Rights being lost in reality
May 19, 2022 11:16 PM   Subscribe

 


I read a really good book on this subject: The Unwanted Gaze: The Destruction of Privacy in America. What's interesting about this book is that it was written in 2000, at the dawn of the commercial internet, and not only have a lot of the book's predictions come true, but it gives a clear picture of how much ground we've lost since then. For example, the book talks about doubleclick.net, at the time the internet's largest advertiser, attempting to build a database that would link people's purchase histories online to their real names. What happened? Investors got spooked, stocks plummeted, and they cancelled the rollout. This was an unthinkable breach of privacy 20 years ago. But now Google has bought doubleclick.net and quietly dropped the ban on personally identifiable web tracking and where is the outrage we had about this exact scenario 2000? Gone. The privacy protections and public outcry about privacy are already gone.
posted by subdee at 5:07 AM on May 20 [20 favorites]


Some excerpts from the Jeffrey Rosen book on my tumblr, stronger privacy protections would solve a lot of the problems with modern social media and discourse.
posted by subdee at 5:08 AM on May 20 [3 favorites]


I never really gave a shit if one or more companies I knew had my information had it. What I find intolerable is the idea that said information is shared with anyone with a few bucks and a credit or debit card. Explicit consent should be required to share such data with other companies. And they shouldn't be able to hide behind the word "affiliated," which implies something more like companies under shared ownership than "literally anyone we choose to do business with," which is how the word is used in privacy policies and contracts.

There are certainly other issues raised by the ability to track people's browsing habits all over the damn web, but I think most of the really nefarious shit could be shut down by severely restricting the distribution of personal data. Maybe microtargeting, too, but my opinion on that is less informed.
posted by wierdo at 5:20 AM on May 20 [9 favorites]


It feels like even the barest expectation of privacy is something that only people who remember times without it even think about. Few if any of my early-to-mid teen students give it any thought at all, and are rarely if at all bothered when I mention just how much privacy they've given away. It just doesn't register to them as something they would have ever thought they had in the first place.

Meanwhile, for those of us who hope that things might some day go back to a less blatantly exposed society than we've ended up with, the article is filled with all the reasons we aren't likely to see it: money. It's not like the current court system in the States will ever rule in favor of the individuals right to privacy (and, seemingly, Alito's draft is an opening volley in suggesting even that is a fiction), but the basic fact is our information, our lack of privacy, is too valuable to those that trade in it for them to ever suffer giving it up.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:02 AM on May 20 [6 favorites]


One of the things about the modern age that continues to astound me is the notion that, just because something is required to be public record, means it should be put on the internet with absolutely no barrier to access.

Information that people maybe used to have to go to city hall to look up can now be easily accessed without leaving the comfort of your home. Every registered voter in my state has their home address, race, and entire voting history right there on the Board Of Elections website and anyone can just look up anyone else.

And of course, once that data is on government websites with no barrier to access, it all gets scraped by whoever and posted on all sorts of sketchy other websites and it’s impossible to contain. I don’t get why hardly anyone seems to think this is a problem worth addressing.
posted by wondermouse at 7:11 AM on May 20 [6 favorites]


Remember when legislators passed the Bork law for public library and movie rental privacy because a prospective Supreme Court judged rented naughty movies? Even though that particular Supreme Court candidate was extremely anti-privacy and freedom of expression? Well it happened.

Guess who killed that law? Obama.
posted by srboisvert at 7:19 AM on May 20 [5 favorites]


One the plus side I just now got my Facebook Illinois biometric privacy class action settlement check from my mailbox. $400 to spend on coca-cola and hookahs!
posted by srboisvert at 7:31 AM on May 20 [2 favorites]


Every registered voter in my state has their home address, race, and entire voting history right there on the Board Of Elections website and anyone can just look up anyone else.

