Humans need privacy — the United Nations long ago declared it an inalienable and universal human right. Yet technology is making privacy increasingly difficult to preserve, as we spend fewer and fewer moments of time disconnected from our computers, smartphones and wearable tech. Edward Snowden’s revelations about the scope of surveillance by the National Security Agency and journalists’ investigations into Cambridge Analytica showed us how the tech products and platforms we use daily make incursions on our privacy. But we continue to use these services and allow our personal data to be collected and sold and, essentially, used against us — through advertising, political advertising and other forms of targeting, sometimes even surveillance or censorship — all because many feel that the benefits these services provide outweigh their negative impacts on our privacy.
This week’s guest, Carissa Véliz, believes that our current relationship with online privacy needs to change, and there are ways to go about it. Véliz is the author of Privacy Is Power and associate professor in the Faculty of Philosophy at the University of Oxford.
Véliz speaks with host Taylor Owen about how sharing private information is often not simply individual information. “Whenever I share my personal data, I’m generally sharing personal data about others as well. So, if I share my genetic data, I’m sharing data about my parents, about my siblings, about my cousins,” which, she explains, can lead to unintended consequences for others, such as being denied medical insurance or deportation. As she sees it, users have the power to demand better controls over their personal data, because it is so valuable to the big tech companies that collect, sell and use it for advertising. “The most valuable kind of data is the most recent one, because personal data expires pretty quickly. People change their tastes. They move houses. They lose weight or gain weight. And so companies always want the most updated data.” Véliz wants people to know that even if they believe their data is already out there on the internet, it’s not too late to improve their privacy practices or demand change from technology companies. “Because you’re creating new data all the time, you can make a really big difference by protecting your data as of today,” she says. The battle is not lost — there is always an opportunity to change the way our data is used. But Véliz warns that we must act now to establish those guardrails, because technology will continue to invade ever more of our private spaces if left unchecked.