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Data Is A Liability

Information has been, is and will always be the most valuable currency humans will ever be able to obtain. Hundreds of years ago spies were used to obtain information about an enemy, these days having access to information others do not, could still win a war or end up turning you into a millionaire.

Information is also a liability though. Many companies harvest as much data as possible from their users, or sometimes even from their paying customers and it has become industry standard to the point where most have become numb to this dystopian reality. Including those implementing these features who should know better. In the best case companies are most likely not setup and will never be setup to process this amount of data and in the worst case the people in charge at these companies are simply too stupid to even begin processing the smallest subset of the collected information. Too stupid in the sense that they keep collecting the information regardless of it’s value to them and because they probably also do not secure it properly. Lets hope that GDPR takes care of the latter problem.

(I think what follows now has started much much earlier but recent events brought this back to light once again.)

With recent Black Lives Matter protests the “Law Enforcement Community” has had the bright idea to tap right into the mighty data harvesting machinery enabled by all major companies. Why do the dirty work of tracking people illegally, storing the information for a lot of money and making employees sign their life away only to eventually ignore that and run away to Russia when you can simply buy the data when required. It has been long known that data brokers are willing to do business with just about anybody if they’re willing to pay the prices, and by doing business with the Police I’m sure they’ll get a little sticker saying that they have personally helped greatly in fighting terrorism or helped save the kids. Tryin to find the right way to wrap this

The only way to protect yourself is by simply not collecting data in the first place. Even having relevant information, being able to process it and derive conclusions which potentially leads to changing your product does not guarantee your product getting any better. You are what you measure, just ask Apple. All the collected customer sat data Tim loves so much, anonymised with differential privacy still leads them to an increasingly turned off pro market. If they can’t get it right, what makes you think that anybody actually knows what to do with all this information.

What other people decide to do is sadly out of reach of my control but I personally protect my privacy by using Pihole at home tied to as my DNS provider, although I am not sure how much Cloudflare can be trusted either, and Guardian of course since I am working on both the app and the server infrastructure. With these in place I have recently noticed that advertisers are increasingly worse at reliably distinguishing between me and girlfriend. She has repeatedly received ads that were clearly targeted at me (stuff far out of the price range of a normal present or similar) and I have received more ads clearly not targeted at me or her at all. Seeing the mighty algorithm fail right in front of my eyes made me very happy. Ad tech and tracking algorithms have seemingly become so clever that the only way to escape them seem to be to not have information be collected at all in the first place. No data written leads to no context clues, leads to less click through, leads to less ad tech revenue which hopefully makes some of these companies cease to exist at some point.

I would encourage you to try one or both of these to protect yourself as well.