What.
All y'all can't vote in private? That seems... very wrong.
Over here, we have the right to keep our vote secret. I figured that was a pretty much universal principle of voting. I feel silly now.
posted by Too-Ticky at 7:40 AM on May 20 [1 favorite]


Not "Voting history" as in *who* you voted for, "voting history" as in "which elections did you vote in (and what party are you registered to, depending on how each state does parties)?"

Still a nightmare for anyone with a stalker, but not worst-case-lack-of-voting-privacy.
posted by CrystalDave at 7:44 AM on May 20 [7 favorites]


CrystalDave is correct. The info is detailed enough though that if you’re an unaffiliated voter, it lists which party’s primary ballot you voted on. But yes, they don’t have the actual vote, just exactly which elections you voted in, if you voted early or on Election Day, etc.. I have thought about the stalker situation and can easily imagine some people never registering to vote in some states just because they don’t want to be so easily looked up.
posted by wondermouse at 7:47 AM on May 20 [2 favorites]


Ah, thanks. That does help a bit, although with the whole registering-to-a-party thing... not a whole lot.
posted by Too-Ticky at 7:47 AM on May 20 [2 favorites]


The other day, someone from the FBI gave a talk to the students at my school about what the FBI does, and especially about the cyber security aspect. My students universally said it was "boring" but I thought it was really interesting. He mentioned that now *every* crime has a cyber security aspect, because the FBI uses phone data, not just to place certain people at the scene of a crime, but to rule people out - who according to phone location tracking data was NOT at the scene of the crime?

He said it so casually, of course the government can access anyone's phone records in the course of an investigation. In The Destruction of Privacy, Jeffrey Rosen talks about the fact that in the 18th century US America, the government could not legally read an individual's private correspondence even if they had been accused of a crime. It was considered improper search and seizure. It's just such a big gap. And then the gap from law enforcement access to data, where you (nominally at least) need a warrant issued by a judge for a reason, and private company collection of data, which has no limits at all besides who has the money to build the data collection infrastructure or to pay for it.

And if we adopt a centralized digital currency, which seems increasingly likely... listen, bitcoin is a scam but with a centralized digital currency, forget any expectation of privacy. Every purchase will be tracked and data-mined.
posted by subdee at 8:08 AM on May 20 [6 favorites]


Few if any of my early-to-mid teen students give it any thought at all, and are rarely if at all bothered when I mention just how much privacy they've given away. It just doesn't register to them as something they would have ever thought they had in the first place.

I honestly never know any more if little ms flabdablet is using her selfie camera to check her makeup or to check her makeup and self-surveil for the benefit of some ethics-free corporate oligarch.

I understand and accept that old people have been complaining about the world going progressively to hell for as long as there have been old people. But having reached the age of sixty, and therefore having lived for enough decades to make some reasonable comparisons of my own, I've been starting to get the sinking feeling that they might always have had a point.

bitcoin is a scam but with a centralized digital currency, forget any expectation of privacy. Every purchase will be tracked and data-mined.

So, pretty much exactly what's already happening to 99% of purchases because of the extreme convenience of online shopping, contactless EFTPOS cards and NFC-equipped phones?

Payments involving physical cash are already regarded as prima facie dubious more often than not.
posted by flabdablet at 8:25 AM on May 20 [4 favorites]


That does help a bit, although with the whole registering-to-a-party thing... not a whole lot.

Registering to a party is not required. People register for parties if they want to vote in primaries.
Also, people don't necessarily vote for their own parties in the general elections.
posted by FencingGal at 8:26 AM on May 20 [2 favorites]


One of the things about the modern age that continues to astound me is the notion that, just because something is required to be public record, means it should be put on the internet with absolutely no barrier to access.

I'm not, because I can recall the cries of "information wants to be free", and how people would argue against the idea of the "right to be forgotten" because it would allow malefactors to go to ground. We're pretty good at eagerly calling to fuck ourselves over, if doing so is framed appropriately.
posted by NoxAeternum at 8:57 AM on May 20 [2 favorites]


The thing that amazes me is that even with all the information that retailers and advertisers supposedly have, they are every one of them terrible at determining my interests, habits, and so on.

