I have a thing against Big Brother. Not the show (I just choose not to watch it), but the type of society where everything you do or say is monitored one way or another.
If you’ve got nothing to hide…
What about the old “if you’ve got nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear”?
It doesn’t float. I could explain exactly why, but it’s been done enough times already by others with much better words than I can write here, so just search for “If you’ve got nothing to hide” on the internet, and you’ll find why that is a non-truth.
Everybody is monitored
So… I prefer not to be monitored where I can avoid it. Obviously, it’s not always avoidable, and we all have our names listed in our country’s administration books, along with address details, date of birth, tax numbers, social security numbers, and more. I believe for some even their medical histories. There’s
nothing not much I can do about that, so I concentrate on where I do have influence.
It’s okay sometimes
There are some ways of monitoring that I currently have no problem with. Take for example Amazon. They have my credit card details, my full name and address, and know a lot about what I like to buy. To me, this is a no-brainer. I buy stuff from them, which gets delivered to my door. Their motive for monitoring my spending habits, is purely so that they can help me buy (help them sell) more of their stuff. I have no problem with this. An extra positive point here, is that I can see exactly what they know about me, and change that information. I can buy something, and then tell them not to use it to determine my likes. I can also opt out of being monitored while browsing their site, by logging out.
The same goes for my supermarket where I use a discount card. I get discounts, they get to know more about what they should stock up on. If I don’t want them to monitor what I buy from them, I can just not use the card – nobody is forcing me to use it.
So, yes – I am monitored by companies with my consent.
There are also some companies however, that I do not trust with my details. One of these, is Google. While they were only doing search, I had no problem with them. So, they know what I search for. All that meant was that they could place relevant ads in the sidebar of my browser window.
But now, I can be fully monitored by them. They would not only know what I search for, but also who my email contacts are (Gmail), who I talk to (Gtalk), what videos I like to watch (YouTube), who my friends are and how I classify them (Google+ and circles), what kind of photos I take or like (Picasa), where I am (Google Maps with Latitude), what ads I might click (DoubleClick), what blogs I read (FeedReader) or write (FeedBurner), what groups I follow and what I say on Usenet (Google Groups), and I’m sure there are many more ways in which they try and monitor me.
Don’t you think that’s a bit much for one single company to know about you? I’d say that’s a little bit too much power. If you don’t see the harm (“they only do it to target you for advertising”), try and think of any government that would have access to Google’s database. Do you still think it’s okay?
Another one of course, is Facebook. It doesn’t just collect the information that you are freely giving it in your Facebook profile, they also combine it with whatever your Facebook friends do.
Not only that, but time after time, they have proven to be untrustworthy. Privacy settings are increasingly complicated, and even if you do go through the trouble to set them all exactly as you want them, soon enough they will add another option, which is always “public by default”, and before you’re aware of it, you’re sharing things with the world that you had only intended for your friends. Again and again, Facebook gets caught with things like this, then rolls back the change that got the heaviest critique, waits till everybody is okay with it and then does it again.
To me, it doesn’t even matter whether Facebook would give your details to the CIA or FBI or whomever – they can not be trusted even to keep your privacy within Facebook itself, so I chose not to have to deal with them at all. I’m not on Facebook, and never will be. Unfortunately for me, they already do know things about me. They may not know my real name or age or gender, but they do know my email address, and who my friends are. Like everyone, I do have friends who let Facebook read their address books, which of course has my email address in it.
And unlike trustworthy companies, Facebook keeps that on record. I found that out for myself when I briefly signed up anonymously on Facebook, using an email address that I use to keep in contact with some of my friends. Immediately I got a list of people I actually know in real life, being suggested to me as friends. This is only possible if Facebook has kept my email address on record, after having completed the search for it when my friends asked them to check if any of their friends were already on Facebook.
So, just use other websites?
Still, I can easily avoid those two companies, right? I can block Google’s cookies while browsing YouTube, I can use a different search engine to search the web, I can use my own RSS reader instead of FeedReader, let WordPress handle my blog’s RSS, I can use Flickr instead of Picasa, use MSN or Jabber instead of Gtalk, have my own email addresses, and use various other websites or apps to communicate with groups of people. And indeed I do.
The problem is that these other companies keep getting bought by Google and Facebook. I think that in the end you’ll have only 3 types of internet users: Facebook users, Google users, and the disconnected users. And to be honest, I don’t want to be in either of those 3 groups!
I used to use Aardvark. It was a great alternative to Google when trying to find specialised information, with personal replies from strangers who’d know the answer. Then Google bought them, and I deleted my account. Good thing I wasn’t hooked on it yet.
I used to have a YouTube account, merely to be able to ‘like’ my friends’ videos and give them thumbs up.
Then Google integrated all their different accounts so much, that it became impossible to keep a YouTube account without simultaneously sending all that information to a Google account as well. So, I deleted my YouTube account.
Also deleted my Gmail accounts at the same time. I may still have one somewhere, as I seem to be the account holder for a client’s Google Analytics or webmaster account, which you can’t do without a Google email address. I did spend at least 10 minutes disconnecting that account from everything else though.
Last year I bought an iPhone, and in October I started using Instagram. Very nice app, beautiful photos, great community.
And then Facebook bought it.
Zuckerberg says Instagram will be developed separately from Facebook, that it will stay as it is, that you won’t need to share with your Facebook friends, and that you will always be able to share via Twitter, Tumblr, etc, as you are now. But if there is one thing I know about Mr Facebook, is that his words can not be trusted.
Also, even if it would indeed be kept separate from Facebook in how it works and connects to other services – would the details of the Instagram users not still be on Facebook’s servers? Can I get a guarantee that these details will never be mixed with any of the Facebook user details? Would Mark Zuckerberg really pay 1 billion US dollars for a company whose users’ details can not be used to target ads on their Facebook profiles, and vice versa? Are we really that gullible?
I like to think I’m not. So, although it’s not something I like to do, I still decided to quit Instagram now, rather than after Facebook has dug into it. To use an analogy: quitting now is like being a fish on a hook – caught by the lip, and you either end up on the fisherman’s plate, or you rip some flesh and be free. But waiting until Facebook starts to change things, is like being a frog that slowly boils in a pot of hot water, and only realises what’s happening when it’s too late. I’ll be the free fish with the bloody lip, if you don’t mind!
I’ve chosen to use Streamzoo instead (until they get bought up too at some point), but if you’d like to know why Streamzoo instead of all the other apps out there, I’ve written a post about that, on my photo blog here.