Privacy is back in the headlines this week. Edward Snowden re-emerged from his Moscow hideaway to broadcast allegations that the NSA in the US has snooped on human-rights groups such as Amnesty International. British newspaper The Guardian diligently published the accusations, as it has done for almost a year now – and no-one batted an eyelid.
Worrying about your personal data, it seems, is so last century. For all the revelations Snowden has doggedly brought into the public domain, there have been no mass protests or riots across the western world. Even though the NSA and the UK’s GCHQ have been accused of all manner of intrusions, nobody in either of these countries has taken to the streets.
And actually, how could we really complain about our governments amassing heaps of data about us when we give it to companies for free on a daily basis?
The Facebook smartphone app is one of the most popular in the world – it has been downloaded over 500 million times. But how many of those people even paused before accepting Facebook’s claims on their data?
The app quite openly requests access to some startling information before it is downloaded. The app apparently “needs access” to your text messages, to the data stored on your phone’s USB, your precise location using GPS, your personal information including calendar events, contacts and call log. It even asks for permission to record audio. Most of us acquiesce to these requests without a second thought.
But is it just apathy or do we consciously put our trust in these companies, just as we seem to put trust in our governments, to store and use our personal data in a considerate and humane way?
In their book, Big Data, Viktor Mayer-Schönberger and Kenneth Cukier make the following proposition, “Data is to the information society what fuel was to the industrial economy: the critical resource powering the innovations that people rely on.” So, maybe, we should all just get used to it – if it’s good for the economy, then it’s good for all of us. Either way, whether out of laziness or choice, it seems we all now accept that our personal data isn’t really ours anymore.
Matt Alagiah is a researcher for Monocle magazine.