In The New Wilderness, Maciej Cegłowski writes about changing views around privacy and how the rules that served us so well in the past didn’t take into account the present landscape. Though there are many, the piece is easily one of the best that I’ve read on the subject.
In the eyes of regulators, privacy still means what it did in the eighteenth century—protecting specific categories of personal data, or communications between individuals, from unauthorized disclosure. Third parties that are given access to our personal data have a duty to protect it, and to the extent that they discharge this duty, they are respecting our privacy.
Seen in this light, the giant tech companies can make a credible claim to be the defenders of privacy, just like a dragon can truthfully boast that it is good at protecting its hoard of gold. Nobody spends more money securing user data, or does it more effectively, than Facebook and Google.
This is perhaps the first time I’ve heard the large tech companies compared to a character like Smaug from The Hobbit. The similarities seem obvious, though, with the unchecked acquisitiveness of both the massive tech behemoths and the clever, greedy dragon.
The question we need to ask is not whether our data is safe, but why there is suddenly so much of it that needs protecting. The problem with the dragon, after all, is not its stockpile stewardship, but its appetite.
There are many insightful angles that Ceglowski hits upon, but I especially appreciate when he points out that Facebook and Google make claims about protecting user privacy with multiple tracking scripts being served by the very articles in which they make these claims. Therein lies part of the answer to why there is now so much data that needs protecting.
image by Simon Rankin via flickr