A few months ago, I became aware of my digital footprint. I got concerned that the digital tools we accustomed ourselves to over the last decade steer us in dangerous directions. They could even trap us there. Ever since I am becoming scrupulous in finding alternatives for myself and I want to share these with you. I am going to explain my principal concerns in this blog post.
There is a reason you and I have locks on the doors of our houses. There is a reason we use curtains. And there is also a reason we expect that the letters in our letterbox arrive in closed envelopes.
Privacy is “a state in which one is not observed or disturbed by other people”
Ideas need time and space to sprout before bringing them into the world. When you have the judgemental eyes of others on you, you will be more fearful of doing something wrong and alter your behaviour in expectation of the observer. If you say privacy is not important for you, what you are really saying is that you have nothing original to bring to the world and that you don’t mind being manipulated by others.
We are social animals and need to interact with each other. Cyberspace provides both a public and a private space for interaction. In analogy with our physical society, cyberspace offers spaces for public gathering and private retreat. This blog is like a public square where I can speak up my message to anyone passing along. If we would be sending text messages to each other, it’s like having a chat in my living room. We take it for granted the neighbour (or the state) isn’t listening trough the walls.
Open communication between individuals is only possible in closed environments.
Watching the movies Snowden and HyperNormalisation last year were eye openers for me. I now believe that if we mindlessly use to common digital tools, we expose society to big dangers. I believe that a society where privacy is not the norm cannot evolve.
Our digital footprint creates the soil for hyper sub-societies.
Cyberspace isn’t a free land anymore. It’s mainly colonised by a few big players with commercial interest. It began with the pretext of offering affordable user-friendly tools. The tools would liberate us. But little did we know about how they were monitoring our behaviour to send us personalised advertisements and little did we know that the real currency in this exchange would be ‘attention’.
Algorithms are designed to observe what we ‘prefer’ and feed us with new stuff that we will probably give attention to. Then the algorithm continues to observe your attention, interpret your preference and give you new content. Before you know you are trapped in an echo chamber.
Our digital footprints grow exponentially because new ways to collect (private) data come with every new web-based technology. We are now at a point where our collective digital footprints created fertile soil for the colonist. This soil has huge potential for new things to sprout out. But remember it’s the private property of the colonist. And the colonist has a deal with the traders to only cultivate preferred behaviour. You could say algorithms act as pesticides, they weed out the ‘invaluable’ and highlight the preferred behaviour. The result is that your echo chamber doesn’t clearly reflect your own echo but a distorted reality. The interference is nowadays mainly caused by commercial interest, but with these multi-purpose technologies, political or ideological interferences are plausible.
If privacy was better maintained, wouldn’t everyone be more the real person they are? Wouldn’t we have a more diverse and resilient society, ready for the challenges of tomorrow instead of the multi-polarised and volatile society we are moving into today?
We are moving away from a free and open society.
In a free and open society, everyone can enjoy the privacy of their house. In this form of society, it’s agreed that the only legitimate force to break this privacy is a warrant granted by a judge. We expect this decision to be made on a grounded suspicion via a correct and accountable process.
Thanks to the Snowden revelations we now know that this principle is violated on a mass scale by governments of free and open societies.
“They (the NSA) can use the system to go back in time and scrutinise every decision you’ve ever made, every friend you’ve ever discussed something with, and attack you on that basis to sort of derive suspicion from an innocent life and paint anyone in the context of a wrongdoer.”
— Edward Snowden
The tools and systems are in place to survey any potential wrongdoers. This is already scary. A ‘wrongdoer’ might be a threat to the national interest but in fact be a saviour of the public interest. Martin Luther King, John Lennon and Albert Einstein, for example, were at the time considered wrongdoers by the FBI. But what if we move into a polarised society or an authoritarian regime? Chances are we’ll stagnate into a tyranny of the majority where ‘wrongdoers’ are not allowed.
By our individual behaviour, we are all shaping our collective society. I want to live in a society where everyone can live to its full potential, according to their own unique individual talents. I want to live in a society that is able to self-organize itself towards a harmonious state. I want to live in a society where responsibility and accountability based on morality are the norms, not a society where traceability and legality prevent renewal. Therefore, I am taking privacy seriously.
I want to help you in shaping a more positive society. In the following blog, I will explain the strategies I am implementing to enhance my digital privacy and make it more concrete by explaining a few tools. Follow me to be updated.