Why Privacy Matters

by Tara Taubman-Bassirian

In “Delete : The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age”, Viktor Mayer-Schonberger from the Berkman Klein Centre of Internet and Society, exposes the permanent shadow that follows us online for ever. The issues of privacy and freedom that results and his suggested solution : auto-delete files or information expiry date.

Changing back the default setting from remembering to forgetting.

The crumbs of information left behind, get aggregated and build a picture, sometimes distorted, that follows us. 

According to the theory of conservation of energy, data does have a deceptively long lifespan.

Nothing gets deleted. 

As Viktor Mayer-Schonberger points out, the German Stasi genocide project would have taken a whole different apocalyptic dimension had Google storage and data indexing existed at the time.

He mentions the case of the Dutch Citizens register put in place in the 1930s. To ensure the administration of social securities, it included religious and ethnicity. Once the nazi had occupied the Netherland, they exploited the register to identify jews to be deported and sent to concentration camps.

Another major Privacy scholar, Professor Daniel Solove, has been actively raising awareness on privacy and the future of reputation online. 

His paper, “I’ve Got Nothing to Hide,” and Other Misunderstandings of Privacy, explains why privacy matters. He later expanded his ideas in the essay into a book: Nothing to Hide: The False Tradeoff Between Privacy and Security.  

If you think The only people who should worry are those who are doing something immoral or illegal, you should read his essays and books. With the mass of omni-veillance data, the situation is not just Orwellian, but Kafkaesque.

In a series of YouTube videos and conferences, Daniel Solove brings public attention to cases of online harassement.

The Dog Pooh girl is the story of an unlucky girl. She is with her dog in a suburban tube of South Korea. The dog poop on the train, she is on a hurry, she leaves the train refusing to clean up behind. In the old days, that would have been the end of it. Today, when face-to-face persuasion fails, there’s a fallback plan : anonymous Internet humiliation. The witness who recorded her with his smartphone, posted the shaming video online. Within days, her identity and her past were revealed. The video gets viral all around the world. Posters and all kinds of jokes were made. Media wrote about her. Even the US Washington Post wrote about her story. 

She eventually reached a fame she wished she did never achieved. For ever, the image will follow her. This girl will be called the Dog Pooh Girl.

Another illustration, The sad story of the the Star Wars Kid. A young chubby boy in Canada. He posted a video of himself online in his rather unsuccessful attempt to imitate George Lucas, the famous movie star. His video was watched by tens of millions of internautes who commented, and widely mocked his gesture. He was teased by the whole world. 

A childhood incident that will follow him forever.

Daniel Solove questions the Future of Reputation in the digital age and how data can track you back.

He wrote : “If the Empire in Star Wars Had Big Data, the Empire would have won. A search of records would have revealed where Luke Skywalker was living on Tatooine. A more efficient collection and aggregation of Jawa records would have located the droids immediately. Simple data analysis would have revealed that Ben Kenobi was really Obi Wan Kenobi. A search of birth records would have revealed that Princess Leia was Luke’s sister. Had the Empire had anything like the NSA, it would have had all the data it needed, and it could have sweptup the droids and everyone else, and that would have been that. “

So, Is more information stored any better?

What is an information taken out of context.

What is individuals freedom and autonomy when we can’t escape from our past?

During an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Google’s CEO, Eric Schmidt, suggested that young people should be entitled to change their identity once achieved 21 years of age to escape their youth mistakes.

He adds : ”I don’t believe society understands what happens when everything is available, knowable and recorded by everyone all the time.

So, is taking a new identity a realistic option?

Facebook is one other place where users are encouraged to share their day to day stories, their feelings and their believes. Users profiles were exploited by Cambridge Analytica to manipulate electoral votes.

More worrying, Facebook does not respect the multi layers of our personality by storing all in one place. No more free speech nor modular language between levels of relationships.

In the past, people will write diaries. Today, it’s been replaced by online blogs or social media platforms where people reveal most intimates details of their life.

And incidentally the live of their family, friends, co-workers, everyone, posted online for the eternity. 

50% of blogs are from children under the age of 18. 

