“Dr. Maris argues that this lack of disclosure is similar to the issue of sexual consent. “As in any sexual interaction, silence must not be mistaken for consent,” she said. “Individuals should have a clear understanding of the power dynamics of the sexual exchange they are entering when visiting porn sites.” Those power dynamics, according to Dr. Maris, are deeply unbalanced. “You have some of the world’s most powerful companies here,” she said, noting that there’s very little redress for the consumer should the data end up in the wrong hands.
Affirmative consent is at the heart of digital privacy. Nearly all tracking is by default and governed by impossible-to-read privacy policies. And in an era that privileges and prioritizes mass collection of personal information, that means gathering information that is not only invasive but also superfluous. The leaky user data of pornographic websites is merely an extreme example of what has become standard practice online.”
By Tim Wu
Mr. Wu is the author of “The Attention Merchants: The Epic Struggle to Get Inside Our Heads.”
For much of human history, what we now call “privacy” was better known as being rich. Privacy, like wealth, was something that most people had little or none of. Farmers, slaves and serfs resided in simple dwellings, usually with other people, sometimes even sharing space with animals. They had no expectation that a meaningful part of their lives would be unwatchable or otherwise off limits to others. That would have required homes with private rooms. And only rich people had those.
The spread of mass privacy, surely one of modern civilization’s more impressive achievements, thus depended on another, even more impressive achievement: the creation of a middle class. Only over the past 300 years or so, as increasingly large numbers of people gained the means to control their physical environment through the acquisition of wealth and private property, did privacy norms and eventually privacy rights come into existence. What is a right to privacy without a room of your own?
The historical link between privacy and the forces of wealth creation helps explain why privacy is under siege today. It reminds us, first, that mass privacy is not a basic feature of human existence but a byproduct of a specific economic arrangement — and therefore a contingent and impermanent state of affairs. And it reminds us, second, that in a capitalist country, our baseline of privacy depends on where the money is. And today that has changed.
The forces of wealth creation no longer favor the expansion of privacy but work to undermine it. We have witnessed the rise of what I call “attention merchants” and what the sociologist Shoshana Zuboff calls “surveillance capitalism” — the commodification of our personal databy tech giants like Facebook and Google and their imitators in telecommunications, electronics and other industries. We face a future in which active surveillance is such a routine part of business that for most people it is nearly inescapable. In this respect, we are on the road back to serfdom.
via Opinion | How Capitalism Betrayed Privacy – The New York Times