Power Is the Problem, Not Privacy

Originally, this piece began as a response to Tobias Stone’s article Your Privacy is Over, but apparently, in addition, to dark places to hide, Mr. Stone also enjoys exercising the power to squash dissenting opinions. And since responding to articles on Medium is really just a vain attempt to get noticed anyway, it’s probably best that I simply post it here.

If you haven’t read Stone’s article, please, give it a read (and some claps, if you’re into that shit). It’s super paranoid, defeatist, and great. For some context, I’ll summarize.

Soon quantum computers will be able to access and analyze everything about you, whether you posted it voluntarily or it was scraped from the giant Data Warehouse of Pervasive Surveillance in the sky. To quote,

“Not only will you have no privacy in the future — any privacy you thought you had in the past will vanish as well.”

While I agree that our current society is unfamiliar with such a paradigm, I struggle with the idea now circulating that privacy is the default, that we are somehow losing something that was previously inherent to the human condition.

In actuality, the reverse is true. Early societies lived almost wholly without privacy. And they were better off for it. In terms of a well functioning society, utter transparency is preferable to total privacy.

Now I grant that the situation to which the esteemed Mr. Stone alludes is a somewhat different dynamic than that of a small tribe of nomads. Still it seems that what he is really saying is that a tiny cohort of elite will be able to know everything about all of us, and that they will use that knowledge to their advantage. Which is an entirely different issue than whether or not complete transparency is a good thing.

The question then, in my mind, is not how we might conceal our imprudence, but who are these individuals and entities we’ve enabled to weaponize our own actions against us? And why are we allowing them this power?

Again, to quote Stone,

“Ultimately, everything will be tracked by the state, connected by ever more sophisticated algorithms, run on ever more powerful computers, until dissent becomes impossible and there is no escape. How do you oppose a system like that?”

By refusing to accept its legitimacy, for starters.

As Mr. Stone points out, this is the new reality, and it’s not going away. But it should be noted that these are our actions we’re talking about, and we should be accountable for them. In this sense, pure transparency is a benefit to society. The literal eye of God, motivating us to be the person we know we should be. It’s a mental construct humans have utilized for millennia, only made material. I’m not convinced I need to be afraid of it. And I certainly don’t believe that the solution lies in creating ways for people to avoid it.

In a Motherboard piece, Jason Koebler makes the case that we should, if not actively safeguard it, at least not naively cede our genetic code to large, centralized data stores. While this is generally wise advice, what it does more than anything is illustrate the real cause for concern. From a biological standpoint, our DNA is an immutable fact. It cannot be meditatively altered or changed, post conception, even if I wanted to. It is who I am. So why should I fear its being common knowledge?

Because someone might use it against me.

This is the issue we ought be focused on, not privacy. Why do we condone, if not actively substantiate, a society where such behavior is tolerated? A society in which these types of activities are not only allowed, but requisite and rewarded?

This is what concerns me, not the likely disturbing abstract of my personality that could be created from my Google search history. My friends will grant me that minor indiscretion, and, in fact, already do.