The collective freak-out over Edward Snowden’s revelations about the National Security Agency’s data-mining techniques has been lead with howls of, “This is so ‘1984’!” and “I read ‘1984’ in high school, and this seems very much like that minus the Orwellians (They were aliens, right?) threatening to have a rat eat the guy’s face off. But I bet they’ll do the rat-face thing next!”
And I get that. I, too, would rather the government not tap my phone and then subsequently overhear all my great ideas for who should be in the new J.J. Abrams “Star Wars” movies (One casting call description for a central character goes “A young man aged between 20 and 25, witty and smart, fit but not classically handsome.” Um, I await your call J.J.).
However, can we also get real for a second? The fundamental nature of privacy has changed forever and people who hope no one will ever find out that they buy monthly 24-ounce tubes of hemorrhoid cream are in for a tough surprise. For instance, I get that we don’t want the government snooping into the lives of innocent people, but at least they need a warrant to actually read my e-mails (“Subject: Emma Watson as Anastasia Steele!? WTF!”). In the era of Big Data, you don’t own any of the information you’re sending over the tubes and cell towers and satellites.
Private corporations own that, and they don’t need a warrant to find out that I buy adult diapers from CVS at a staggering pace. When I lie about where I am (a bar) to my parents (“at the library researching NSA data-mining!”) Verizon is free to sell that information to whomever they please (my enemies: my little sister or Paul Ryan).
At last year’s Republican presidential debates Ron Paul went on a rant about privacy while standing in front of a massive “Google” logo and totally missed the irony.
Frankly, Google and Facebook know more about the average Joe Markley than the government ever will, and it’s all comprised of information we’ve happily handed over. Facebook knows which girls’ bikini pictures I’m looking at (all of them), who I wanted to win in the NBA Finals (secretly, Miami; don’t tell my Ohio friends), and what music I’m listening to (new Kanye—I know, the guy’s a psycho narcissist attention whore, but I just can’t help myself). Google knows basically every errant thought or question I’ve had since 2004 and, well, Googled (What’s the most popular dish in Indian cuisine? How many hours was that erection not supposed to last?). When you take an Instagram pic, send out a Tweet or connect on LinkedIn you are creating valuable data that can be packaged and sold, and we manufacture all that content free of charge.
Because this technology is so new, we all happily operate under the assumption that we have any privacy left, but we don’t. Not really. We’re all RedEye columnists now, oversharing our lives to an audience of servers and complicated algorithms that chop up and distribute our personal data. The Machiavellian Zuckerbergs of the world will figure out what to do with it, but trust me, your privacy is their absolute last concern.
Stephen Markley is a RedEye special contributor.
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