A very interesting article by Jacob Ward points out that privacy, as such, is no longer the critical issue for us: rather, it's the data about us accumulated by service providers that results in the effective demolition of any concept of "privacy" as such.
Facebook and other companies may very well be protecting your privacy — but they don’t need your personal information to determine exactly who you are and what you’ll do next.
. . .
First, understand that privacy and data are separate things. Your privacy — your first and last name, your Social Security number, your online credentials — is the unit of measure we best understand, and most actively protect ... But your data — the abstract portrait of who you are, and, more importantly, of who you are compared to other people — is your real vulnerability when it comes to the companies that make money offering ostensibly free services to millions of people. Not because your data will compromise your personal identity. But because it will compromise your personal autonomy.
"Privacy as we normally think of it doesn’t matter,” said Aza Raskin, co-founder of the Center for Humane Technology. "What these companies are doing is building little models, little avatars, little voodoo dolls of you. Your doll sits in the cloud, and they'll throw 100,000 videos at it to see what’s effective to get you to stick around, or what ad with what messaging is uniquely good at getting you to do something.”
. . .
... data can predict not just which shirt you might be willing to buy, but which topics are so emotionally charged you cannot look away from them — and which pieces of propaganda will work best upon you. And that makes the platforms that collect data at scale an amazing way to influence human beings. Maybe not you. Maybe not today. But it’s enough influence, at scale, over time, that the outcomes on the whole are both overwhelmingly consistent, and yet individually invisible.
Tim Wu, professor at Columbia Law School, and author of The Attention Merchants, believes this makes social platforms — and Facebook in particular — a tremendous liability. "There’s an incredible concentration of power there. So much data, so much influence, makes them a target for something like Russian hackers. To influence an election, you used to have to hack hundreds of newspapers. Now there’s a single point of failure for democracy."
And the categories into which your data places you can be used for much more than just selling you stuff or determining your political preferences. Without your ever telling a company your race, or sexual orientation, your behavioral history can reveal those things.
There's more at the link.
That's a scary thought, but it makes a lot of sense. I block advertisements on almost every electronic medium I frequent, from my cellphone, through my computers, to my refusal to have a TV at all in my home. I'm simply not exposed to 99% of the advertising out there, and I take care to make sure of that, because I find most modern advertising incredibly intrusive and annoying. Nevertheless, if the author's thesis is correct, advertisers don't actually need to get to me with their messages in the old-fashioned way.
For example, Amazon.com can simply analyze my buying patterns over time, and suggest items that might also interest me. The company can also analyze my wife's buying patterns, be aware of the relationship between us, and correlate our mutual buying patterns to suggest things that we might find important as a family, if not as individuals. It can share such data with other service providers who have different insights into our patterns of life, and build up a comprehensive picture of us. In time, it can even do that for our friends, as we buy gifts for them from each other's wish lists.
I'd love to know how detailed a profile has been built up of me - or of the kind of people, the category of human, into which I fit. I'm aware that the major political parties have invested huge sums of money and time and effort into building voter profiles, so that local activists can approach us in the "right" way to obtain our support for their candidate. That's already common in the USA, but it's spreading fast: recent reports from Canada and Australia highlight how it's being applied there. Still, that's only one example of how such data is used. In what other ways are companies and "influencers" trying to manipulate us, using data about us to target us by profile rather than by name?
Thought-provoking, indeed . . .