Privacy, Politics and the Web

Today I finished reading “Je hebt wel iets te verbergen” - translated: You DO have something to hide. A dutch book about Privacy in the age of the Internet and the way big companies and governments deal with our data in a rapidly changing technological landscape.

Privacy and Work

While I’ve been reading more and more about (online) privacy over the last couple of years and even voted for the dutch PirateParty basically for this reason, this book finally gave me a clear and (I think) rounded opinion on Privacy.

As a web developer and owner of a company that really benifits from analytics, A/B testing and other practices concerning big data, I’ve always had trouble matching my moral objections to the actual work going out into the world. I send a lot of the time when reading the book actually being persuaded by the other side of the argument: If we need to do our jobs without data, without cookies and without actual statistics, there’s no way we can deliver value to our clients; so to heck with privacy right?

Well, no. We need to find a balance in this, because entire fields in our industry (like User Experience design) are based on your data. Without it, everything online would be demonstrably more difficult. The problem is not collecting that data and using it to create a better experience for everybody. The problem is not telling users about it and then keeping the data after it’s use has expired.

Big Data and Transparency

I guess this is the exact same problem I have with governments and big data: everything is kept in a black box. There are no checks and balances in place for how this data is being handled. Everything mounts down to governmental or corporate secrets.

Big data can be extremely usefull in government; It can give a birds-eye view of the populous, especially when you start correlating data (like spending behaviour with educational level). However; security surrounding these databases are sometimes left to external companies and in a lot of cases severly outdated. The companies that deliver the correlation algorithms are also keeping the logic behind them close to their chests.

Open source

I’m going to bring in one of my favorite quotes; “Open Source isn’t just the future of technology, it’s the future of society” - Matt Mullenweg.

Being open and transparent with your procress and your calculations is crucial for us civilians. We need to be able to check if our data is safe with you and if the calculations you run on it are accurate. Especially when they begin to drive decision making.wifi

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