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Giving Up Your Privacy For Products -- The Ethical Philosophy of Contemporary Privacy

Updated: 4 days ago

A cultist offering you an evil pumpkin.

Our Digital Footprint: Why Online Privacy Matters

In this time and age, of "Smart Industries"/4.0 Industries, every single online activity can have a financial and informational value. To quote a Usercentrics article:

Your activity on the internet is valuable. Both in terms of time and money. In fact, everything you do – including everywhere you click, all the pages you browse and anything you buy – is valuable to some company somewhere. Your internet activity and data are collected, processed and sold daily by a variety of companies, websites and analysis firms.
Why? So they can use that data to sell to you again, or sell it to others for a profit. Data collection and sale are a huge part of the modern digital economy. From sole proprietor online shops to tech giants like Google and Facebook, user data is used for everything to do with sales, marketing, product development, user experience, and more.

Each of your online actions can be recorded and used to either sell it to third parties, or be stored in an organization's database. That is done to better learn about its users' activities when they consume its online products, such as websites, apps, and even gaming consoles. That is done using cookies, which are trackers used to contain your data.

In the name of having better products, we give in our virtual information through its tracking, thus not having to deal with the same result problem of communicating directly to users. This greatly damages our right to privacy, even though we ourselves, technically, choose to do so by agreeing, directly or indirectly, to an organization's privacy policy. Whether we actually took the time to read it or not, is our own responsibility, and no one else's. By the way, Philosocom also has a privacy policy, along with a service level agreement.

Why Privacy Policies Matter More Than You Think

It's easy to blame ourselves for skipping online contracts. We click "I agree" without a second thought, just to gain access to that new app or game. However, playing the "blame game" will get us nowhere if we refuse to learn from our mistakes. In this case we should at least try to understand any online contract before we agree to it. This feature should be a part of any philosophy of any technology user, looking to improve the ethical way they use the internet for.

However, in some cases the reality is more complex. Many products create a "black or white" situation: agree and use the product, or disagree and be left out of its use entirely. This can be especially frustrating for internet-connected devices like gaming consoles. An example for that being Injustice 2. You either accept to the terms, or are denied to play it even though you paid for it.

If you further research the topic, you’ll find out that you actually do not own the games, and never had. What you do “own” is the digital license to use them, with many different systems working against having access to the files that you’ve paid for!

Even if we protest against privacy breaches, companies can point to our consent. After all, clicking "I agree" sets the terms in action. Being concerned about privacy we exchanged in favor of goods we may deem too low-value to even trade our privacy for, is known as "The Privacy Paradox". This paradox is solved when we will be more inclined to be observant towards the actions we do, and ask ourselves if the content or product we consumed, worth the sacrifice of our right for privacy.

The situation gets even trickier when products demand unnecessary permissions. Location tracking, for example, can be used to recommend social media connections based on mere proximity. A research paper explains this with a concrete example:

Foursquare was a mobile social networking application that enabled people to share location with friends in the form of “check-ins.” The visualization of surrounding known social connections as well as unknown others has the potential to impact how people coordinate social encounters and forge new social ties.

This is a creepy reminder of just how much corporations can learn about us, and on the importance of limiting them in the name of our personal freedoms.

Additionally, camera access, microphone access and even phone calls are other potential privacy breaches hidden within agreements. You need to read the contract so you won't regret it later. Not only as an individual but also if you happen to be a head of a company!

Here's why reading privacy policies and terms of service is crucial. It's not just about following rules, it's about understanding what you're giving up in exchange. Ask yourself such questions, and make it a habit:

  • Is the convenience of this app worth sacrificing my privacy?

  • Is the thrill of that game worth constant location tracking?

Even if you're short on time, skimming these documents can make a difference, as it's, you know, better than nothing. Look for the central points of each section, and consider generally improving your skimming skills. Remember, your choice to consent (or not) holds more weight than you might initally think.

Bonus: The Era When Privacy Wasn't the Price of Access

Remember the golden age of gaming? The PS2 era, where you could pop in a disc and play without surrendering your personal data. Or the pre-social media internet, where communication thrived without having to live in an era similar to the one portrayed by George Orwell's 1984. Looking back, Orwell's cautionary tale feels uncanningly similar to the virtual world we live in today, with the rise of spreading misinformation through deception and internet surveillance.

I often miss, with my nostalgia bias, to the days where I could simply enjoy a certain game without philosophizing about worldly affairs. I philosophize not only because I enjoy it, but also because I choose to care for the world and help others.

The Bottom Line and Philosocom

Demanding so much personal information is often excessive, although excessiveness could be a good thing. Companies claim that personal data helps them understand their user base. However, even that purpose seems intrusive in the face of privacy concerns.

The bigger issue? Once information is surrendered, some platforms can know about you more than the creepiest of stalkers. Even "free" products come at a cost – your data becomes a company's resource, fueling their power and influence. And as private enterprises, they answer primarily to lawsuits, not a user's right to privacy.

After all, most of us already "agreed" to hand our privacy over.

Here's my dilemma: social media is a powerful tool for reaching an audience, which is a necessity in today's competitve world. While I acknowledge the privacy's sacrifice, I still use it. I know I enable, like many others, a culture of sacrifice. And indeed, if I didn't want to contribute to humanity, I'd forsaken it. That includes you, who read me.

But despite my efforts, I dream of a world that values privacy, more than corporate domination. Isn't that a future worth fighting for? I wholeheartedly avoid spying on my readership using heatmaps for a reason. This is a philosophy blog, not an evil lair.

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Tomasio A. Rubinshtein, Philosocom's Founder & Writer

I am a philosopher from Israel, author of several books in 2 languages, and Quora's Top Writer of the year 2018. I'm also a semi-hermit who has decided to dedicate his life to writing and sharing my articles across the globe. Several podcasts on me, as well as a radio interview, have been made since my career as a writer. More information about me can be found here.

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