digital world

The Privacy Project Seeks to Inform Deliberate Digital Choices

From wondering if your smart speaker is eavesdropping on you to learning your online data has been sold to advertisers, the digital world has become a scarier place, even as technology has made it more inviting and inevitable. Privacy has suffered, but does it matter? The Privacy Project aims to inform readers, stimulate conversation and move us toward deliberate choices.

From wondering if your smart speaker is eavesdropping on you to learning your online data has been sold to advertisers, the digital world has become a scarier place, even as technology has made it more inviting and inevitable. Privacy has suffered, but does it matter? The Privacy Project aims to inform readers, stimulate conversation and move us toward deliberate choices.

Is Alexa an electronic intruder in your home? Can you go anywhere, including your Airbnb rental, without showing up in a surveillance camera video? Are your social media sites conduits to reveal your behavior patterns and preferences to advertisers – and politicians?

All are questions relating to the privacy we have forfeited without realizing it in the digital age.

The threats to privacy and a level playing field have provoked strong proposals from the likes of Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. As a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, Warren has called for the break-up of big tech monopolies and regulation to prevent self-dealing – and often opaque – privacy policies.

Oregon Senator Ron Wyden has led the way for many years on net neutrality, the policy that would prohibit internet providers from manipulating access and online speed to favor their own prime customers and disadvantage competitors. He also has criticized Facebook and other digital leviathans for cashing in on the data they collect, often without express user consent or knowledge, that is sold to advertisers or political advocacy groups.

However, breaking up big tech companies and guaranteeing net neutrality don’t exactly address digital privacy concerns. Those policies don’t litigate the fundamental question of whether consumers unwittingly surrender their privacy for the convenience of tech devices. They don’t rise to the level of asking where the boundaries are between what’s private and what’s fair game.

We live in an increasingly digital world, in which privacy has been clearly compromised and few policies exist to protect privacy. The New York Times has launched the Privacy Project to inform and stimulate conversation toward more deliberate choices.  https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/opinion/internet-privacy-project.html

We live in an increasingly digital world, in which privacy has been clearly compromised and few policies exist to protect privacy. The New York Times has launched the Privacy Project to inform and stimulate conversation toward more deliberate choices.
https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/opinion/internet-privacy-project.html

The New York Times has launched a month-long initiative called the Privacy Project, which will examine issues surrounding privacy. In its Sunday opinion section, the Times published pieces from various points of view. Author Samantha Irby said her love of connectivity outweighed any concerns about loss of privacy. Law professor Tim Wu said corporate greed has stripped away privacy for financial gain. The Times publisher writes about how the newspaper views its responsibility in the digital age.

Other articles discussed the safety of women online and how insurance companies can track Fitbit data to use in determining your health insurance rates. Recode editor Kara Swisher wrote that Americans have surrendered too much control over their digital lives and need government regulation to get it back. Columnist Ross Douthat said the solution to compromised privacy is relying less on the internet. Author KJ Dell’Antonia urged people to pull back from social media, which can be an accomplice in sacrificing privacy for families and children.

Serious and stimulating stuff, which the Times intends as conversation-starters. “In recent years, as we’ve been blurring the boundaries between what’s public and what’s private,” Times Editor James Bennet wrote, “we’ve been doing so largely by accident, or by leaving the decisions to the vagaries of innovation and the pull of market incentives.” 

“As consumers and citizens,” Bennet said, “we need to understand the benefits and the costs and make deliberate choices. Rather than hurriedly consenting to someone else’s privacy policy, it’s time for us to write our own.”

Ironically, this conversation is likely to occur online. We are that digitally dependent. But where the conversation occurs is less significant than whether it occurs. Technological giddiness and laissez-faire attitudes aren’t adequate substitutes for what Bennet refers to as “deliberate choices.”

A good place to start in forming your own views is the Times Privacy Project. Some of the articles may enrage you. Others may alarm you. All of them seek to inform you of the choices we all may need to make – sooner than later.

