Carissa Véliz pushes back on the idea that anyone can say they have ‘nothing to hide’. Whether it be attention, money, reputation or identity, she argues that we all have something worth getting at.
You have your attention, your presence of mind – everyone is fighting for it. They want to know more about you so they can know how best to distract you, even if that means luring you away from quality time with your loved ones or basic human needs such as sleep. You have money, even if it is not a lot – companies want you to spend your money on them. Hackers are eager to get hold of sensitive information or images so they can blackmail you. Insurance companies want your money too, as long as you are not too much of a risk, and they need your data to assess that. You can probably work; businesses want to know everything about whom they are hiring – including whether you might be someone who will want to fight for your rights. You have a body – public and private institutions would love to know more about it, perhaps experiment with it, and learn more about other bodies like yours. You have an identity – criminals can use it to commit crimes in your name and let you pay for the bill. You have personal connections. You are a node in a network. You are someone’s offspring, someone’s neighbour, someone’s teacher or lawyer or barber. Through you, they can get to other people. That’s why apps ask you for access to your contacts. You have a voice – all sorts of agents would like to use you as their mouthpiece on social media and beyond. You have a vote – foreign and national forces want you to vote for the candidate that will defend their interests.
Protecting our privacy is therefore an important aspect in preventing others from being empowered with knowledge about us. This touches on John Philpin’s argument that ‘data is power‘.
Veliz argues that we need to disrupt platform capitalism and the data economy:
Privacy is not only about you. Privacy is both personal and collective. When you expose your privacy, you put us all at risk. Privacy power is necessary for democracy – for people to vote according to their beliefs and without undue pressure, for citizens to protest anonymously without fear of repercussions, for individuals to have freedom to associate, speak their minds, read what they are curious about. If we are going to live in a democracy, the bulk of power needs to be with the people. If most of the power lies with companies, we will have a plutocracy. If most of the power lies with the state, we will have some kind of authoritarianism. Democracy is not a given. It is something we have to fight for every day. And if we stop building the conditions in which it thrives, democracy will be no more. Privacy is important because it gives power to the people. Protect it.
This makes me wonder about the IndieWeb and other such movements, and where they fit within this disruption of power?