In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes. –Andy Warhol
For years, smartphone customers have happily glossed over the fact that massive dossiers were being collected about their private life, interests, and behavior. Will there finally be regulatory reform?
Apple generally doesn’t make much of a fuss, in its video ads, about the privacy protections in its products. Of course, they are well known to those who pay attention. And there is plenty of written information published by Apple. See: apple.com/privacy. And there are other technical resources, both from Apple and by great journalists. See, for example, Apple’s iOS Security Guide.
But my take is that we’re in a video age. The preponderance of influence, end even education, is by video means. That’s percolating into VR and AR. The traditional method, of study by books, technical magazines and websites has a hard time capturing the imagination and interest of many, many people. Especially students.
The result of this is that spectacular, alluring video has muddied our ability to think critically in the tradition of academic study. Facebook has been particularly good at appealing to the psychological needs of users to be seen, noticed, appreciated and admired. How else can one explain how willing people are to advertise personal details?
This oblivious technical approach extends to a technical understanding of the devices we use. Recently, it was discovered that “Facebook logged all your calls and texts because Google’s Android allowed it.” And, I surmise, if one were to ask the average Android user about the relative security of Android vs. iOS, they’d engage in conformation bias. After all, “Google security chief claims Android is now just as secure as iOS.”
Setting up a technical belief system involves more that being jostled by the loudest voice or the most engaging YouTube video.
Regulation is Protection First
Government regulations are designed to protect those who do not have the wherewithal to protect themselves. It’s a service provided by the government for public safety. Only after justly crafted protection is in place does commerce play a major role. Clearly, however, it’s been in the government’s best interest to allow social media, like Facebook, to collect information that can be handily obtained upon presentation of a warrant. The business of America has been the business of surveillance.
The recent revelations regarding Facebook and Cambridge Analytica suggest that a laissez-faire approach isn’t serving the best interests of citizens. Europe recognized this early on, and the “General Data Protection Regulation” is about ready to go into effect.
When Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, says that: “Facebook’s privacy blunder ‘so dire’ we need regulations,” he’s not just poking competitive fun at another tech giant’s blunder. Apple has been focusing on privacy for as long as the issue has been an issue. And, as we know, Apple has held its ground against the FBI and others who want (questionable) back doors into our iPhones.
The tendency of the media is to focus on the pronouncements and desires of various notable people. A fuss about a fuss makes for alluring news. But the real change comes about from hard work behind the scenes. That’s the difficult part because power always uses its power to grant itself more power. It’s very hard to convince those with power to, in fact, give up power.
But that’s exactly what we’re faced with. Apple’s famous CEO has spoken firmly about the crisis. Finally. Hearings have started. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg may soon testify before Congress. People are deleting their Facebook accounts in droves.
Perhaps this is a galvanizing event. Perhaps Mr. Cook, with his considerable clout and influence, can be the one who spearheads a new kind of thinking about how various services collect massive information about us. But he’ll have to be persistent and gather corporate supporters. It’ll be a tough road. And then, perhaps the Cambridge Analytica affair will finally result in real regulatory change.
And THAT would be real news.