I’ve been working in tech for over 20 years, and have always been aware (and worried) of privacy issues. The last couple of months I have read many, many articles and discussions about the subject, and it is WAY, WAY WORSE than I even suspected. The Cambridge Analytica scandal (among others) that led everyone to focus on FB is just the tiniest tip of a humongous iceberg.
I think that regaining control of our privacy is essential if we ever want to successfully fight tech addiction and other problems stated by the CHT. More attention to this subject is in order, IMHO.
There is a vicious cycle at play that drags us ever further in a privacy nightmare swamp that will amplify our tech problems, if we don’t break the cycle. Simplified the cycle goes something like this:
- Start: Ad-based business models have proven to be very lucrative, and there is much to gain still, making it an attractive choice
- Attract: In order to increase ad effectiveness (and revenue) user retention and attention needs to be increased
- Retain: Behavioral designers, psychologists and marketers continuously optimize apps and services to achieve this, making us addicts of their products
- Collect: Users of these apps and services are sucked dry of an ASTOUNDING amount of personal information (amounting to many gigabytes)
- Re-sell: This information is sold on to many 3rd parties, adding an additional revenue stream, and 3rd parties in turn sell that data on to yet many other parties (eventually amounting in the 1000’s), each with their own revenue models, thereby further increasing the value of the data
- Analyze: Big data analytics, machine learning and AI’s analyze, combine, enrich, de-anonimize and aggregate the data. 3rd parties feed data back to app and service providers
- Aggregate: This all leads to incredibly detailed, non-anonymous user (psycho)profiles - other people can now know you better than you know yourself
- Advertise: These profiles are exposed by products or API’s, or directly as data packages to advertisers and marketers who buy ad-space and create targeted, optimized ads to entice us
- Hook: Both the ads AND increasingly the content (!) are turned into tailor-made, personal customer experiences. A/B testing (creating slight variations in layout and content) is used to optimize the experience in the next cycle
- Profit: Profit has been made and was maximized based on available data, and ‘quality of service’ (for anyone but us).
- Repeat: And now we go back to square 2, and the cycle repeats itself, becoming ever more pervasive
If CHT wants to be successful we have to come up with solutions that break this chain at one or more of these steps (note: we should work on all aspects, be full-spectrum).
While most users of this community are, I think, most focussed on 3) and 9) (retain and hook), where our addictions are created, I think the most prominent issue is the data collection, which boils down to privacy.
Sure, we can come up with guidelines and practices for better behaviour, providing alternatives to dark patterns, etc. But in this cycle there is very little incentive for the perpetrators to adopt them, besides cosmetic improvements to address some criticism, just enough to satisfy the larger public.
Therefore I argue: Privacy is fundamental to Humane Tech!
If we don’t provide our data, or only provide the data that we want, have control over it, then the complete cycle breaks down!
We - the users - have to this. We have to take the initiative. As for addictiveness, for privacy the big tech players that dominate our world have no incentive to improve, unless they are absolutely forced to do so (e.g. by regulation or huge public pressure, which usually ebbs away after a while).
One example of big tech having no incentive to improve is Google/Alphabet (and Samsung) with their Android devices. Google could easily ensure more privacy/security for apps in their Play store… were it not that about 70% of all Android apps contain Google trackers. Google is the biggest perpetrator worldwide (followed at a distance by Facebook).
On any Android device they have pervasive surveillance of your activity, harvesting among others your Android ID and IMEI number which are very personal.
Their trackers/spyware are often packaged as nice, free utilities for software and web developers (Google Analytics - there is no better, Google Font API’s - reduce site traffic costs, etc.).
This great (technical) article has details on a study that was conducted regarding Android apps:
Note that it is not just ad-based models - where you are the product - that are problematic. For instance Sony and Samsung - hardware providers where you are a paying customer - are huge violators of privacy. This Hacker News discussion for example is about Smart TV’s doing their utmost to spy on you: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=16727319
I am curious to hear all of your thoughts on this, so WDYT?