This quote from Tech Crunch commentor Cillian Kieran caught our eye: “Alongside regulation, every software engineering team should have privacy tools immediately available. When civil engineers are building a bridge, they cannot make it safe for a subset of the population; it must work for all who cross it. The same must hold for our data infrastructure, lest we exacerbate disparities within and beyond the digital realm.”
The quote comes from an article on “widening inequality on the digital frontier” which poses valuable questions about whether we now need “a material perspective on widening privacy disparities — and their implication in broader social inequality — to catalyze the privacy improvements the U.S. desperately needs.” Kieran raises the material argument since, he says, the law doesn’t always recognize the emotional perspective of privacy as harm or as a driver for regulatory change.
Kieran makes two great points: First, almost all users in the US (except those who live in California under the CCPA) have no rights to opt-out of aggressive data collection and targeted advertising. But the fact that Californians can opt out implies there are harms from targeted advertising, which we know to be true and have discussed here, here and here. So why aren’t we protecting the millions of users who live anywhere other than California from these harms?
Kieran cites the example of targeted advertising leading to discrimination in housing and employment opportunities, “sometimes in violation of federal law” where it “impedes individuals’ autonomy, preemptively narrowing their window of purchasing options, even when they don’t want to.”
Second, Kieran points out money talks, including in digital privacy protection. He points to Apple making noises about privacy being a human right all while building and marketing luxury products only some can afford.
He argues: “… if those declaring privacy as a human right only make products affordable to some, what does that say about our human rights? Apple products skew toward wealthier, more educated consumers compared to competitors’ products. This projects a troubling future of increasingly exacerbated privacy disparities between the haves and the have-nots, where a feedback loop is established: Those with fewer resources to acquire privacy protections may have fewer resources to navigate the technical and legal challenges that come with a practice as convoluted as targeted advertising.”
“We deserve meaningful privacy protections that everyone can afford. In fact, to turn the phrase on its head, we deserve meaningful privacy protections that no company can afford to omit from their products. We deserve a both/and approach: privacy that is both meaningful and widely available.”
Kieran says the only way to close the disparity gap and get meaningful protections is via privacy legislation and privacy tools. Lawmakers must set the standards and engineers must have no reason not to embed user data privacy controls in products they develop.
He says: “We need privacy rules set by an institution that is not itself playing the game. Regulation alone cannot save us from modern privacy perils, but it is a vital ingredient in any viable solution.”
Which brings us back to where we started:
“Alongside regulation, every software engineering team should have privacy tools immediately available. When civil engineers are building a bridge, they cannot make it safe for a subset of the population; it must work for all who cross it. The same must hold for our data infrastructure, lest we exacerbate disparities within and beyond the digital realm.”
Read the full article.
If you’d like to know how Anonyome Labs is trying to reduce privacy inequality and build tools to empower all users with the capabilities they need to protect and control their digital information, check out Sudo Platform and MySudo.
Photo By Smile Studio