Vanishing Privacy


Many of us have become aware of the death of human privacy experienced by people around the world starting with the advent of smartphones. Some may argue that this started with wiretapping during the cold war, and others would argue that paper was no better for communications. The primary difference that I see with PRISM and smartphones is that our smartphones are typically never far from our person, and can alledgedly have their cameras and microphones activated without our consent or even knowledge. Beyond that, many of us have further forfeited our privacy voluntarily with Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms on which we have created our own dossiers to be used against us by anyone who cares to look us up.

This is a rather bad state of affairs. For one, the number of laws is constantly growing and compliance is rather difficult if one cannot possibly know all the laws in existence. So, how would one know whether or not he/she had something to hide? Putting that aside, some things are not necessarily criminal, but rather emarrassing. Then again, something can be taken out of context and used against one in the court of public opinion... thus ruining job prospects, and rendering him/her impoverished.

At this point, between social media and ubiquitous data collection from smartphones, one might imagine that simply having a dumb phone and no social media presence would save one from this privacy invasion. Those two things would help quite a bit, but wouldn't really solve the problem. Mark Zuckerberg admitted what many of us had already known... that Facebook builds profiles on non-users. Google does even scarier shit. This means that one would need to opt out of using Google (DuckDuckGo is my primary search engine, I run my own email server, etc...). One would need to enable cookie blocking, ad blocking, tracking protection, and social blocking wouldn't hurt. Then one would need to ask friends and family not mention them on social media, and just hope that that wish were followed. None of this is good.

It would appear that some of the tin-foil hat crowd weren't really wrong. We do sort of live in a distopian science fiction novel, and Orwell was right to assume that perpetual war, and constant total information awareness would be features of world powers.

How will we combat this? Truly open source smartphone OSs are being developed by multiple groups, and we have more browser plugins being developed all the time. People are making progress at making encryption easier to use, and we know that people are working on decentralizing key infrastructure components of our modern digital world. Hopefully, these projects see success. Until then, extreme precaution is all that can be offered.

We have political factions persistently labeling everything as at the minimum "immoral" and we have some governments making certain types of speech illegal. Violence at protests is becoming more common as people push for their own moral agendas to have force of law. Typically if the population of a country clamors for more governmental control and for more governmental involvement, the government obliges them.


"It was terribly dangerous to let your thoughts wander when you were in any public place or within range of a telescreen. The smallest thing could give you away. A nervous tic, an unconscious look of anxiety, a habit of muttering to yourself – anything that carried with it the suggestion of abnormality, of having something to hide. In any case, to wear an improper expression on your face (to look incredulous when a victory was announced, for example) was itself a punishable offense. There was even a word for it in Newspeak: facecrime, it was called."