Get Your Hands Off My Data

Gal Ringel
5
min read

<hl>Just like our data, this fight belongs to us<hl>

Recent legislation efforts in the field of online privacy have made it painfully clear that these types of solutions are simply not enough. Following years of phrasing, tweaking and dealing with bureaucracy, we clearly see that the laws meant to increase our sense of privacy cannot achieve this goal on their own. Is there any way we can offer some extra support? I believe there is. The following paragraphs will explain why the existing solutions we are offered in the fight for online privacy are outdated or disconnected at best, and which supportive solutions are available to help us regain control over our personal data.

Get Your Hands Off My Data

Keeping up with the times

No law is an island. When tech giants gather to form anti-privacy laws think tanks, some even going as far as promising specific financial incentives to public representatives, the unrepresented public has very little power over the process and the eventual outcome. We’ve seen this happen with GDPR and now with CCPA. With so much money flowing from tech companies into politics, and with so many former politicians moving on to work for technology giants - resistance in its current form is futile.

But even without any business lobbyists around, the system itself has an agenda that sometimes contradicts the purpose of privacy laws. Just look at how whistleblowers like Wikileaks and Edward Snowden are being treated. Intelligence agencies like the NSA and the FBI are repeatedly found to have violated people’s privacy, and it’s hard to imagine that they would support any form of legislation preventing them from continuing to do so uninterruptedly.

Finally, the time it takes for privacy laws to become reality is long enough to make them irrelevant in terms of current technology and legal manipulations. The long process of GDPR, for example, dates all the way back to 1995. Legislation works in a certain way and technology is on a whole other level.

Seeking justice in the right places

When looking for alternative solutions to online privacy, the first order of business is to understand the nature of these violations. These acts have become so embedded in our daily lives that we almost consider them to be the norm, but violating our privacy isn’t something to be taken lightly and the added solutions should be just as serious.

In other cases that have to do with criminal justice, we see alternative solutions come into play and shift the power from the legislator or enforcer back to the people. We install security cameras when the neighbourhood watch is not enough, and have a neighbourhood watch in the first place when the police don’t patrol our area often. We turn to private DNA tests when a wrongful conviction or an unsolved crime is of issue, and so on.

Our data rules

Companies make a lot of money collecting and using our data and If we make a conscious effort to set clear boundaries and send them a strong message, it might make a difference. I’d like to propose a couple of alternative solutions that just might do the trick, each representing a different approach.

Solution #1: The activist approach

At the end of the day, online privacy is a personal matter. When we feel personally violated, our initial instinct is to speak up and drive collective action, and that is exactly what we should do. The activist approach is focused on harnessing the power of the masses to demand a solution and provide people with the information they need.

When Facebook was in hot water over a privacy-focused scandal, it wasn’t fines or federal charges that the company had to worry about. The real problem for Zuckerberg was the #DeleteFacebook movement. People were unhappy with the company and did the one thing they could do to protest - delete their account. We witness the power of online campaigns like #MeToo more and more lately, making a difference where the system has failed.

An activist campaign may also be a collective project that “translates” privacy policies or ranks companies based on their intrusion levels. Where tech giants do their best to remain vague, the public can add clarity and enforce transparency.

Solution #2: The business approach

Companies all around the world do their best to protect their data against hackers and violators, and they do not rely on the law or the government to save them. Instead, they implement private solutions created by those who recognized the opportunity. The business approach suggests that we as individuals do the same.  

This solution may include private cyber and monitoring solutions, a “privacy agent” similar to an insurance one, to manage our information and alert us on anything out of the ordinary.

In the same way reformed hackers help cybersecurity companies protect businesses against intruders, we might witness former tech giants’ employees develop the solution that will protect users’ privacy against their old employer. These solutions will move much faster than any legislation, constantly updating based on the latest tech discoveries on either side of the equation, and without the added weight of a conflicting political agenda.

There are other alternative solutions to examine and discuss, each offering its own advantages and posing some challenges. One might wonder, for example, if using the same social media channels to fight social media giants is effective. But the most important lesson here is that there’s plenty we can and should do ourselves. Just like our data, this fight belongs to us.