I recently bought a new phone, a Samsung S8 Active. The newest model, the S9, was available but I told the salesperson that I try to never buy the first generation of anything. This was the first time during the conversation that the salesperson, and a friend who was with me, gave me a ‘he’s-one-of-those-crazy-people’ look.
“You don’t want the brand new one?” Their eyebrows said to me, arched upwards with a Spock-ian skepticism.
I understand that look. I give it to people all the time. There’s a lot of weirdos in the world. “I want to make sure it doesn’t blow up in my pocket first.” I replied.
That got a chuckle but also a revamped effort to upsell me on all the features of the model I actually chose. “The tough exterior gives the S8 Active shock, shatter, water, and dust resistance.” Awesome. “Samsung promises the phone can’t be twisted into submission, won’t succumb to scratches, and is less likely to slip through your fingers due to its textured body.” I’m a klutz, this is exactly what I want.
Also, he didn’t say exactly these things, I stole that language from Digital Trends, because I’m too lazy to remember everything that he actually said. “The battery lasts longer than previous versions, like a full day.” Also perfect for me as I’m paranoid about being out and not having a relief from my boredom or social anxiety. “They’ve also made the biometric sensor better. You don’t have to remember passwords anymore…”
I cut him off. “Don’t worry about that. I won’t use it.”
The eyebrows spoke again. “It’s an easy way to prevent someone from accessing your…”
“Why in the hell would I give my biometric information to companies that can’t keep any of my other information secure?”
Crickets. The eyebrows were loud but neither the salesperson or my friend had anything to say.
“Seriously? I’m the only one who is doubtful of Samsung’s or AT&T’s ability or willingness to keep my fingerprints away from people who don’t have my fingers?”
The salesperson was betrayed by his eyebrows but smartly kept his thoughts to himself. My friend called me paranoid. What did I think they could do with my fingerprints? Which is a fair question. I don’t know what ‘they’ can do with my fingerprints. But I do know that ‘they’ will figure it out.
I’m not the most tech-savvy person, but I am acutely aware of the fact that we don’t know how ‘they’ are going to misuse our personal information until it’s been done to us. We don’t know the weaknesses in technology until some innovative criminal, company, or government agency, decides to exploit them.
We weren’t aware that people could remotely hack our cars until they did. Car thieves have turned to using the wireless technology in key fobs. Social security numbers are stolen from the Veterans Administration, massive amounts of personal data are stolen from Equifax, Yahoo, Target, and the list goes on. The data that Facebook doesn’t sell to 3rd parties is stolen outright by a different 3rd party.
Police departments all over the country, and the world, illegally use personal data to snoop on their wives, girlfriends, annoying neighbors, journalists, and more. The NSA has been abusing the data they get from companies like Google and Facebook.
Who would have thought that companies would use our search results in such an uninvited and creepy way to out a pregnant teen? Or that Barbie dolls are ratting you out to Mattel? Are we okay with Human Resources departments using data to predict our job satisfaction and whether or not we’ll quit? Or police departments doing an end-run around our constitutional protections and trying to ‘predict’ who is or is not a criminal?
I don’t want to be paranoid. And I’m not a Luddite. I’m a dyed-in-the-wool futurist with a raging man-crush for Elon Musk (I’m one of those who livestreams every launch), staunch defender of GMOs, and firmly believe that technology has made our lives better in almost every way. To paraphrase our former president, “This is the best time in human history.”
But, however, and yet…
No, you can’t have my damn fingerprints. Yes, I want to use them, or my eyes, or my face, to make this fantastic technology more user-friendly and secure. But I don’t want to be the guinea pig for the next generation of cyber-criminals or a test case on the limits of government and corporate responsibility with our data.
Paranoia is such a strong word. Why not cautious? Why are we so eager for convenience that we forget about all the myriad ways that our trust has been violated already?
No, Samsung, you can’t have my fingerprints.
And get off my lawn.
Thomas Brown is a history teacher and recovering political consultant hiding out in the American South. He is managing editor of The Swamp and can also be read in The Bipartisan Press, Alaska Native News, GEN, Human Events, Times of Israel, Dialogue & Discourse. Argue with him on Twitter: @reallythistoo.