Whenever I see one of those billboards that says: “Privacy. It’s the iPhone,” I was driven by the urge to throw my own iPhone in the river. Of lava.
It’s not because the iPhone is better or worse than other smartphones when it comes to digital privacy. (I’m going to put iPhone over Android phone in a second; I like the illusion of controlling my digital life as much as the next person.)
What’s infuriating is that the idea that carrying the most sophisticated tracking and surveillance equipment ever created by human hands is consistent with any understanding of privacy. It cannot. At least not with any of the notions of privacy that we humans had before the iPhone.
Fusing the idea of privacy with the needs of our digital world involves a profound cognitive dissonance. To survive in 2022 is to be surveyed, tracked, tagged and monitored – often for profit. Without the grid, there is no way around it.
Consider just last week: Apple released a unexpected software update for iPhone, iPad and Mac means remove the holes company speak may have been exploited by sophisticated hackers. A week earlier, a former Google Engineer discovered that Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, used a piece of code to track users of the Facebook and Instagram apps on the internet without their knowledge. In Greece, the prime minister and his government has been consumed by a growing scandal in which they were accused of spying on the smartphones of an opposition leader and a journalist.
And this month Amazon announced that it’s creating a show called “Ring Nation” – a sort of “America’s Funniest Home Video” that includes footage captured by the company’s Ring doorbell. These picture doorbells, sold by Amazon and other companies, are currently viewing millions of homes in Americaand they are often used by police station as, effectively, surveillance network. All in the name of fighting crime, of course.
Step back, and what we’re looking at is a world where privacy simply doesn’t exist anymore. Instead of talking about old notions of privacy, and how to protect or return to that ideal state, we’ll start talking about what happens next.
That reality is becoming more apparent to Americans following the Supreme Court decision in Dobbs, which removed the federal abortion rights. They now understand that their phone location data, internet searches, and purchase history are all fair game for the police – especially in states that don’t protect abortion rights, and where women can be hunted for their health care choices. If the courts have ever defended the right to abortion as part of a broader right to privacy, by evaporating that right, the Roberts courts have also disrupted many American notions about the right to privacy.
In 2019, Times Opinion investigated location tracking industry. Whistleblowers have provided us with a dataset that includes millions of pings from personal cell phones on their daily commutes, churches and mosques, abortion clinics, the Pentagon, even the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency. “If the government orders Americans to continuously provide accurate, real-time information about them, there will be an uprising.” the editorial board wrote.
Yet despite years of deliberation, Congress is no closer to passing strong privacy legislation than it did two decades ago. when the first idea came up. Even their baby steps are not encouraging. Two bills in current session Aim to return some of this mass surveillance surrounds abortion and reproductive health in particular, although none are likely to pass.
One, The Fourth Amendment is not the Sales Act, which would prevent government and law enforcement agencies from purchasing location data and other sensitive information from data brokers. Other, My Body, My Data Act, would prohibit technology companies from keeping, using or sharing certain personal health information without written consent. Neither bill would prevent police officers with court orders from obtaining such information.
Some tech companies, like Google, have announced voluntary measures to protect certain user data around reproductive health care. A group of hundreds of Google employees current a petition to strengthen privacy protections for users who seek information about abortion through its search engine.
But even if those bills pass and some tech companies take more steps, there will simply be too many tech companies, government organizations, data brokers, vendors, and more. Internet services and others track everything we do.
Protecting digital privacy is not in the government’s interest, and voters don’t seem to care much about privacy. Nor is it in the interest of tech companies, which sell users’ personal data for a profit to advertisers. There are too many cameras, cell towers, and confusing artificial intelligence tools at work to live an unobserved life.
For years, privacy advocates, who have foreseen the contours of the surveyed world we live in, have warned that privacy is a necessary prerequisite for democracy. , human rights and the flourishing of the human spirit. We’re about to find out what happens when that privacy is gone.