"For 20 years, privacy advocates have been sounding the alarm about
commercial online surveillance, the way that companies gather deep
dossiers on us to help marketers target us with ads. This pitch fell
flat: by and large, people were skeptical of the efficacy of targeted
advertising; the ads we got were rarely very persuasive, and when they
did work, it was usually because the advertisers had figured out what we
wanted and offered to sell it to us: people who’d previously shopped for
a sofa saw ads for sofas, and if they bought a sofa, the ads persisted
for a while because the ad targeting systems weren’t smart enough to
know that their services were no longer needed, but really, where was
the harm in that? The worst case scenario was that advertisers would
waste their money with ads that had no effect, and the best case
scenario was that shopping would get somewhat more convenient as
predictive algorithms made it easier for us to find the thing we were
just about to look for.
Privacy advocates tried to explain that persuasion was just the tip of
the iceberg. Commercial databases were juicy targets for spies and
identity thieves, to say nothing of blackmail for people whose
data-trails revealed socially risky sexual practices, religious beliefs,
or political views.
Now we’re living through the techlash, and finally people are coming
back to the privacy advocates, saying we were right all along; given
enough surveillance, companies can sell us anything: Brexit, Trump,
ethnic cleansing in Myanmar, and successful election bids for absolute
bastards like Turkey’s Erdogan and Hungary’s Orban.
It’s great that the privacy-matters message is finally reaching a wider
audience, and it’s exciting to think that we’re approaching a tipping
point for indifference to privacy and surveillance.
But while the acknowledgment of the problem of Big Tech is most welcome,
I am worried that the diagnosis is wrong."
Via Cass M, who wrote "Yet another reason to stop supporting Facebook…"
*** Xanni ***
Chief Scientist, Xanadu
Partner, Glass Wings
Manager, Serious Cybernetics