Privacy not my problem
When you discuss about privacy in a heteronymous group, there will always be at least one who states he/she has nothing to hide because he/she does nothing wrong. There are still people that cannot afford to be on the Net but some choose deliberately to ignore social networks and claim that privacy is not their problem either. But both categories are mistaken.
Let’s start with the arguments that are more or less common knowledge. (1) The nothing-to-hide-person I would ask, you think you have nothing to hide and you are doing nothing wrong but can you look in the future? A regime change could have problems with your actual behaviour. And it is not just facts about you that are collected; they make profiles of your behaviour. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) now describes more than 300 mental disorders.
Maybe you fit in one of them since many of these ‘disorders’ in DSM-5 are behavioural manifestations and there is no organic or physical aetiology to support a diagnosis. Certain behaviours are mistaken for symptoms and often lead to erroneous diagnoses. Many others result in a diagnosis after a period of psycho-pharmaceutical intervention and consequently are self fulfilling prophecies rather than disorders.
Robert Spitzer, the head of the DSM-III task force, has publicly criticized the American Psychiatric Association for mandating that DSM-5 task force members sign a nondisclosure agreement, effectively conducting the whole process in secret. And about 56% of the 170 members that assembled DSM-4 had a connection with the pharmaceutical industry. (Cosgrove et al., 2006, p. 154-160). It’s a slippery slope. You are nuts before you know it yourself. That’s the way it goes. It’s not only your privacy that is threatened, but also your reputation and your identity.
Data mining without ethics and with lousy statistical models
(2) But more important, you can do something wrong without knowing you do something wrong. Let’s say you enter a coffee shop and all places are taken. A friendly women or gentleman invites you at his table, since he has three free chairs. You have a chat with a complete stranger, but he/she looks nice. And why shouldn’t you? Empathy is a basic human quality. For some reason this person is suspected of terrorism rightly or wrongly it doesn’t matter, but now you are suspect too by association. Maybe one of your many Facebook friends, one of those you never met, but made a point that you liked, is under suspicion. Our law system is quickly moving from ‘reasonable doubt’ to ‘reasonable suspicion’. Reasonable suspicion is based on a circular logic – people can be listed if they are suspected of being suspected terrorists.
And it is not only a US problem. The FBI shares its master watch list, the ‘Terrorist Screening Database’, with at least 22 foreign governments. ‘The Intercept’ also writes:
“The CIA uses a previously unknown program, code-named Hydra, to secretly access databases maintained by foreign countries and extract data to add to the watchlists.”
As an European you will be acknowledged when a visa to the US is refused, or maybe later at the airport of New-York, when you are told you cannot enter the country.
The good metaphor for privacy intrusion on the Internet and elsewhere is not ‘Big Brother’, it is Kafka. Not knowing what to expect and why this is happening to you.
Another thing most people are not aware of is that the statistical models used for data mining are shallow. Correlation supersedes causation in the mind of the data miners. In a Wired article: ‘The End of Theory: The Data Deluge Makes the Scientific Method Obsolete’ Chris Anderson wrote:
“The new availability of huge amounts of data, along with the statistical tools to crunch these numbers, offers a whole new way of understanding the world. Correlation supersedes causation, and science can advance even without coherent models, unified theories, or really any mechanistic explanation at all.”
Japan’s ‘Fifth Generation Project’ of the early 1980s which consumed billions was based on the same belief or hubris, but it ended up in an embarrassing disaster.
Big data needs a code of ethical practices, but the case of the leaked Facebook study (Kramera et al., 2014) manipulating emotions by presenting only positive messages to a selected group of Facebook users proves that ethics are not one of Zückerberg’s concerns, it is rather mind control on a day by day base he is aiming at (Golumbia, 2014; Gurstein 2014; Herera, 2014; Tufecki, 2014).
Competition and distrust
(3) Being spied upon and spying always takes place in an environment of distrust. When all trust is gone, distrust becomes a vicious circle without an end. At the end everybody spies on everybody. Not surprisingly the psychotherapist Paul Verhaeghen points to that problem. In the Guardian he writes:
“There are certain ideal characteristics needed to make a career today. The first is articulateness, the aim being to win over as many people as possible. Contact can be superficial, but since this applies to most human interaction nowadays, this won’t really be noticed.
