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The Unreliable Guide to…Privacy

By Nat Shepherd on April 2, 2021 in Satire

Big Brother is listening. Photo: Susan Bennett

The Unreliable Guide has been wondering if privacy is an endangered species? We live in an inescapable tsunami of data, merrily uploading everything from our breakfast burrito to our baby’s first steps (copyright now held by Facebook, Inc.). Plus, during the pandemic, we’ve handed over great swathes of our privacy. Contact tracing is a great weapon against the spread of the virus, so of course, we sign into every café, shop and event. It makes sense, but it sets a trend. Will all this documentation disappear after COVID?
And the smart phones we so willingly carry with us at all times not only log where we are but what we are buying, who we are with, what we are talking about and even, if it correlates to our Google searches, what we are thinking about.
With a smart algorithm in charge of that wave of data it’s no surprise that there are companies out there that know you better than your own mother. What’s scary is that they are starting to know you better than you know yourself. If this sounds like a paranoid episode of Black Mirror, well it is. The future is coming and there’s nowhere to hide, but never fear, The Unreliable Guide is here to help…
AI Marketing drives our world The Russian-American writer and philosopher, Ayn Rand, once said, “Civilization is the progress toward a society of privacy.” We like to imagine that civilisation is advancing, but our preferences, purchases, tastes, relationships, movements and beliefs are now documented as never before. Data processing algorithms collect all kinds of information about us, they shape and drive our desire to consume. Even the colours and fonts used in the targeted ads on Instagram and Facebook, etc. are now tailored to expressly attract our individual eyes.
More insidious still, most of us now accept the fact that our phones are listening to us. Voice data marketing is big business and it’s legal. I asked Siri the other day if she was listening to me. She paused for a moment, then said, “nope”. Did I believe her? Nope. But at least I’ve taken the trouble to deactivate ‘Hey Siri’. That may be an illusion of privacy, but it’s all I’ve got right now. This might not be to my advantage though; it’s been proven that algorithms discriminate based on the data they lack. If I don’t provide the data required to show that I’m a good little consumer I could find myself ineligible for a new credit card, mortgage, health insurance…

Writer, historian and philosopher Yuval Harari has suggested that the emerging religion of the twentieth century is Dataism, a belief that information flow is the “supreme value” and “the value of any phenomenon or entity is determined by its contribution to data processing”. In this worldview, your sole purpose is to add to this collective database. Nothing you do or think or experience should ever be private, for then it has not added to the collective bank of knowledge. Uploading endless selfies is not selfish narcissism, it’s adding to the data flow and enabling advances in facial recognition technology.
The Orwellian heretic in this brave new world is the person who switches off their phone, who does not photograph and upload every experience, who insists on keeping a section of their existence to themselves. These humanist renegades defy the Almighty Internet of all Things and will be punished for their individualism. Worse still, advances in biometric testing can now reveal your deepest darkest emotions. Orwell’s hero only had to arrange his face into a compliant smile, but our mandatory biometric bracelets will openly reveal our internal rebellion… Be scared, the future is shared.

Finally, The Unreliable Guide suggests we guard our privacy jealously and think before we share online. We must protest against new laws that threaten privacy, keep abreast of the latest technological developments and actively block apps like Facebook from sharing our data. Be a heretic, while you still can.