What concerns me about Google and Facebook

Google and Facebook have more information on its users than governments do. They also have more users than any single government has citizens. People are afraid of governments but not these companies that have more citizens, more information, and more attention than governments do.

One can find out one’s personality and even personality disorders from analysing public tweets. Facebook can know when you have begun a relationship before you tell anyone and the same goes for breaking up. All control your attention. The echo chamber environment is damaging enough, with their knowledge about you creating filter bubbles reinforcing ideas you believe in (ideas that may be false) and surpressing ones you don’t (ideas that may be true), furthering social divides.

The abundance of identifiable personal information they can analyse requires a lot of trust that it won’t be abused, trust that we don’t even place in our own governments — for such things as advertising (get a gmail email or facebook message from a friend suggesting dishwashers because yours is broken, you will probably get an advert about it at some point) — or political gains, such as recommending different videos on your youtube or facebook homepage, ones you never subscribed to. Or even them knowing you may be a 20-something male affects what you see to the detriment of quality.

It is concerning enough that my own Australian government has information on me. It is even more concerning that from the Snowden revelations that the USA government collects all my interactions with a USA company. It is even more concerning that any data that Google or Facebook intercepts about me, be it even ones I did not upload, such as a photo of me uploaded to Facebook, is then analysed for their benefit and not mine — hence why Stallman calls social networks, surveillance networks. Eric Schimdt, a director and previous CEO of Google said that all it takes them is 14 photos of your face to identify you going forward forever, even using images not contributed to Google. Google and other USA tech companies also advise the USA department of defence, luckily not on military technology — although who knows, as if they did that would be top secret, just like their giving of data to the NSA was. They also alter their content to please the governments of the markets they enter.

They are companies that want to mine all the data they can about you, for whatever purposes they see fit. Purposes that may be in your interests, and purposes that may be in their interests. There are purposes that are public, and purposes that are secret and internal. Two examples of secret and against you: Facebook manipulated content to test the effects on the long-term emotions of their audience. Google used their Street View vehicles to mine local WiFi details and data, to do more accurate geolocation while collecting and storing wifi data on unsecured networks.

Facebook and Google are companies that believe privacy is an archaic nuisance, that the future is complete and utter transparency. Already companies know more about you, than you know about yourself — because you don’t know the private lives of those around you, but they do, nor do you really know what your own “self” really means without psychological assistance, but they do. This point will only grow to become more concerning, as increasing amounts of public and private data get mined and correlated, and then analysed in ever more intelligent ways, the concerns of their insights will increase too.

None of this is conspiracy, all of this is actions and public statements made by the companies.

None of it however are things I want anything to do with.

If I could pick the future, it would not be a Wall-E future (a future that is very much a Google and Facebook future) where advertisements and technology completely shelters (unknowingly enslaves) our attention in a safety bubble removing our humanity. Nor a Skynet or Matrix future where technology is exploited for collective gain over the individual. Instead the most appealing compromise seems to be a Her future (a future that is very Apple-esque) where technology progresses in the interest of the individual.

Instead I use products and companies that help facilitate what is to me a better future, one where the individual still maintains power over their most valuable asset, their data, mitigating exploitation from collective misuse.

The products I’ve found best that have a balance of privacy and usability, are Apple products (data is only mined at your approval and done in ways that generally cannot be linked back to you — e.g. facial recognition happens completely anonymously and for the most part, locally), DuckDuckGo for search (surprisingly it is better than Google for me as it doesn’t echo chamber me), and Wire and Signal for messaging. ProtonMail for email is also great.

This was Part 2 covering “why data mining scares me” in my series on technology and privacy. Part 1 covering “how Google mines your private data” can be found here.