Instagram and YouTube are the absolute worst at this. They pay no attention to all of the "I am not interested in this" clicking I do -- in fact, I half suspect they're counting this as a kind of engagement and showing me more of it as a result.

But even Amazon, with a list of several hundred things I have purchased from them in past years, and several hundred other times I've gone searching for things and reading reviews (and then bought them elsewhere), has no idea how to sell me more things. "Oh, you bought an electric lawnmower? We'll tag you as a Lawnmower Enthusiast and keep showing you lawnmowers for the next two years. Would you like to subscribe and have a new lawnmower delivered automatically every month?"

Honestly, if targetted ads were relevant that seems like it'd be much less annoying than the 27 robocalls and pieces of junk mail and so on I get every day offering to buy my house, or the conservative political spam I sometimes get in bursts, or the AARP stuff I've gotten since I was 26 years old.
posted by Foosnark at 8:59 AM on May 20 [9 favorites]


Is there a "Tor for credit cards" where you purchase something it gets randomly allocated to a thousand other cards multiple times but then gets paid with your original funds?
posted by meowzilla at 9:03 AM on May 20


This article is quite good, and it's about the Roe v. Wade appeal and all the calls I saw on social media following that leak to delete period trackers from your phone bc many companies sell that data, which can indicate that you are pregnant.

Also:

Many of our existing legal protections are effectively outdated. For example, law enforcement can obtain emails, pictures or any data you stored in the cloud without a warrant, and without notifying you, so long as it is older than six months. This is because when the initial law on email privacy was drafted in 1986, online, or what we now call cloud, storage was very expensive and people downloaded or deleted their email regularly. So anything older than six months was considered abandoned. Almost three decades later, it simply means years of personal digital history — which didn’t exist when law was drafted — are up for grabs.
posted by subdee at 9:05 AM on May 20 [10 favorites]


Funny you should mention Tor... the FBI cyber security expert who came to speak at our school loves Tor. According to him, Tor was created by the US military to hide encrypted military communications in a pile of other encrypted communications. Tor keeps a record of every computer in the node network, in order to manage your message send. According to this FBI guy, once they get their hands on a Tor-user's computer it is over - they have a record of EVERY message, where it went, and when it was sent.
posted by subdee at 9:07 AM on May 20 [1 favorite]


Is there a "Tor for credit cards" where you purchase something it gets randomly allocated to a thousand other cards multiple times but then gets paid with your original funds?

Yes. It's called "cash".

As for Tor, using it involves accepting very minor levels of inconvenience compared to the alternatives so its use isn't very widespread in places where such alternatives have been made available. Convenience uber alles, give me convenience or give me death, etc etc.
posted by flabdablet at 9:14 AM on May 20 [2 favorites]


Yes. It's called "cash".

Except that's not the case, because cash purchases get flagged in our modern systems specifically because they're out of line with the system. It is very difficult to completely excise yourself from way consumer tracking works, and doing so can wind up harmful in of itself.

Individual action is not praxis for this issue - collective solutions are needed.
posted by NoxAeternum at 9:20 AM on May 20 [4 favorites]


the government could not legally read an individual's private correspondence even if they had been accused of a crime.
subdee

Theoretically this is still true. What that FBI agent was discussing when he talked about accessing phone records/data is metadata about the messages or the phone itself like location, not the actual correspondence. The analogy to letters would be reading the names and addresses written on the envelope vs. the letter inside. I'm not necessarily defending this distinction, but there is one, at least in theory.
posted by star gentle uterus at 10:01 AM on May 20 [2 favorites]


