The darker side of “control vs. freedom” or “control + harm” casts a shadow on every facet of technology—and it is a digital civil rights issue, where control over you by corporations is causing you harm, all the time, on all your devices.
It would be simple to create the exact same technology companies that exist today, without the creepy crossing into personal privacy invasion. Social Media can absolutely exist (and even sell ads) without being invasive; search tools can return valid results (and still sell ads) without recording everything on you (forever); ride sharing services can drive you places without tracking your every location when you’re not using them; ordering history from stores certainly does not need all your personal data after you receive what you ordered.
There is no reason to retain everything a person has ever done digitally. A simple policy of “once data is no longer needed, it is deleted.” fits perfectly here. Does the police need to hold your GPS location, date and time permanently, after scanning your car’s license plate? Does a social media service need to backchannel your purchase receipts to match who you follow and interact with, against credit card receipts, forever? Not really.
Use software where it passes the simple freedom test: Can you run that program as you wish? Can you study the source code? Can you share it alike? If you can, you have complete control over the program, and you can avoid harm.
Hardware should not have a corporate controlled lock, so people can own devices, not rent them. Software should be under the full control of the person using it, and source code released. Services should be decentralized, so no single entity can control them and their users. Once all three (hardware, software, services) are in the hands of the people, then they will truly be digitally free.
Let’s take a look at some of big-tech’s big issues below:
Looking at Apple (the censorship and personal control masters), we see they block applications from their platform, censor applications and content to their own liking, disallow them on their platform entirely, invade privacy with excruciating level of detail, are anti-competitive with an unlawful monopoly with its App Store, among many other examples of their control over you. We quickly recognize that people are just renting a device from Apple, that Apple is in complete Orwellian control of it, that all our personal data is also under Apple’s control.
Welcome to the manipulation and censorship private clubs of social media: these companies control their user-base through haphazard policies to ban posts and manipulate everything you see, trying to influence your opinion. It has been a long upheld legal stance that you may disagree with what a person may legally say, but you must respect their right to say it. The reason? Centuries of jurisprudence showcasing the issues of censorship causing harm. We may want to pay attention to the EFF, FSF, ACLU, California Constitution, and the US Supreme Court, when they all agree that censorship is a terrible idea.
This data hoarder has incomprehensibly large amounts of data on everything you do, from every device every millisecond of every day, and is invading your privacy, controlling your devices, censoring voices, and spying on you. The executives at Google pen opinion pieces on how much they care about privacy while undermining it with lawmakers: their actions are the exact opposite of their words, while they are committing some of the worst digital atrocities of all time.
These and others all fall into the same Silicon Valley funding process: to write software, services, and applications designed around grabbing as many users and personal data as possible—oftentimes doing an end-run around regulation in the name of innovation (does anybody actually think Uber or Lyft aren’t just non-yellow taxis booked through a mobile app? So why shouldn’t they comply with the same rules and regulations that taxis do? Oh… right, because of ‘innovation‘). All these companies share the same bad habits of writing software that controls the person using it, of exploiting people for profit—be that through tracking your every location detail, your mood, profiling you, leaving you unable to verify the source code and inserting malware into it—continuing abuses of your digital civil rights.
Is quite simple: support products and companies that protect your freedoms, put you in complete control, and work to eliminate harm. The interesting side effect is you will also be building a more tolerant, empowering, diverse, and inclusive society.