I was flipping through the weather app on my smartphone this morning, hoping to see the weather forecast for the weekend. The answer I got was to call me where I was. Wait a minute, who are you? my mother? What is the relationship between my location and the weather forecast of the location of the logged-in phone? Not at all, that’s it.
This is just the last reminder about the data we’ve collected, and we’re relaxed about giving up this data. The victim of this incident is all our privacy. Facebook has spent several years allowing developers to collect data about its users and data about their friends. Some advanced services of teamwork app allow buyers to download all data from their workspace. They didn’t say they do it. The supermarket knows what you bought and how much you bought. Facebook sold millions of people’s data to Cambridge Analytica through an application called “This is your digital life”. Now Apple customers in China find that all their iCloud data is stored on servers operated by GCBD, an internet company founded by the Chinese government.
If this all sounds a bit “Big Brother” as George Orwell predicted when he wrote “1984” in 1948, he might be right. Sure, we’ve transcended his nightmarish vision for the future for three decades, but there’s no question that we’re being watched and in specific details. The problem is we don’t know who it is.
The next victim may well be the fragile concept of democracy. Has Russia Invaded the West to Influence the Elections? Who knows. Is there a technology that makes this possible? Who knows.
What we do know is that you can be whoever you want to be on social media; you can say almost anything about anyone without worrying about being correct. Create a character; say what you want. At least some people will believe it. The result is the growth of hate politics, the erosion of consensus views, the ability to understand that others have the right to have opinions that differ from their own.
So, where should we go?
There is no doubt that technology is good for us. If they can afford a washing machine, who wouldn’t have one? This is, of course, easier than smashing clothes on rocks by the river, although people have yet to do it in some parts of the world.
But we have to control as much as possible. We need to think about what happens to the information we share so freely, which would weaken our privacy.
We should know that our mobile phones can track all our movements and disable this feature.
We need to think about who will use the information in social media posts to say we had a good time at a restaurant we happen to be in and what they will use it for.
We should spend money in greengrocers or convenience stores or roadside butchers, not supermarkets, where blinking cash registers capture the details of our lives. (Who cares if the supermarket knows what size pants you just bought? Oh yeah, they know everything.)
We have to think about what we do.
We need to find out which technologies can improve our lives and which cannot.
In short, we need to think about what we are doing and take back control.