Andrew Keen and the death of privacy

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

KeenHas social become a disturbing orthodoxy? Andrew Keen thinks so… And he’s kicking off an event called Creative DigiFest 2 at the University of Southampton

He’s a fan, as he outlined in the Cult of the Amateur, of the world of the gatekeeper, of those who create being an elite, professional call. As media has been democratised, the world has become a Hitchcock movie, we’ve slipped into noir…. The amount of personal data travelling over the network is rapidly growing – and he’s painting a picture of where that’s used to identify the stranger next to you, to give you as much information is available. In Hitchcock’s Vertigo, the detective knows nothing of the woman he’s been paid to follow – there’s no Twitter or Facebook to look her up. The film is a wonderful warning about falling in love with something that isn’t true, can’t be true, that can’t exist… There’s this idea that the internet is bringing the human race together, based on the idea that the network is liberating. It’s a similar idea to Marx’s idea that the industrial age would allow humanity to achieve its potential.

Sean Parker – one of the early investors in Facebook and co-founder of Napster – wants to eliminate loneliness. That’s what he said when he launched his newest startup. It’s become the defining characteristic of Silicon Valley. Collectively, the grouping of apps and sites that make up social media are progressively destroying any idea of privacy. He cites everything from Waze (which I used to get here) through to the obvious ones like Twitter. There’s a social reading site, which he considers a contradiction in terms. He has a go at Yammer – which allows the end of loneliness in the workplace.

Highlight is a “fun way of learning about people nearby”. That mean learning about strangers. That means doing away with loneliness. The Truman Show is a classic warning about where we are going. The destruction of privacy which seems so absurd in that film, is being celebrated in Silicon Valley. Mark Zuckerberg has said that we have only one identity (and Keen thinks he wants to own it). He’s wrong. We have many identities. Keen asks us to declare that we want to live without privacy, to return to the world of the interdependent village, where all business was public business.

Most of us are mini-celebrities, but we can’t handle it. We make fools of ourselves, we humiliate ourselves. Technology isn’t doing this to us – technology is reflecting us. Narcissism has always existed, but the internet is enabling it. The internet is like a huge pile of free drugs in the middle of the world.

Yet, any writer that isn’t on Twitter should have his hands chopped off… Visibility, you see, is a necessity, but also a trap. The price of these services is our data, and the new oil barons of the information age ar ethe founders of Facebook and LinkedIn et al. Free is the great seduction. As value and reputation migrate to the network, we are paying a heavy price for free. We need data literacy, not tech literacy. Social media helped trigger the Arab Spring, but it’s also being used by governments to spy on their people.

Big brother is gone. It has been replaced with little brother. We’re all little brothers now. Perhaps we now need an On Digital Liberty. He recommends Quiet, a celebration of the introvert, and the ability to create separation.

We need to:

  • Fight the economy of free. It’s destroyed the entertainment industry, now it’s destroying us. What I had for breakfast isn’t something that Zuckerberg should be able to sell to Kellogs.
  • We need to focus on the economic value of privacy – it’s something that will have appeal to consumers if presenting the right way
  • We need technology to forget. Data should degenerate as our bodies degenerate. What make sue human is our ability to forget.
  • We need to see government as a solution not a problem, curbing the market’s data abuses.
  • We need to become data literate, to manage our reputations, and learn to lie when we need to.

Mark Zuckerberg wants to own the narrative of our lives – that’s why he invented Timeline – but we need to reinvent dark rooms to protect ourselves from that.

*Q. Are these just teething problems? *

A. Possibly – but possibly not. I hope they are – that’s the point of my work and the work of others.

Q. What are the consequences of embedding the right to be forgotten in law?

A. The other side of the argument is losing heritage for future generations. It’s very complicated, and their could be unintended consequences. One of the great issues of our age is ‘are we all public figures now?’ – if so, we have a responsibility to leave our data to others. I don’t think we do…

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Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.