The generation Google, as Daniel Solove calls it , has its memories engaged for ever. A childhood that will follow them for ever, for the leisure of Google to bring back every piece of memories.

Forgetting is not forgiving. It’s a salutatory purge of our brain. it’s mostly random purge. 

Maybe have you heard of Neuralink, a revolutionary project funded by Elon Musk. 

Elon Musk is the American multibillionaire CEO of Tesla electric cars, the inventor of the fabulous solar roof tiles. He even projects to colonise the Planet Mars. 

The richest man in the world according to Forbes magazine.

His Neuralink project aims to reduce social inequalities by boosting cognitive capacities. A project to implant Computer interfaces in the brain of disadvantage populations, as he believes they lack intelligence. A theory supported by the French Dr Laurent Alexandre believing high IQ is key to success. A whole utopia of transhumanism. 

Give them extra brain processing and you’ll resolve the issues of poverty!

Adding memory :

Now, lets look at a little story told by Jean-Gabriel Ganascia :

A little girl, Adele, asks her grand mother Juliette : Grand’ma, what does it mean a ‘recitation’ ? The Grand’ma vaguely remembers that early Twenty-One century, people had to read and read again to memorise poetry or other texts. Adele lives in 2075. She has no idea of that. 

Neuralink has resolved the memory issue. 

In fact, Elon Musk, has borrowed his idea from NEURALIFE in ‘Tomorrow and Beyond’, Science fiction book by Ian Bronx. 

The little girl is curious to know if this learning by heart process was any painful. The grand’ma says : ‘no, we just had to read and read again to memorise, not to forget. ‘ 

The little girl has no idea what forget means.

Jean-Gabriel Ganascia, who tells this science fiction story, is a professor of Computer Science and a French Philosopher. He is the President of the Ethics committee at the French Research Center, CNRS. His research is particularly focused on Ethics and Artificial Intelligence.

In France, patients are already treated by deep electronic simulations of the brain to treat the symptoms of Parkinson disease.

Now, imagine having an astonishing memory to record and remember everything, including every dream, every single detail of your life.

Well, near 80 people around the world today have naturally this biological capability. 

Actually, they suffer, they suffer from Hypermnesia disorder. They permanently keep a perfect memory of their life. They virtually remember every minor event most people would forget within days. The memory for them is so vivid, they can feel the pain for ever once recorded. Every painful image they see remains engraved in their brain. 

Imagine the nightmare they live.

Without forgetting, we are haunted by the past without the ability to forgive or decide in present.

If Neuralink project was to go ahead, it needed a delete button. 

And here is the big question : Who can decide to select and delete one’s memories ?

Before Neuralink, we are the first generations to have big parts of our lives permanently, digitally recorded. 

Google aggregate and bring up in a click all crumbs of information to re-compose the puzzle of our life. 

What the right to be forgotten can do?

The so called Right to be Forgotten created by the European Court of Justice is not deleting the information but only de-linking the content by the search engine Google. 

Under specific circumstances a right to delete has been introduced by the the recent European Regulation for the protection of personal data. But that is for a very small parcel of our sparse available information. 

Since its creation 20 years ago, Google has been collecting a mass of data.

Google knows more about each of us than we know ourself.

The new global Panoptican society of invisible surveillance is treat to human freedom and dignity.

Remembering has long been human’s dream. However, forgetting is a biological capacity. Today there is a shift. From biological forgetting we have moved to digital remembering.

Naturally, Memory is the exception, forgetting the default

Digitally, Remembering has become the default, forgetting the exception.

Human health and wellness is based on the balance between memory and forgetfulness. 

Leaves on trees take the colours of the autumn to fall. Gradually, they join the soil to enrich its nutrients. This putrefaction is what later allows the birth of new lives. 

A transmutation the epigenetic is starting to see in human DNA.

We need to forget to better remember.

Awareness gives the ability to balance the pros and cons. To be aware is not being scared.

Does it worth the risk to post it online for the eternity ?

How best to protect our privacy?

How to bring transparency and control for better privacy ?

These are the options of our future, the future of our children. 

Which kind of society we want for them ?

To protect against unforeseen future, it’s better to store less than more.

Let us remember to forget, to borrow VMS words.

Further reading :

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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