We'll regret surrendering our ambient privacy

You don't know what you've got til it's gone. They paved paradise and put up a Facebook lot.

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

I'm trying to wean myself off joining in the general technology pile-on that's under way right now. I'd much rather write (and read) more positive things about how we move forwards from the hole we've dug for ourselves.

But this piece by Maciej Cegłowski on ambient privacy is just too important not to share. It is the sort of privacy that the pervasive (my spellcheck just tried to correct that to “perverse” - which still works…) surveillance tech built into most business models now steals from us.

And there are serious consequences to that:

My own suspicion is that ambient privacy plays an important role in civic life. When all discussion takes place under the eye of software, in a for-profit medium working to shape the participants’ behavior, it may not be possible to create the consensus and shared sense of reality that is a prerequisite for self-government. If that is true, then the move away from ambient privacy will be an irreversible change, because it will remove our ability to function as a democracy.

We need to work politically to correct this - and we can't let Facebook and Google lead this conversation:

That is not the conversation Facebook or Google want us to have. Their totalizing vision is of a world with no ambient privacy and strong data protections, dominated by the few companies that can manage to hoard information at a planetary scale. They correctly see the new round of privacy laws as a weapon to deploy against smaller rivals, further consolidating their control over the algorithmic panopticon.

The parallel between the protection of the ambient natural environment and our ambient privacy is apt, too. Much to chew on.

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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.