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I was Øredev last week and pleasantly surprised to see a good number of talks focusing on privacy, especially some of them being keynotes. It’s a topic that I’ve been interested in for some time now and something I covered in my talk Where’s my Free Lunch at the same conference.

I think it’s fantastic that we’re having conversations around Privacy, but I’m also very much concerned that it seems we’re giving up the fight. During one of they keynotes, the following was said

If that is in fact the message, that our battle with privacy is over, then I have to say I strongly disagree.

Using Data For Good

The premise that our data is already out there and that the best thing we can do is just to try and put it to good use would only hold if we would have the guarantee that everyone would abide by that rule. Unfortunately that’s wishful thinking.

Now, you could think, OK, big deal, they’re going to sell me advertising. I’m already bombarded with Ads, no big deal.

The problem is that this in’t only about ads. Between services and applications we use, we are providing corporations information about what we eat, how we sleep, how we run, how we work, how much we drink, our DNA, and even how much we walk our dogs. Yes, there’s even a device for that. And we’re trusting that this information will always be kept confidential, never stolen, shared or put to bad use. That’s a lot of faith in my book.

Bruce Schneier once said

“Surveillance is the business model of the Internet…We build systems that spy on people in exchange for services. Corporations call it marketing.”

Of course, we’re assuming that our civilisation continues to advance progressively and towards the greater good, but something Ancilla rightly showed in her excellent talk on Privacy, a relic of the past
is that we have no idea on what our information will be used for in the future. And it might not just be about advertising.

I highly recommend you watch her talk.

We need to champion the fight for Privacy

As software developers, as members of the IT industry, I believe we have more responsibility in this matter. We need to not only find ways in which we can safeguard people’s information (even if that means finding a more sustainable business model for our application than that of mining people’s intimacy) but we also need to be the vocal voices in making the rest of society understand the implications of all this.

We should be using, promoting and creating applications and services that defend people’s right to privacy, not ignore it, let alone abuse it.

If we, as experts, as those that are knowledgable about what possibilities the future holds with data mining and AI, throw in the towel and claim the fight is over, then what chance does the rest of society have?

As Ian Malcolm (played by Jefff Goldblum) in Jurassic Park said

“Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should”

Let’s not do things we’ll all come to regret.