Throughout history, the concept of privacy was to not allow people the ability to obtain your private information, due to this it was necessary to protect and control it. In the online world we live in, privacy’s meaning remains the same, the only difference being is the need to now meet the challenge to protect it. Nowadays, we can’t ensure that the information we post on a website will always be safe; this is why, a few decades ago, the notion of privacy was easier since we had control over what we communicated. Carissa Véliz talks about this in an interview with David Edmonds for Philosophy 24/7 while talking about her new book “Power is privacy”.
Why is privacy important?
According to Veliz in her book “Privacy is Power” published in 2020, privacy is vital because “it gives power to the people” as well as “privacy is a public good, and defending it is our civic duty”. People who advocate for transparency, on the other hand, challenge the societal utility of privacy.
In the podcast she mentions that big companies can know many things about us and we are not aware of it. They can get so much information from us such as: where we live, whether we are having an affair or not, possibly elements about our health or even the kinds of things that we have searched online. This happens because most people who are worried about their health search their symptoms or the disease they have been diagnosed with online. They also know about our credit record, what keeps us up at night and many other things. That is how big tech portrays this as a chance to give us personalised services that sound similar to VIP services.
James Rachels’ 1975 book “Why Privacy Is Important” remains one of the most influential viewpoints on the issue. It explains why privacy is so crucial in a broad philosophical sense. According to his book, privacy is important because it allows us to selectively share personal information and engage in acts that are acceptable for, and required for, creating and maintaining varied personal connections. There is no clear explanation for why privacy is so important to us, yet privacy is necessary if we are to maintain the breadth of social bonds we seek with other people, which is why it is so vital.
Why should you care about your online privacy?
In the podcast she mentions that there are certain advantages to getting personalised ads but there are more disadvantages. In her book she says that it is bad for our liberal democracy. So she explains to the interviewer what she means by this saying:
data economy is really eroding how we are treated and whether we are treated as equals so rather than being treated as to citizens who have equal claims and equal rights, we are treated very differently on the basis of our data, and that is one way in which liberal democracy is being jeopardisedCarissa Véliz
Whereas now the way they target messages, it can be what are called dark ads or dark content, which means that only the person who receives it can see it. By doing this, it kind of polarises the society in a very dangerous way because instead of sharing a public sphere in which we can all comment about what is going on, we each get our own content and live in a kind of bubble which is known as an echo chamber. Because of this, there are less interactions between people from different political spectrums, and also those spectrums become more polarised and more extreme.
Moreover, Edmonds asks Véliz about how we can have some solutions specifically about personalised ads and she responds saying we should ban them. The positives we gain from using these ads are minimal in comparison to the vast disadvantages. To combat the situation, we can use contextual ads where if we make a search on our search engine for shoes, we get ads for shoes or the kind of shoes that we are looking for, so everyone has the same ad and less data is at risk.
Today, if we get most of our information from Facebook and we happen to be targeted as one of the people that Cambridge Analytica or other political firms identifies as somebody persuadable, we might have no perspective to realise that the kind of content we are being shown is not a reflection of reality at all, but rather a reflection of how these businesses perceive us.
If we do not have my criminal records or anything similar, we tend to say that we do not care about giving out our information but with DNA tests, we give out information about other family members. Just like Véliz mentions in the podcast, “I think we do not have that moral authority to share it because our data contains data of other people. If I share my genetic data, I am sharing data about my parents, my siblings, my future kids…”
Overall, it may be argued that we have lost our privacy as a result of big tech, but we can’t help it because these corporations require our information to learn about our interests and construct an online profile of us. With all of the information they have gathered, they are able to categorise us based on our interests and deliver more precise adverts to us. Technology has created a world in which privacy is extremely difficult to maintain, which explains why people were less concerned about privacy in the past. Privacy and social media do not go hand in hand since we will not have privacy as long as the latter exists. There is no longer any such thing as privacy. Many people may argue that we have privacy since we can pick what we publish, however there is no such thing as privacy in the modern world we live in.