Why do we give away personal data on the internet? Because we've given up

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That’s really well put. Like the tech bubble, like the housing bubble, corporate data mining is something we keep on hearing will be a problem some day, and I, for one, kind of hope somebody does something to avert the disaster.

But they don’t, do they?

checks Lightbeam yeah, thanks BoingBoing for helping us avoid big data!


You could leave off the “on the internet part” and just ask why we give away personal data. Lots of people use store loyalty cards, credit cards, widgets that give you a car insurance discount, library card, driver’s license, etc…

Tracking tech is cheap and easy even for DIYers. Earlier this year my neighborhood had a mini-crime spree (vehicles broken into) and the police tracked down the scumbags because a guy in my neighborhood has a camera pointed at the street and he logs every license plate that drives into or out of the neighborhood.

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There’s something a little bit funny that a website with trackers on it asks why we give away personal data on the internet.


Computers have made it MUCH more difficult to “hide in the crowd,” than it used to be. Computers make it much easier to link the various bits of information about us than used to be the case. And yet many of us still freely give information to an entity as if it won’t be linked and shared to form a fuller picture of us than we intend.

At some level, our behavior and laws are only beginning to realize that the black and white division between “private” and 'public" are too primitive for the modern age. The default is that once you give or allow an entity a piece of information that they can do whatever they want with it because you freely gave it to them or you did it in public and therefore implicitly had no “expectation of privacy.” The European “right to privacy” laws are a first, poorly expressed implementation of the idea that easy aggregation of information means that we need to worry more about what is done WITH information rather than only worry about how information about us is gathered.

There’s the additional problem that, since data are easy and cheap to collect and store, the new ‘normal’ baseline now includes a lot of data. Even if you were freaky-good at hiding, and you probably aren’t, it is quite likely that you’ll run into difficulty because your bio is full of blanks, which is very, very, unusual.

Even if you can avoid disclosing something, which is far from universally the case, once disclosure becomes normal you can’t beat the suspicion that collects around someone with gaps in their profile.

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Or framing it a different way: People feel that they get some value out of sharing their private information with corporations.

I know there is that platitude that goes something like “if you are not paying for a service, you are the product being sold”, but that seems wrong to me; its still an exchange, albeit more of a barter than a straight-up financial transaction.

I get enormous value from Google. They are a reliable off-site backup solution, their email is secure (via two-step authentication), and their search results are relevant, fast, and thorough. I do not “pay” for these in the traditional sense, but I acknowledge that Google benefits from my data the same way that a bank benefits from my deposits: incidentally small, but significant when added to a large pool.

At the same time, much like banking systems, the answer to most serious concerns is not to go off the grid and hide everything in a mattress; it’s better to continue to demand high standards of transparency and legal accountability. This is one of the reasons I value organizations like the EFF; fighting for security and privacy doesn’t necessarily mean cutting and running, either.

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The join-or-give-up-your-social-life-as-you-know-it looks like a form of a hostage situation to me.

Well, shit, if you are going to frame it that way, of course it sounds dire. Isn’t every transaction or contractual arrangement a form of a hostage situation?

“Give me money or you will never see another hamburger here!”

“Show up to work, or you’re fired!”

…and so on.

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You usually have wide range of choices between food vendors, and even today the choice of jobs is usually still way way richer than the choice of social networks - at least those where said friends are.

[quote=“ben_ehlers, post:10, topic:59191”]“Give me money or you will never see another hamburger here!”
“Show up to work, or you’re fired!”[/quote]
I think most people would consider spending money, and working for it, something that is required of them in our society. Some people think this is as it should be, and some would like to change it; but few would consider it an option someone is equally free to choose or reject, not without rejecting the whole social framework.

As giving up personal information becomes inherent in more and more things, it becomes part of that framework too. It stops making sense to talk about it as something individuals choose for its own value if it’s baked into mainstream society. Then the questions are whether we should accept it as a requirement or not, and on what terms, just as people debate if it’s right to insist people work or starve.

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