Law in the Internet Society
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Data Collection and Loss of Privacy: Widespread Apathy and Dystopian Advances

-- By AlessiaSaracinoFendi - 04 Jan 2022

Society is less free today due to the data collection. Surveilling and predicting human behavior are now part of the economy of the net. In exchange for their personal data, individuals relinquish privacy and freedom of thought. Due to this reckless complacency, personal data is kept, sold, or used in ways we have no control over.

Although access to the net has given society new opportunity to learn, the net infringes freedom of thought whilst we believe we are simply using a tool like posting on social media. Technology enabled many changes that took place before society understood what was happening well enough to grasp the implications of these changes

Individuals now willingly comply and give personal data to middlemen who rely on our fondness and reliance on convenience. So many of us are unfazed by time-stamped or geotagged data. Even anonymized data gives a false sense of security. Collecting browsing data for example is legal, relatively cheap to buy and can be used for anything, like blackmail. Since browsing habits are unique, with a small amount of browsing information, an individual can be identified out of an anonymous dataset of three million people, as a result of the net 'fingerprint' created as we search on the net

But why is profit a sufficient reason to allow what we likely would not allowed had corporations or governments sought permission and clearly explained that the collection of data was for behavioral prediction and surveillance purposes? Many of the data collecting products, like Facebook, are purposefully addictive, and erode the human ability to make free choices. Profit driven data collecting companies exploit behavioral biases and imperfect willpower to addict users. In turn the data collected can be used to manipulate our thoughts, infiltrate our privacy and inhibit our freedom of speech. When what we say and read is monitored, we are not free and we do not act in the same way we would have had we not been observed.

The lack of wariness regarding data collection is a result of apathy, a lack of awareness, or lethargy to make the changes needed to protect ourselves. I believe convenience and lack of mindfulness of the extent the net and data collection invasively and insidiously impinge on freedom of thought and privacy is the reason great inaction continues on this major issue.

Taking back our Privacy

Technology has enhanced the surveillance capabilities of governments and corporations, and society has become itself more easily surveilled through social media and data collection. Signal, a nonprofit run solely on donations, was founded with the principle of counteracting mass surveillance. Signal is an open-source code base, publicly available for anyone to download and comment on. Freedom of the mind depends free technology, hardware and software, and access. Signal is free and gives the opportunity to push forwards in the right direction as Signal's co-founder, Marlinspike, was correctly worried that products and business models of private technology corporations telecom firms, e-mail providers, search engines, social networks would be built atop rapacious data-collection networks." Signal cannot read users messages, does not keep call logs or data backups, and does not collect user metadata. Although it inspires hope for its core mission, Signal should not be the outlier of the tech industry, but rather the status quo that is expected by us, the consumers.

As the pandemic emphasized the world is increasingly net dependent and susceptible to beaches of privacy. Signal is giving the public the tools to protect itself, but it is up to society to take advantage of these tools and ensure other companies put our interests and freedoms above their profits.

Digital System of Social Control

Reflecting on the consequences that can result from rampant data collection is key to inspiring action by individuals to protect themselves as best they can now. The weaponization of personal data by governments to control and restrict freedoms should be at the forefront of our concerns. The Chinese government has demonstrated that data collection can be used to exert social control on a population. China's President, Xi Jingping, would like to use artificial intelligence to build a digital system of social control, patrolled by algorithms that identify dissenters in real time. China has a universal reputation score is tied to each citizen's national ID. This reputation score is based on factors such as political compliance, hobbies, shopping and not only one's own activities but also those of your friends in your social graph. Before the net, despotism was difficult to scale, but today, the net has given new tools and power to governments.

CETC, a Chinese state-owned company, is Signal's antithesis as it has built much of China's surveillance system and is part of China's coalescing mega-network of human-monitoring technology. There are no political or legal protections that could stop China from creating a singular repository and integrating their collected data. Thanks to the Chinese population, China is an ideal setting for tech and data-based surveillance. Rather than being dystopian state in the far future facing the consequences of new technologies, what is taking place in China is real and is happening now. The powerful security state is actively pursuing a social credit scheme to categorize every citizen by reputation. This digital infrastructure will shift the balance of power between the individual and the state setting a distressing precedent globally.

Final Thoughts

As Professor Moglen stated, "we are building an exoskeletal nervous system that ties the entire species together, which we call the 'Net. It changes the basic fabric of human society. What keeps me up at night is the possibility that humanity is not in control of the network that ties us together."

Rather than the outlier, Signal is what the norm for tech companies should be. In contrast, China's mass surveillance makes evident that government monitoring and loss of freedom through data collection is not a concern of the future, but a reality of the present. The convenience of the net has made society blindly or willfully apathetic about sacrificing hard-earned freedoms in return for ease and simplicity. In a path-dependent tech world, losing these freedoms for generations to come is a possibility if we do not make choices and changes now.

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r1 - 05 Jan 2022 - 01:34:27 - AlessiaSaracinoFendi
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