The Internet and Living Spaces

I've heard it said before that people don't need to protect their privacy online because they've got nothing to hide, or nothing of value to protect. That's wrong, because we have so much to protect, even if you don't use the internet for commerce and banking. A stalker is a stalker is a stalker, whether or not it's an individual or a government doing the surveillance.

Up until a few decades ago, people lived in physical spaces almost exclusively. Telecommunication usually meant sending a message through the postal service at best, or shouting across the street at worst. It's in these physical spaces that people connected, worked and made things of value. Control over these spaces usually meant control over the people that reside within them, and much of it is still the same today. It's this control that rulers and despots want to claim.

In today's age of hand-held black mirrors connected by unseen forces that tap into a parallel world made of our collective knowledge, dreams and fears, an entirely new dimension is added to our lives. Because the big social networks and eCommerce giants aren't seen as just “websites” anymore. They've become part of (at least in populous urbanized areas) our daily lives. We LIVE in them now, as much as we do in our homes and workplaces. Anyone who's seen the fallout of a “Facebook Breakup”, or worse, “Cyber-Bullying”, understands how much this other dimension of reality we've built around ourselves affects our lives.

It's this previously non-existent space, this world within a world, that the Powers that Be want to have power over, and “Knowledge is Power” can't be more true than in the Internet. Using current technologies, they can track, not only your apparent activity, but your long-term decision-making processes and browsing patterns. Using this knowledge, they know more about you than you'd know about yourself (if you haven't taken steps to know yourself with the same kind of cold disinterest. It's hard). Using this knowledge, your behaviors can be manipulated by “providing personalized recommendations” that are “tailor-fit to suit your needs”.

The client I work for at my company uses similar information to drive towards maximizing revenue and customer retention. Seeing it work with the kind of efficiency it has makes me shudder to think of how more sophisticated machines can do the same for governments that don't have the people's best interests in mind.

Robert Heinlein of Starship Troopers fame popularized the saying that “There's no such thing as a free lunch”, and that's certainly true for the Internet. Without taking action to hide our identities and encrypt our activities on the web, our information and that of the people we care about are all going to be used by ones that only care about their own goals. Because in this world twisted by greed and ambition, if you think you're getting something for free, then you're the thing that's being sold.