Privacy 2.0: Google and Facebook's New Definition Edition

A while back ago I wrote a big, long rant about the lack of privacy on line. I was, and continue to be, frustrated by the non-consensual insertion of Google and Facebook’s appendages into the most personal crevices of our lives. The growth engine of Web 2.0 - are we on 3.0 yet? - is the aggregation, analysis and leverage of personal information. Web sites are able to passively collect the very same information people used to have request in person. While this collection is the most significant invasion of our privacy since the Spanish Inquisition, We are not able to use the word “privacy” to describe the action because the major benefactors of our ignorant largesse co opted the word. Kind of like when liberals rebranded “progressives.” The current rebranding campaign was launched a while back and continued in earnest at panel discussion on social media sponsored by Marie Claire magazine. Ms. Zuckerberg, sitting with Eric Schmidt and Erin Andrews, victim of cyber harassment, told the audience:

People behave a lot better when they have their real names down. … I think people hide behind anonymity and they feel like they can say whatever they want behind closed doors.'

What kind of asshole could argue with this? Certainly not the one writing this post. But who said the privacy we are concerned about relates to our relationships with others on the web? Sure, the inner bully each one of us suppressed upon graduation from high school may be seduced by the anonymity afforded by the Web, but do Facebook and Google really have to be the Web police. Cyber bullying is a crime and when committed, offenders are prosecuted - Andrews offender is in prison. We do not need them to analyze the Web’s capture of our mental phenotype, but they need us. Facebook and Google were on stage with the victim of an egregious attack to steal the very relevant definition of the word “privacy” and create a new one more favorable to them. They cannot stop the public debate over privacy, but they can certainly change the meaning of the word. Change "privacy" from the ugly reuse of your communications and clickprints and turn it into the "we are here to help make sure no one hurts you."

I learned this one in Philosophy 1 at UCLA. If you frame the argument, you win. No one in the world would advocate anonymity as a shield for bad acts, but this is not the privacy we must demand. We should all be concerned with the access, use and sale of our data by Google and Facebook. Not only are they using the data in ways we cannot imagine to influence everything from loans to job applications, but our very worldview is being shaped by the targeted provision of the search results and newsfeeds we naively believe to be objective. As Eli Pariser outlines in his book The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is Hiding From You your Facebook news feeds and you search results arrive only after they have been filtered by algorithms to determine what “you will like best.” You are not seeing your most active friends lives on Facebook or benefiting from Google’s patented “Page Rank” algorithm. You are receiving what they “think” you will like based on your profile and their determination of how to maximize click through. The gap between our perception and reality is a cloud on our worldview and since Google holds the position of the number one search site in the world, the cloud is a breach of the public trust. Their excuse – “ we are only here to make things better for you” – kind of sounds like it should be coming from a disembodied voice while we sit in a clean white room eating Soylent Green.

Of course they cannot do all of this without our consent, and they say they have it. They hide behind a EULA to say we consented and the use of the information is explained in their privacy policy. They even send us emails every time the privacy policy is changed. But if they think we read the EULA, they are on crack. Some may say it is our own fault for not reading the agreement but the thing was not written as a disclosure document, it was written as a cover your ass document for lawyers forced to defend against zealous class action lawyers. The consent language in the document is incomprehensible to a non-lawyer and a big nebulous gob of ambiguity to lawyers. EULAs are the rufis of the contract world. Facebook and Google are not the only ones who use them.

Every piece of software we use takes advantage of this legal fiction. It is even the thing you did not read but clicked agree to be able to buy stuff on iTunes. Sure software is only rented and we cannot copy, blah, blah blah, but nobody was indexing and analyzing the words I typed after I clicked on the agree tab and started using Microsoft Word. This body of contract law, which was created to protect the creators of software after the fruits of their labor were released into the world somehow morphed into a tool to extract consent to data, capture from consumers.

Can we really consent to the use of our data if the consent was not knowingly granted and the party acting on the consent had reason to know the contract was never read?

How about getting rid of the EULAs and instead, use a nice, big, bold, cigarette pack statement:



Anonymous said…
Why are you not teaching and speaking publicly? Your comments and insights are brillant, to the point, provocative and move knowledge forward.
Keith said…
You shouldn't be anonymous. I like the way you think.

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