Know yourself. If you need help…

Ever hear of “Deteriorata”? It was a bit of pop culture in the 70’s — a parody of a spoken word recording of Desiderata. Those of us of a certain age will probably remember the poem, the recording, and the send-up. Posters of the parody text were a big seller for National Lampoon (particularly in 70’s head shops, as I recall). For a refresher, including a link to the text, go to the Wikipedia article here: Deteriorata.

One of the lines in Deteriorata reads “Know yourself. If you need help, call the FBI.” In 1972, you’d call the FBI. In 2018, there are a lot of people you can call.

Today marks my departure from Facebook. For nearly nine years I’ve used the social network, posting pictures, links and comments, joining groups, clicking on ads, clicking the Like button, finding and losing online friends… I spent countless hours expressing myself, and the social network dutifully recorded what I saw, did and said. All for free.

Except, of course, it wasn’t really free. Facebook got all that information and I lost control of it. Not only that, Facebook sold the information so it could be used to try to sell me stuff.

Ever look at your Facebook account data? You should. You can download a copy from the Settings page. The “Ads” section was particularly jarring. There were 223 separate Facebook advertisers who have my contact informaton. Advertisers are not supposed to resell data but there is no way for anybody to make sure they’re not doing it. Thus Facebook also lost control of my information.

It was recently revealed that Facebook Messenger has been collecting call data from Android smartphone users. Why? Allegedly it was to improve the user experience (Facebook has not explained how grabbing a lot of cell phone data made anyone’s Facebook experience better).  Messenger also wants to continuously update contact information.

If you allow Facebook to access location services on your phone, it keeps track of your movements while the smartphone app is running. Undoubtedly there are other apps that have access to your Facebook data. Don’t believe me? Go take a look.

Social media itself is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to modern day privacy issues.

Just two days ago, BBC reported that the US is proposing to require virtually all visa applicants to give up their social media handles used during the previous five years. Don’t ask me how the government will know whether people are telling the truth.

However, privacy has been getting eroded for a long time.

Millions of Americans are subject to pre-employment drug tests and/or random drug testing after employment.

Employers and insurance companies require medical screening, which can include testing to determine substance use and even genetic predisposition to disease.

Think the government is on the side of privacy? Think again. FISA and PATRIOT acts are surveillance super powers that the government has bestowed upon itself, all in the name of security and counterterrorism.

Law enforcement wants DNA tests on people who get arrested, even if the subjects haven’t been charged with a crime where DNA evidence would be relevant.

Advancing technology enables ever greater data collection and analysis. Cameras are everywhere. We can record full-motion, high-definition video using our smartphones and share those images in real time. Facial recognition is being used to identify and track people. Our smartphones know our fingerprints, our travels and our contacts. Health and fitness devices know all sorts of stuff about exercise, sleep, and any number of biometrics. Businesses know our buying patterns.

We’re now embracing artificial intelligence applications and devices, which are getting to know us in ever more intimate ways.

Sounds overwhelming, right? For some people, it is. I know a lot of folks who scoff at the idea of leaving a social network over privacy concerns because it seems futile. What can we do when our information is already out there?

What we can do is start fighting back. We can let companies know that we’re not going to take this lying down. We can let them know that there is a penalty for mining our private information and selling it to all comers. We can remind the government that we have a constitutional right to be left alone and that they work for us, not the other way around.

New technology poses new challenges, but this problem did not just arrive. People were spilling their secrets on television and radio long before the Internet, smartphones and Facebook. They were talking on the phone, sending telegrams, writing letters, publishing. They were talking face to face. All along the way, there have been other people watching, listening and generally sticking their noses into things that were none of their business.

The 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was the founders’ answer to the question of privacy in the face of a nosy government: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.”

In 2018, it’s not just the government that wants to know all about us; everybody with a product, service or viewpoint to sell wants our data.

You are not a fluke of the universe and you should not give up. Know yourself. Stand up for yourself. Fight back.

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