One of the modules this term at #CityLIS that I absolutely love is called IDLE: Information & Data, Law & Ethics. We are debating and looking at issues including: privacy and what that word means in different contexts; ethics of information; big data; data capitalism; being data subjects; how social media can influence elections and democracies via the data harvesting they carry out and the subsequent targeted advertising that happens as a result; GDPR and data protection; and the law around data and privacy. It is SO much more than I expected it to be when I read the module description and it makes me fantastically angry most weeks.
So, I do find the whole privacy and data debate more than a little bit monolithic and terrifying, but then that would suggest I didn’t know all this was happening before I came onto the module, which would obviously be massively disingenous, because I’d have had to be living underground to not know that every single second, of every single day, our habits, thoughts, information, and personal identities are being robbed from right under our noses – or to be precise, from out of the palms of our hands. So I think there is a cognitive dissonance of sorts going on for me – and I’m sure I am not the only one – when it comes to ‘knowing’ what happens to my personal information and data, and ‘knowing’ what happens to my personal information and data. The first knowing is where I know, but I don’t really want to know, because I’m generally exhausted as it is and have no energy left to care about what happens to my data – and because it happens invisibly, or at first glance it does, I can conveniently forget about it – so I put it out of my mind. The second knowing is where I go “That is DISGUSTING and it should STOP IMMEDIATELY” as if it’s the first time I have heard that these practices are commonplace in what we now know as the economy of information. So, I know. And finally, I want to do something about it.
For me, the top five contenders that Orwell would have a field day studying today are Amazon, Google, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft. You cannot escape using AT LEAST one of these today, if not four, possibly all five. I use all bar Apple, who I swore off ten years ago when I was Office Manager for a market research firm that used Macbooks syncing with a Windows Server (because they would only invest in fancy tech that clients could actually see, not something that sat in the small cupboard behind my desk, #imageiseverything). For any I.T. bods out there, you will know that ten years ago this was an administrative and technological nightmare. I still shudder at the memory.
I shut down my Facebook accounts about a year ago, so that’s sorted. I am in the process of shutting my Amazon account down (once the last thing I ordered arrives, whoops), and this week I began to DeGoogle. It is a strangely exciting, liberating process. I feel like I’m slowly losing chains around my mind – which may seem dramatic to some, no doubt – but knowing that less and less of my data is available to Google somehow makes me feel lighter.
The first step was to return to Linux desktop and Windows laptop, from my Chromebook that I inexplicably bought last year in a moment of utterly incomprehensible madness – I’ve powerwashed the Chromebook and wiped everything. Then I DeChromed, installing Firefox with the DuckDuckGo search add-on plus Ghostery and AdBlocker Ultimate add-ons, importing all my passwords and bookmarks, which thankfully worked beautifully with no glitches. And I’ve set up an /e/ account, and next week will be wiping my mobile handset Android OS with another pal who I’ve convinced to make the move, replacing it with /e/, a fully DeGoogled version of the Android OS – and I cannot WAIT because I love a good tech hack.
And over the next few months, I’ll be moving my GDrives (I have five separate Google accounts so this will be a lengthy, at times frustrating, and interesting process) over to external hard drives, changing my email addresses to Proton Mails, and porting my calendars to a new service too. I am not sure how I’m going to get around the Microsoft issue just yet, but I’m sure with time that answer will come too.
If my privacy is part of what makes up my human rights, as Article 8 of the Human Rights Act counters, then I want my rights back. So I’m going to take them. The law is not set up to deal with the modern privacy issues we see occuring in the 21st Century because the nature of information has changed, and so the law has either not caught up yet, or is painfully slow in dealing with cases of breaches. In week 1 of IDLE, David Bawden said “ethics is what we turn to when the law is silent”, which I rather liked. Although I’d also say that ethics are important when the law is loud, too, depending on who it seeks to silence.
Ethically, I just cannot countenance that my data is used, along with that of billions of other data subjects, to build pictures of voting predilections with ads then developed to target those belief systems – one use of many, arguably immoral acts committed with data. Yet, there is no way now that I will ever be able to live a dataless, untracked life in the same way as I enjoyed until I got my first bank card aged 17, first passport aged 18 (thankfully not biometric, although it now is, which I resent), and first smartphone aged 21.
But I can do my best, so my best will have to do.