomware) concerns – as well as blunt privacy desires that are resurging – people are still unsure of what’s being recorded, but many dislike it more than ever. UK IT support companies like EC-MSP, emblematic of support outfits dealing more and more with privacy issues, enact rolling maintenance to keep systems secure.

Across the ocean, the American citizenry seems to have already lost the battle, at least against their own government – and it remains to be seen for other nations to claw back their privacy. The US’ NSA builds maps of everyone’s contacts and behaviors – something in flagrant violation of the constitution that enshrines freedom of assembly – through unfettered monitoring. Few citizens realize what their legislation has enabled – government agencies essentially have carte blanche to inspect any telecoms or online service provider’s records. There is nothing truly ‘private’ about private service providers in the final analysis.

Photo IDs have been around since the beginning of the 19th century, although back then they were considered private in the original sense – personal – and only shown when required by law: in court proceedings, traveling, and when registering marriages and births. The cheek of the emerging giants of the tech era – Google principal amongst them – was to simply imply that the vacuuming of users’ data was the bar now set for online life. From the word go – as per their built business model that allowed for and depended upon new and dizzying heights of consumer profiling – online companies and other service providers across the tech spectrum have assumed their right to our most intimate details.

People went along with it largely because it was unseen. Nothing bad seemed to happen, and so the habit deepened. Giving out personal data, sharing entire boring lives on social media. Millions went along with it because it felt flattering and remote. No harm could come of it, surely? Business has integrity, and governments are there to protect us, right?

In defense of society at large, much of the social media and other fintech ‘advances’ have always been marketed as ‘for your own good’ and a ‘cool’ way to interact.

Privacy is Still a Football

After the Facebook Cambridge Analytica scandal, legislation has tightened around privacy in many countries, yet companies still regularly sell off users’ data without their knowledge. It is in their Terms and Conditions somewhere, usually on page three or four, where users consent to various conditions of use that concern their personal data. The current status quo, however, is that online commerce of any shape or form has now typically amended their user agreements to include frank statements about privacy in line with regulations, yet they’re delivered buried deep into insignificance. Who reads all of a user agreement before downloading, messaging, or otherwise interacting on mobile or PC? They’re following the letter of the law while shooting the spirit with a bazooka.

The reality remains that the government’s reach – in any country – has become far wider in the age of real or imagined ‘terrorism,’ and regimes can ordinarily request or collect data as it suits them.

The truth of it all is: once it’s out there – every last post, tweet, comment or communication you’ve ever sent – it’s available. It might never catch anyone’s interest, but it’s no longer private in any real sense. When the NSA listens to people’s phone conversations – what’s left of privacy, really? Citizens are trusting governments – who have the easiest pickings of the most intimate personal data available in the name of national security – to police personal privacy. It’s akin to paying the wolves to watch the sheep. Until citizens demand of governments to lift the veil on dark ops – and for tech houses to diminish ‘analytics’ in their builds – privacy will remain a fuzzy fiction.

Chris McdonaldTechnology
After a decade of sometimes embarrassing open secrets around user privacy being spotlighted, the less agreeable fine print of online giants’ user agreements has now been tested. Oddly enough, even though it was largely tested in the court of public opinion and before parliaments - and found embarrassingly biased...