Paladine (_paladine_) wrote,

Are Google and Facebook devaluing Privacy?

Privacy Advocates often say that Google and Facebook are devaluing privacy and we use various arguments to support our claims, mostly based around the fact that their entire business models are based on making you and I their product - we are no longer people, we are a commodity traded around the world on a minute by minute basis without any control over how we are being sold. Effectively we are digital slaves, being sold not just to the highest bidders but anyone who is willing to pay money for us, effectively dilluting the value of our privacy exponentially with every single sale.

These are strong arguments and I have used them time and time again in speeches I give at conferences and consultations around the world, but as a social scientist, empirical evidence is always stronger than abstract ones and now we have an opportunity to provide it.

A couple of weeks ago Facebook released their financial results for 2011 and at the time I tweeted that based on those figures, our privacy was worth $4.38 last year at Facebook (based on profits / number of Facebook users) which in turn amounts to a paltry $0.012 per day.

Today Google announced they would start paying people to opt-in to deep monitoring of their online behaviour using Chrome.  They haven't gone into a great deal of detail on how deep this monitoring will go, but let me suggest that it will go beyond merely caching the web sites you visit.  Given that Google have stated they will analyse how you interact with those pages it is not a stretch to suggest that this data will include not just the web sites you visit but very fine detail on how you use those sites such as the links you click on, where you move you mouse pointer, how long you spend on each page and a whole lot more.  For this you will be remunerated through $5 Amazon vouchers upto a maximum of $25 dollars - and since Google haven't set a time limit on this, one can only assume that that $25 is the maximum for life (or for as long as you conitnue to use their Chrome browser).

So there we have it, Facebook value your privacy at ~$4.38 a year and Google value your privacy at $25 in total.  To put this in context, most privacy laws were created after World War II in response to the behaviour of regimes such as the Stasi, to ensure that never again would human beings be treated in such inhumane ways; privacy was one of several other fundamental rights codified in law under various Human Rights treaties and legislation around the world.

The number of people in allied countries believed to have been killed in World War II is estimated to be in the 10s of millions, these people all died in the name of liberty, they died to create the world we live in today, they are the sacrifice the world paid to build our Human Rights framework.  I think their families and friends would agree with me that their lives were worth a lot more than $4.38 or $25 worth of Amazon vouchers; I would argue that the weight of the sacrifice makes our fundamental rights priceless.

I often find myself remembering the first speech I ever gave on privacy 15th April 2008 at the London based "Town Hall Meeting" about Phorm, where a veteran from World War II said through tears that his friends died for our rights, a 20 second moment of my life that will remain with me forever and even now puts a lump in my throat and brings tears to me eyes.

If ever you wanted empirical evidence that Google and Facebook devalue privacy, I hope this post has provided it for you.  Don't throw away rights that people died for, don't Opt In to Google's $25 insult and don't ever forget the millions who died to give you those rights.

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