Note — May 09, 2021

Left Alone, Together

Sometimes you find an article or blog post you like so much, you have to wonder “how the did I not already know about her/him?” This post by jenny (phire) zhang was such a moment. Really, really great piece on privacy needing to go from something we think of as the purview of the individual, to seeing it as a common good, something that we need to think of together, because the scale of the systems within which we operate now makes it impossible for individuals to completely understand, never mind enforce, their own agency and preferences. Superbly explained starting from the transformation of privacy with the arrival of networked computing, how social pressure affects decisions, those decisions through time, and recycling and pandemic masks as useful parallels.

The impossibility of this burden to individually safeguard our data often reminds me of recycling. Because yes, there’s absolutely digital safety practices to lower our risk of exposure, but they don’t address the core issue that there’s too much data, too many data brokers, too many transactions hidden from the user’s view. […]

[I]f you only have the right to privacy when you’re hypervigilant about defending it, you never really had that right to begin with. Instead, at a very minimum the question should be: why does Google deserve to see your email? […]

We also know that while public goods often have a free rider problem, people are actually pretty willing to act for the collective good if they know that others will, too. There’s many examples around the world of communities banding together to collectively govern a shared resource, like forestry, grazing grounds, and wells. The same principle can also be used in data governance, using systems like data trusts or a data commons. […]

Nothing about how technology shows up in our lives is predetermined; these are all policy choices.