It’s important to be able to talk up your own capacities as much as you can (…) Later, people will find out that this was mostly hot air, but the fact that they were initially fooled is down to another personality trait: you can lie convincingly and feel little guilt. That’s why you never take responsibility for your own behaviour.”
Neoliberalism rewards hypocrisy, so why should we be surprised to find that same tendency towards irresponsible behaviour on the Net. After all the authorities (NSA, BND, DGSE, GCHQ) and the biggest Internet corporations like Google and Facebook are leading as a negative example. Also Adobe is now spying on its users by collecting data on their eBook libraries.
Privacy and Power
(4) Still there are people that say you do not have to worry about your privacy using the mutual disclosure argument. Bruce Schneier explains how it goes:
“In a world of ubiquitous surveillance, you’ll know all about me, but I will also know all about you. The government will be watching us, but we’ll also be watching the government. This is different than before, but it’s not automatically worse. And because I know your secrets, you can’t use my secrets as a weapon against me.”
The idea of the transparent society completely ignores the power differences. If a policeman asks for you ID he has plenty of possibilities you don’t have by asking his ID back. In Belgium he can arrest you for 12 hours without any form of accusation, it’s called ‘administrative arrest’, he can create a police record with false pretexts, it happens often enough, he can add you to a list of suspected terrorists and so on. What we forget is that the national states and their police have a monopoly of violence. The police has powers citizens do not have.
Oh yes, and what about those not on the social media?
Not on a Social Network? You’ve Still Got a Privacy Problem
Emre Sarigol, David Garcia and Frank Schweitzer studied the publicly available data archived from an older social network, Friendster. They found that if Friendster had used certain state-of-the-art prediction algorithms, it could have divined sensitive information about non-members, including their sexual orientation. Their profiling techniques were 60% accurate while random, uniformed classification would have a precision of less than 5 percent. (Sarigol et al., 2014)
In June 2013 it came to light that Facebook is keeping ‘shadow profiles’ of its users. It was reported by the security company Packet Storm in an article called ‘Facebook: where your friends are your worst enemies’. They explain the Facebook bug they had discovered with an example:
- “Bob is done with Eve. They dated 3 years ago and their break up was not amicable. Ever since, Eve has worked hard to make Bob’s life hell. She threatens him over email, adds his email address to various spam lists, and spoofs mail as him to his friends telling them to never talk to him again. She posts his phone numbers to the casual encounters section of Craigslist and he spends half his days being harassed by disturbed individuals with weird fetishes. Bob lives in misery. It is obvious that the restraining order isn’t working. He decides to change all of his phone numbers and email addresses, and contacts his friend Alice to give her his new information. Unfortunately, Alice just adds his new contact information into her phone alongside the other records she has for Bob.
- Alice uploads her contact list into Facebook. Her contact information for Bob includes his old email address, firstname.lastname@example.org, and his new email address, email@example.com. It also has his new phone numbers.
- Eve uploads her contact list into Facebook. Her contact information for Bob simply includes his old email address, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Eve downloads her expanded dataset. Facebook automatically maps the new information for Bob to his old email address, email@example.com, since both datasets have that matching piece of information. In her download, the addressbook.html file contains not only firstname.lastname@example.org but also email@example.com and his new phone numbers. The cycle continues. You can run Bob, but you can never hide.”
Digital Trends defines ‘shadow profiles as follows:
“A Facebook shadow profile is a file that Facebook keeps on you containing data it pulls up from looking at the information that a user’s friends voluntarily provide. You’re not supposed to see it, or even know it exists. This collection of information can include phone numbers, e-mail addresses, and other pertinent data about a user that they don’t necessarily put on their public profile. Even if you never gave Facebook your second email address or your home phone number, they may still have it on file, since anyone who uses the “Find My Friends” feature allows Facebook to scan their contacts. So if your friend has your contact info on her phone and uses that feature, Facebook can match your name to that information and add it to your file.”
So that way Facebook also receives data of people not on social media. Based on the data delivered by their friends they can make a profile of them too as to David Garcia one of the co-authors of the ‘Frienster’ research. And again it’s not because Facebook says they are not keeping dossiers of people that they are not doing it.
This scares me for two reasons the ‘Friendster’ study revealed an accuracy of 60% witch is high compared to guessing, but which is in fact to low to be accurate at all. I fear that data miners don’t care. They have lost any morality long time ago. When they aren’t stopped their typecasting will sooner or later affect all of us.
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