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Why Is My Privacy Important?

Recently, some of us started becoming aware of the consequences of amassing petabytes upon petabytes of data, information that eventually leaks or is used in ways not originally disclosed or even worse to control our behaviour and decisions.

The mass storage of this data in the hands of a few major Internet and data companies provides a power that transcends geo frontiers and governments in unpredictable and unwanted ways. The more data you produce, the more they know about you.

Though most users have chosen to voluntarily share some of the most intimate details of their lives via online social networks, the companies behind these services gather way more data than most ever realize. These data-giants persistently mine, harvest and track users across their entire online experience as well as their movements in the physical world through the use of their mobile devices.

But the most expensive things in life are free. All of this information is cut, sliced, and diced and sold and re-sold off to the shady and secretive world of data brokers. Though we might complain about these practices, we have no ability to do so. We forfeited those rights in exchange for free email or status updates, agreed to in the click of a ToS agreement that none of us read.

The striking thing about this system is that it needn’t be organized this way. It is estimated that each Facebook user worldwide only generates about $20 in ad revenue for the company per year. We could send Facebook 20 bucks and be left alone.

As the MIT researcher Ethan Zuckerman has proclaimed, “Advertising is the original sin of the web. The fallen state of our Internet is a direct, if unintentional, consequence of choosing advertising as the default model to support online content and services.”

Though our data pay for Gmail, YouTube, and Facebook today, we could just as easily support Internet companies whose goal was to store as little personal data of ours as possible, in exchange for small sums of cash or crypto. Why not just disintermediate the middle man altogether for a much more logical system? We would become Facebook’s and Google’s clients for a few dollars a month and could go on to enjoy our lives.

Unfortunately today the incentives are misaligned from a public safety and security perspective. Facebook, Google and others, are incentivized to gather an ever-growing amount of personally identifiable data on its customers that it can sell on to thousands of data brokers around the world at a profit. That is their business model.

“They capture our attention by providing us with free information, services and entertainment, and they then resell our attention to advertisers. Their true business isn’t to sell advertisements at all. Rather, by capturing our attention they manage to accumulate immense amounts of data about us, which is worth more than any advertising revenue. We aren’t their customers – we are their product.”  – Harari, Yuval Noah. 21 Lessons for the 21st Century

These data-giants control massive monopolised silos of user data valued at trillions of dollars of market capitalisation.

But a fundamental problem is embodied in the DNA of these platforms: who creates the value inside the platform and who captures it? There is a fundamental mismatch between the fact that a central entity, such as a corporation, is capturing almost the entire value created by the community of users and the fact that these users don’t receive any financial upside in return.

The risk of emerging digital dictatorships in which all power is concentrated in the hands of a few central entities is higher than ever. If we want to prevent a dystopian future of surveillance capitalism and politics capable of knowing us better than we do and influence our decisions in unexpected ways, the key might be to regulate the ownership of data (some governments are pushing through extensive data protection regulation, see GDPR).

Whether purchasers of this information ultimately allow it to be used to commit identity theft, stalking, or industrial espionage is of little concern to social media companies after they’ve auctioned the information off to the highest bidder.

Of course it matters to us, those who suffer the economic and social harms from these leaked data. For those who prefer the benefits of the “free” system, let them enjoy it and all it entails. But why not allow the rest of us the option to pay to maintain greater control over our privacy and security?

While it may be impossible to “live off the grid” in today’s modern world, we can by all means design a system that is much more protective. Maiar is up for the task and even more.

Notice: some parts and information in this post were graciously taken, inspired or paraphrased from "Future Crimes: Inside the Digital Underground and the Battle for Our Connected World", a must-read book for the privacy concerned individuals, by Marc Goodman
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Lucian Todea

Co-founder of Maiar. Technology entrepreneur and angel investor. Ironman.

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