Michaela Merz's personal blog site

I’ve got nothing to hide….

…..  is what you hear some folks saying whenever you’re talking about privacy or the intrusion into people’s life by big companies and governments all over the world. But it’s not about whether or not you have something to hide. Your privacy belongs to you.  You should decide with whom to share it.

Say you have a few hundred bucks in your bank account. Now imagine somebody randomly takes a few cents from this account.  Once a week, or maybe twice a month. It doesn’t hurt you. However – the guy who takes those few cents does the same thing to millions of other people. He gets millions of cents from people everywhere. Do the math: 1 Million cents is ten thousand dollars. Somebody is getting rich on your few cents.   I guess you wouldn’t like it. Even though it’s just a few cents. And you shouldn’t like it. Because it’s your money . And you should be the only one to decide what to do with it.

It’s the same with your privacy. It (normally) doesn’t hurt you if somebody secretly reads your emails or analyses your every move on the Internet. Who cares if a smart TV listens in on your living room chatter. Why would it be of interest to you, if somebody tracks your phone (and you) wherever you go. It doesn’t hurt. You have so much privacy that you can afford to lose bits of it. But – if taking a few cents from your bank account bothers you – shouldn’t you be bothered if companies or governments take pieces (or chunks) of your very own personal privacy without your consent?

Big companies make Millions from your and other peoples privacy. They collect data, disassemble it, re-assemble it into collections and sell it for big bucks. A new trend called “big data” creates correlations between data – with (sometimes) weird results.

Did you know, that the age of Miss America is closely correlated to the number of murders by steam, hot vapors and hot objects?

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That is, of course, nonsense. But weird things can also happen if your personal data is correlated to other peoples data. What would you say if your daily routine strongly correlates to those of convicted murderers? Would the government dismiss it as nonsense? Would it bother you to know that your driving habits have a correlation degree of 87% to people involved in drunk driving accidents? Would your insurance believe it to be bogus? Those are hopefully just examples. But fact is: You don’t know what they are doing with your data. And which kind of weird or bogus results will come out of it.

Now – I am not saying that all this is bad. I am not saying the government shouldn’t be allowed to access peoples data if necessary. But there shouldn’t be secrecy. Nobody should be allowed to take or to process  your (or my) personal data without a legal foundation. If the government needs  to get into peoples life, they should obtain a warrant. And if the warrant has been granted by a secret court (FISA) it should become public record after some time. Nothing in a government should remain a secret for too long. Private companies should never be allowed to eavesdrop on you. Ever. Access to your private data should only be allowed with your informed consent. And it should only be valid for a specified period of time, say 6 months after which you would have to agree again. They should provide an interface allowing you to monitor and to cancel the agreement and to trigger a full removal of all of your private data.

Which brings me to my last point. You have business with a lot of companies like banks, insurance, credit card companies or even grocery stores. All of them collect gazillions of records about you. They keep that data for a long time and it is known that companies are selling it to “big data” (see above).  In some cases, your data gets leaked into the wild – after a hacking attack or by mistake.  Your most personal data open to the prying eyes of  the world. Credit card data, shopping preferences, address information, open, unprotected and available to anybody.  Nobody is held accountable. Nobody is paying to recover your data, nobody cares.

All of this is possible, because nobody (sometime not even you) understands personal, private data to be as valuable as, say, liberty. Too many people care more about a few cents stripped from their bank account. And that is very, very dangerous. Because if you don’t care about your most intimate private property, nobody else will.



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