I have no data to hide, do you?

It shouldn’t be a huge surprise that the internet lacks data privacy, despite the top tech companies saying that they will implement better security and privacy, like Mark Zuckerberg’s new vision of an “a privacy-focused messaging and social networking platform where people can communicate securely”, or the US government’s initiative of establishing better antitrust laws, like Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign proposal to dismantle the biggest tech companies, Facebook, Google, Apple, Amazon, and forcing them to separate and restrict major mergers. I walked into this idea of data privacy with a popular mindset: I have nothing to hide, so why should I be afraid if someone has the balls to hack and expose me. I still struggle to believe that a place like the internet can be a private place, and can’t help but reflect that as much as we don’t like these big tech companies stealing our data, it is like a paradox. We, as users of the technology, don’t want them stealing our data or sometimes having our data at all, but we still contribute to this big capitalistic system by using their technology. In order to benefit technology as a whole, data is required to make better products for our needs. Could it be for the greater good? I agree that when data is taking from us without our permission, we, as users, can feel a mistrust with the tech company. As Avvai shared in her blog post, “Facebook’s new privacy plan might not actually be helping us out” it’s not about not wanting using technology at all for the best form of privacy. They can be “really useful tools. We just don’t want it being shared without informed consent.” 

Businesses try to gain as much information about us as possible so they can gain the upper hand from their competition and create products that best tailor to our consumer demands. I feel like a lot of people are aware of this issue, ever since the circulation of government surveillance ideals from George Orwell’s 1984. This leads me to believe that there isn’t such a thing as privacy within a public sphere; there can’t be. If you truly don’t want someone exposing you or knowing something about you, then your best chances are living with a dead person.

I came across this article by Thomson Reuters Foundation that suggests future cities exist by data-driven sustainability. In the article, Toronto is described as a “smart city”, where future developments or enhancements to the city would be made by installing digital systems in public/private spaces to record data of what inhabitants do with their garbage, water, and power. However, in a recent survey from McMaster University, 88% of Canadians state that they are extremely concerned about their privacy, and 23% of them are “extremely concerned.” This makes me reflect that it’s not so much about educating the public on data privacy; a lot of people are more than aware that it is an issue. It’s understanding what we, as tech users, should do to become better equipped with our data and to gain agency and authority to not let big tech companies steal the information without our permission. Tech companies have become so dependent on our data. Could there even be another way around this? Without data, how could we see the improvement to any innovative endeavour within the technology in our lives? Or in a city, we can live in like Toronto. Geoff Cape from Future Cities Canada shares that “despite the privacy concerns, effective data use is crucial for combatting the environmental challenges cities face and making them better places to live for growing populations.” Tech companies have become so dominant in our society, I’m not convinced that a proposal like Elizabeth Warren’s can save us now. We’re in too deep.

3 Replies to “I have no data to hide, do you?”

  1. Hi Charlotte, great point!! When we discussed this data privacy issue in class, I also thought about how institutions or universities can use data to conduct research and better contribute to their fields. I’m glad to read about the Toronto example where the data collection seemed to be used for a good purpose. So, maybe what is making us uncomfortable is not the fact that our data was collected, but the fact that it was collected without our consent and was not used for the benefits of us? I don’t know but overall, your blog has inspired me to think about data privacy from another perspective! Thanks:)

  2. You offer a good insight here: people are aware of privacy issues and share the concerns that we have been discussing. While I disagree with your conclusion, I think you are right in pointing out that we have made the trade of privacy for convenience willingly. My own thinking leads me to think that we need to figure out how to reign in the tech companies, while giving them sufficient leeway to continue to provide useful products. Here I would push back the strongest against your characterization of the companies ‘stealing’ our data. If we think of what is happening as ‘misuse,’ then we can start to think about what limitations we want to place upon them without this false sense of all or nothing.

  3. My main takeaway from your blog was how dependent tech companies have become on our data: a ramification of giving our consent and making social media profiles. Even though there is no way to delete our consumer-profiles for advertising, does our consent even matter anymore?

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