Hey, you know what? Facebook wants to sell more ads! With your data! Wanna know something else? I couldn’t care less.
Getting enraged because of every single business model that benefits from data collection is about as reasonable as being fundamentally opposed to electricity: It might make sense in your own, perfect fantasy, but there is just no way it would work in reality. You actually make conditions worse.
Journalists seem to agree: Data privacy is awesome and important. And they are right; it is a fundamental right, that really needs protection. Yet, no one seems to care: We log onto Facebook daily, and our governments feed the NSA and similar agencies with billions instead of regulating them. Well, the undirected rage against anything remotely touching data contributes to that trend.
Name the problem
The first mistake we tend to make is to not name the real issue. “Data” is kind of a vague concept, and therefore, data privacy concerns literally anything. A vague concept, however, is hard to discuss and analyze.
So what if Facebook or Google sell data? The problem here is not the selling aspect; companies will sell anything, and selling information about citizens is not new either. We have to problematize certain aspects: centralized data collection, that leaves our data vulnerable, for example. Or the inability to opt out.
The attack on freedom, then, is neither data collecting itself nor selling data, but rather doing so without explicit consent or easy options to deny consent.
Another concern is that data privacy is not only a vague concept, but also a rather abstract one. As such, people have a hard time relating to it.
The solution? Phrases like “your employer might see your Facebook picture and not hire you for it”. First of all, this might make you feel belittled: Of course you know that, everyone know that. Also, why limit your freedom just because someone might, maybe, cause you problems for your actions in the future? It’s a kind of fear mongering, and fear as an argument only works for a short period of time, until you get used to it.
Secondly, getting tired of these kinds of arguments will discredit any discourse about privacy. If you hear “Facebook-pictures and employers!” every time someone opens their mouth about privacy violations, you are less likely to actually engage in that conversation or talk about it with an open mind. You might agree, as it is agreeable right now, but not really because you care.
But even more importantly, can you really relate to examples like that? How many people have experienced problems because of data collection? Mainly, it has made their lives simpler and easier: Google gives “better” results than Duckduckgo, and Amazon kind of always knows what you need. How many people are actually concerned about “filter bubbles”? If you only read one newspaper, you’ve lived in a filterbubble for most of your life, maybe even in a worse one than Google could ever achieve.
So… Why would we care about this?
The honest answer is: we don’t. How many people actually quit online media, just to protect their data? The threat is abstract and vague, there are no real arguments to change behaviour. Instead of focussing on relatable issues – data regulation, making visible how much data is worth (i.e. showing the hidden costs of “free services”) and encryption standards – we focus on morality of companies.
Companies want to make a profit. Companies, that don’t charge users, but accumulate data, will eventually use that data – protesting against that while using these services is hypocritical.
What can you do?
I have argued like that a lot of times, and I will continue here: An issue like privacy, that concerns us all, is no individual issue, it can never be. As long as we talk about individuals (what can you do to protect yourself?) and individual companies (Google/Facebook/Amazon are bad, because they are successful) is not going to work.
Other people may, no, they will put data of yours online. You do not have full control over your data, you never had. Thinking otherwise is an illusion, is has been ever since the first government started a census.
Instead, data privacy is a societal issue. We need a discourse: What are the problems, how much are we concerned, and what kinds of regulations and laws are needed. Defining the problems will definitely will be the challenge in the future; enraged articles about anything related to data, however, will only discredit any kind of critique of privacy violations.