 

The Internet of Political Things

The digital world undeniably has swamped the political world, resulting in what you might call the internet of political things – email hacks, Twitter feed, Facebook fundraising and unfiltered outreach to a political base.

The digital world undeniably has swamped the political world, resulting in what you might call the internet of political things – email hacks, Twitter feed, Facebook fundraising and unfiltered outreach to a political base.

Private email servers. Unsecured personal smartphones. Cyber-hacking. Online campaign fundraising. Streaming townhall meetings. Fake Twitter accounts. Fake Facebook accounts. No denying the digital world has swamped the political world and we now have an internet of political things.

That fact resurfaced this week with news reports President Trump persists in using his personal smartphone, despite US intelligence warnings that Russians and Chinese are listening in on his conversations. Trump has denied the report, but also has confirmed it.

The crack in confidential, sensitive information by Trump is ironic in light of his continuing attacks on Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server and the chants of crowds at his political rallies of “Lock her up!”

For Trump, the digital world is his oyster. His Twitter account, he says, is his “megaphone” to speak, unfiltered, to his political base. Trump has more than 100 million Twitter followers. Newsweek points out as many as 15 million of his followers may be fake. Trump complained Twitter is trying to suppress the number of people following him. His complaint came in a tweet.

Barack Obama perfected the art of social media engagement and fundraising in his presidential campaigns. Now social media is a standard, integral part of campaigns for the presidency all the way down to local school board races. One of the top positions in big-time campaigns is digital director. Social media is a perfect vehicle to mobilize supporters, recruit new followers and disseminate a campaign’s key talking points. Social media also is a platform that can be used to test messages to see how they play with the political base.

Campaign budgets tell the story. Prior to the 2016 presidential election, major campaigns spent between 10 and 20 percent of the budget on digital. The Trump campaign spent 50 percent of its budget on digital. Big data, which can pinpoint people’s behavioral tendencies, has largely replaced paper voter registration lists that connect a Democrat or a Republican to a house address.

Based on US intelligence accounts, hacking into emails, setting up fake social media accounts, spinning conspiracy theories and conducting cyber dirty tricks are now common campaign practices. We have been led to believe Russia, China, Iran and North Korea have launched digital attacks aimed at US political figures, political parties and news media. There is less revealed knowledge about whether the United States engages in similar digital disruption in foreign countries.

Members of Congress who are stuck in Washington, DC – or want to avoid live appearances – have taken to virtual townhalls, often using live streaming as the medium.

Political polarization has lapped over to “news,” resulting in clusters of online outlets that cater to the views of people on the far opposite sides of the political spectrum. Some pose as news media even though they are principally political provocateurs. They would stick out on a TV channel guide, but they blend in as part of the vaster, unregulated cybersphere. 

Whereas people in the past conversed about political events of the day over coffee, they now engage in more highly caffeinated social media exchanges, sharing articles and trading insults in real time. You don’t have to wait for a daily newspaper to read your favorite (or most hated) commentator and offer your own follow-up comments. You can troll friends and foes alike online. You can associate with your political tribe and saber-rattle at your opposing political tribe. You can get – and give – political feedback on your smartphone virtually anywhere, anytime.

Like the internet of things, the internet of political things has created greater connectivity. In your home, you can remotely control your temperature and monitor your doorstep. In your political home, you can dial up whatever temperature you want and kick anyone to the gutter.

The internet of things can do a lot of good. You can monitor elderly parents living at home, reduce your energy bill and work without commuting. The internet of political things does good, too. You have more direct access to what political figures say and think. You have a wider range of political commentary at your fingertips. You can engage in political movements without leaving your own house.

For better or worse, the internet of political things is a reality. It is likely to become even more prevalent, though probably not to the point where you engage your refrigerator in a political debate. In Italy and other places, the internet of political things has evolved to electing representatives and giving them legislative direction via online direct democracy. That’s like inviting the legislative process for a sleepover on your computer. 

The good news is digital change occurs fast. You won’t have to wait long for the next big internet of political things.