NSA and Google: The Irrational Fear of Privacy Loss

Since the recent revelations about what the NSA has been up to, the debate about privacy has fully reinvigorated. Perhaps it never disappeared in the first place, but surely, the fear is lodged into our brains now, because even though Big Brother didn’t exist yet in 1984, there’s no telling it won’t exist in a couple of years. But is our fear of losing our privacy truly rational, or are we worried over nothing?

Before I delve into any more controversial statements, I would first like to establish two different kinds of privacy problems: there’s the NSA reading our email to find terrorists, and there’s companies/organisations finding out exactly what you do on your computer every day and passing that on to other organisations. Both of these are increasingly seen as major issues, and steps have been taken to ensure more privacy in both these fields, but in principle, they are very different.

Now, one of those differences is the extent to which the loss of privacy is personal: the NSA finds data on an individual and then uses that in whatever way they please (such as spying on foreign leaders), while companies use you merely as a number. And that difference is vital, because it is the main reason why loss of privacy on the internet isn’t a problem at all. It is something many people are extremely worried about, but the reality is that it does no harm, and, in fact, only works in our advantage.

For instance, let’s say you spend about 12 hours of your day searching the web for porn. Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but I’d say that’s probably the kind of hobby you would prefer to keep to yourself, so you wouldn’t want Google passing all that information on to the rest of the world. But the truth is… they don’t. All Google knows is that the number that represents you visited those porn websites, and all those companies/organisations they give that information to will know is that the number you represent might be interested in ads about prostitutes (assuming that is legal in your country, of course).

Ultimately, you become nothing but one more number in a statistic, a statistic that is used by companies to improve their services. To improve their services to you, and that is important for the same reasons as why I previously argued that advertisement is the most important invention of the past two centuries. Aside from that, as a blogger, I myself use that info as well, because Google tells me what search terms have been used to reach my blog, which I can then use to increase my audience even further. But I won’t ever know who hides behind that search term, and unfortunately, due to policy changes that were pressured onto them, Google now only reports a fraction of the search terms that are used to reach my blog.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that the NSA is doing the right thing. Sure, it seems highly likely that by now our perception of the problem has become greatly exaggerated, because that’s what humans do best, but that doesn’t mean that what the NSA does should be accepted. Some things they do are probably fine, necessary even, but spying on foreign leaders is ridiculous, as is the fact that Muslims get much tougher screening than anyone else does. It’s wrong, because the spying is personal, and that is the kind of privacy issue that George Orwell warned us for.

But all that doesn’t mean that we should let our fear of being spied on become irrational. Especially now that the fear of Big Brother has reignited, we need to separate the good from the bad and realise that sometimes, those privacy issues are just an illusion. An irrational fear that shouldn’t be given in to. Exchange of data is important because it improves our services and makes them cheaper, free even, which is something we shouldn’t give up on just because we’re afraid that the software that handles it is going to judge our internet history. Because it won’t. Your internet history will remain your secret, whether it is passed on or not.

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More on this topic from Dean Richards:

We Are All Ignorant: Social Media and the News

Nationalism Is Dangerous And Should Be Eradicated

Western Tyranny and the Olympics: Stop Harassing Russia over its Human Rights Record

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About Dean Richards

A young student with a passion for writing. Aspiring author and human rights activist, but I write about anything. "If you don't like how things are, change it! You're not a tree!" New blog post every Monday!
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One Response to NSA and Google: The Irrational Fear of Privacy Loss

  1. perspectivethink says:

    Tracking of individuals has existed long before the internet. There has been a paper trail documenting births, driver’s licenses, home addresses, medical care, etc., for as long as anyone can remember. The idea of “Big Brother” is nothing new, it just has a name now thanks to George Orwell. And as far as “Big Brother” coming, don’t worry because he’s already here and has been for a long time.

    Because of the money-for-profit nature of economics (and overall mentality of industrialized nations), it becomes necessary to justify actions such as Google’s or anyone else in that realm.

    If it weren’t for the perceived need for gaining revenue, clients, etc., in order to gain volume and profit (for those who seek it), there would be no need to track such things as purchases, web site visits, and so on. Because we live in a culture of paranoia (Big Brother, secret societies, Jesus, etc.,), it also becomes quite easy to lose one’s head over these things. It isn’t to say that people should be careless, just that they should be mindful without giving into the fear, as you mention. It is not easy but it is not impossible.

    Really, when you think about it, none of it has any substance. It is all in how much emphasis and energy people give it. And even if someone else gives it substance, there is no reason why another must give it substance as well. Tracking is simply the response to an insecure state of mind which must know the actions of people in order to profit from them thereby reducing individuals to numbers, as you say.

    By removing the conditions for surveillance, you take the power away from paranoia and away from the powers that watch over. Furthermore, you take power away from money which has been the greatest tool for division, scarcity, and paranoia in all history.

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