In today’s issue of iOS Dev Weekly, Dave wrote “What it does prove, though, is that people don’t care much about privacy.” I agree with Dave’s sentiment here, but I don’t think this is entirely true. There is more to the story. I think people do care very much about privacy. What software over the past decade has actually proven is that people do not understand privacy — or perhaps more broadly, they do not understand software nor the various technologies they use daily.
Dave’s comment was in response to an app that requires users to provide full access to their contacts database. The app has millions of users, thus they must not care about the privacy implications of doing this. It is the same predatory approach that all social media companies employ to pursue growth at all costs — surreptitiously harvest all of a user’s contacts from their digital address book, then manipulate each those contacts to sign up for an account for some shitty service.
The most significant issue here is the complete lack of consent from the people whose contact information is being shared. These ubiquitous, insidious, manipulative practices mean that I cannot protect my own privacy by avoiding these avaricious corporations. It does not matter if I avoid signing up for such a service — as long as one of my friends or family members does and naively decides to upload their entire address book to some sociopathic CEO’s server, I’m fucked too. I think if most people were forced to consider the implications of sharing other people’s information — especially their own friends and family! – within a consent framework, they would reconsider it. But clearly, most software users lack the understanding.
Of course, expertise is not required, nor is it practical for most. Even the majority of programmers are not “experts” in every technology they use. I, for example, don’t know much about the intricacies of cryptography, even though I use Signal daily. However, I do understand the high-level concepts of cryptography and I have a solid, foundational understanding of software. Because of this foundation, I can read the Signal Protocol spec and grok most of it without issue.
The problem with privacy — and software in general — is that most users do not have this basic literacy. Not everyone needs to be a mathematician, but most folks have decent basic math skills. Some might even remember a tiny bit of geometry, like the Pythagorean theorem. Yet, hardly anyone has the software equivalent of basic math understanding. Most people do not understand what privacy means in the context of software, they do not understand the implications of the technology and services they use, nor do they understand the implications of having no privacy in the context of software. It’s all so deliberately obscure. Unless you are paying close attention or you have some rudimentary software literacy, there’s no chance for you. And to be clear, for folks without this education and understanding — it is not their fault, especially given the exploitative nature of most big tech companies who take advantage of the fact that the average person doesn’t get it.
In 2022, we (the tech savvy community) are still trying to communicate to average users what a “strong password” is and that you should never reuse passwords for online accounts. If a user doesn’t understand that “password12345” is a terrible password, why would we expect them to understand literally anything else about the complexities of software, much less privacy?
When the privacy implications are fully and clearly explained to users, most are entirely uninterested in privacy-invasive, predatory software practices. But Dave’s comment did tap into a real feeling of apathy. Plenty of studies show that users are very much concerned about privacy, distrust corporations and governments with their personal information, and lack the understanding about how it all works. At the same time, people feel helpless to change it. When you combine a lack of understanding with a feeling of helplessness, the result is apathy. And now, we arrive at Dave’s conclusion: people just don’t care much about privacy.
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Of course, I can’t miss the opportunity to end this post with Incendiary, a hardcore band from Long Island, New York.
What’s it going to take to fucking change
If these habits are ingrained?
When everything comes apart gradually
We ignore what comes to us naturally
If you don’t know what the product is
The product is you
If you don’t know where the money is
The profit’s growing huge
‘Cause we’re just a zero on the page
In a book that tells the story of our fate