Privacy rights are anathema to law enforcement, who remorselessly bore and grind at them until with unsleeping persistence, until some emergency nets them their goal. At which point they move the goalposts. Every little emergency gain is quickly normalized and its exploitation automated. There seems to be no stopping or even slowing this process, let alone reversing it. The 4th Amendment's text still theoretically grants rights, but in practice it confers no protection for an individual that a police department has any need to respect.
posted by Aardvark Cheeselog at 10:51 AM on May 20 [2 favorites]


So many people sing forth about privacy rights but few voice much passion for its concern in abortion rights and I appreciate that this is being discussed here.
posted by tiny frying pan at 11:11 AM on May 20 [2 favorites]


The next step is a judge in Texas ruling that not saving data, or allowing users to delete it, is a form of aiding someone getting an abortion and can be prosecuted.
posted by snofoam at 11:21 AM on May 20 [3 favorites]


Years ago, XKCD ran a strip arguing that, since cryptography was long considered a munition, there was a legal argument that citizens should have access to it under the second amendment.

Given that our phones are practically extensions of ourselves at this point—something akin to cstross' metacortex—I feel like they should be protected under the fifth amendment instead of the fourth.
posted by thecaddy at 12:01 PM on May 20 [1 favorite]


The early pandemic “oh god don’t touch anything” panic was a boon for electronic payments in Japan. The speed with which they were deployed by any company that had the means was telling: you don’t do an national roll out of a wireless payment scheme from scratch overnight.* Up until the pandemic, cash was used for pretty much everything. There’s no checking here, so it was cash or credit (we carried the down payment for our house in a depressingly small, yet absolutely terrifying bundle of cash) for everything.

Two years later, there’s been a complete change in the payment landscape here. More and more new restaurants are starting from a no-cash policy, and it’s seen in a positive light. There are incentives in place for using cashless, and, again, younger people don’t think anything about it except that it’s convenient. My own tinfoilness about it, though, is when you have a massive push to alter custom on a societal level, where is it coming from? Who will benefit from the change?

Here, at least, combining with the national identification card plan (which aims to be connected to bank accounts, among other things) which is now a requirement for work, ending cash is a way of ending any kind of “grey” money in the economy. Under the table work that people do because salaries have not kept up with prices, will, in the long run, need to be above board and visible to one’s employers. Women working under the table to put together money to escape a bad marriage? That’ll go away.

At the risk of sounding like I’m waving a Gadsden flag, the step from surveillance to control is oh so short. Once this sort of framework is in place, it will, and always, historically has been used. That the framework is being put in place by private business doesn’t make me feel any better. Worse, actually.

*Well, 7&i, the holding company of 7-11 and Ito Yokado, a large Japanese department store chain tried to do it. They had such shit security that they were promptly hacked, costing around 800 people about $38,000 in the first month.

posted by Ghidorah at 3:00 PM on May 20 [4 favorites]


Beware the bogus "security" companies are stepping up into this space. For example, (archive) Evolv, a company that combines TSA's millimeter scan technology with black-box AI recognition of guns/bombs/knives, here's a tech demo from their closest competitor, the Italian firm CEIA.

Imagine a technology that can see inside your pockets to find guns and knives and bombs, and then extend that to detecting anyone carrying suspicious baggies of white powder, or hormonal contraceptives (as they have a distinctive, machine learning friendly, physical format), or condoms or emergency contraceptives, or whatever is the moral panic of the moment.
posted by peeedro at 6:10 PM on May 20 [2 favorites]


In my experience, college students mostly hate the lack of privacy in their lives, yet feel absolutely powerless to change the systems they honestly have to use (including the software their institutions use for advising, etc.) Not having any social media presence, avoiding Google, and staying off major platforms is a luxury they can’t afford. But that doesn’t mean they’re oblivious. Well, some are, but at least as many try to protect their privacy through using a VPN or curating their social media presence to avoid upsetting a potential employer.

Resignation isn’t the same as not caring.

I do wonder how many young women will reassess the risks with state-sanctioned bounty hunting and criminal liability for managing their reproductive choices. Scary times.
posted by zenzenobia at 2:03 PM on May 21


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