Sometimes the best data are those that do not exist
Or, what you can learn about privacy from Soviet weapon’s philosophy.
For-profit social media platforms collect unimaginable quantities of users data. So do financial institutions and many public agencies, for that matter. To ensure that all those data are not exploited, systemic change is required. One year ago, two english academics observed that the many measures adopted, or discussed by governments so far to tackle this problem:
” will change the way in which profits are distributed, [but] neither impact the means by which profits are made, nor will they have any impact on the effects of the marketisation of personal data, upon which all those profits are based.”
Therefore, the researchers suggested that a really systemic change should include:
- an end to the use of microtargeting,
- the introduction of restrictions on the use of private data for third-party profit: “private data should remain private and not be used by any third-party organisations for their own purposes”
- development of a public interest search engine, to challente “the private interests that have colonised the search functions on which we all depend”.
Yes. With some qualification
There is no doubt that “targeted advertising, data collection and data monetization… tend to rely on an opaque system that aim to maximise revenue streams”. True, but there is more: it is a system that does not even work, and may fall apart soon
Let me also add some more evidence of this other thing that the researchers wrote: “the unintended side-effects of the use of personal targeting in the distribution of information and news through online search engine and social media are now well-understood and include:”
- Erosion of shared media space, that increases division: no doubt, just check how US voters are fragmenting even more after the 2020 elections
- Polarization thanks to emotionally charged or partisan reporting
- the danger that especially the least politically engaged end up receiving information increasingly, if not exclusively, via “via engaged partisans in their [secret] social networks”: absolutely true, just consider the political treats by that cesspool that is WhatsApp
As far as “public interest search engines” are concerned… yes, it would almost surely be an improvement on the current situation, privacy-, robustness- and innovation-wise, if not in user-perceived performances. Let’s just never forget that “public interest” is whatever who is in charge says it is. I
Last but not least, the main point of this post:
Search engines and data collection should be like an AK-47
The AK-47 assault rifle was designed by Mikhail Kalashnikov in 1947. Since then “up to 100 millions AF-47s have been made”
One of the main reasons of the AK-47 success is that Kalashnikov did not design a rifle to achieve greatness: he designed it to “achieve averageness - under any possible conditions”, and one of essential ways to achieve that goal was to have “a SMALL number of moving parts”.
However search engines and advertising services are regulated, make sure they work in the same way. The less personal data are there to begin with, the less can break. Just like with AK-47s.