Amnesty International has had just about all that it cares to take of Google and Facebook's profiting off of our personal information. In a recent report, the international human rights charity stated that they were deeply concerned that the two companies mass surveillance ventures were making large scale human rights violations an easy go for anyone with access to the information and ill-intent.
“[D]espite the real value of the services they provide, Google and Facebook’s platforms come at a systemic cost,” Amnesty warns. “The companies’ surveillance-based business model forces people to make a Faustian bargain, whereby they are only able to enjoy their human rights online by submitting to a system predicated on human rights abuse. Firstly, an assault on the right to privacy on an unprecedented scale, and then a series of knock-on effects that pose a serious risk to a range of other rights, from freedom of expression and opinion, to freedom of thought and the right to non-discrimination.”
If this argument sounds vaguely familiar to you, then you've been paying attention to this nonsense. As TechCrunch points out, the points that Amnesty International makes have been brought before by the United Nations, Zeynep Tufekci and Shoshana Zuboff—an organization and pair of noted scholars anyone would do well to listen to.
This feels like a topic better left to Cory Doctorow to explain than a chump like me, but let's have a go at it anyway.
By agreeing to Facebook or Google's terms of service, you're agreeing to allowing them to use and abuse your private information. Both companies have pinky-sworn time and time again to respect the privacy of their users and then, immediately after making this pledge, fucked their users over by infringing on their privacy, selling personal information and tracking every move Facebook and Google users make online. You've heard it here before: if they're not charging for the product, then you're likely the product. Data brokerage and adtech are big money industries—industries that Google and Facebook pretty much have cornered. Yeah, it's possible to forego using Facebook. You can dodge using Google to search the web and, if you're affluent enough to be able to afford it, you can use paid, trustworthy alternatives to Google's suite of 'free' apps to avoid having your data harvested. For many people, however, this just isn't possible: computers and mobile devices are expensive. Software adds to this price. Sure you can use open source apps, but it still costs money and skills to roll your own email address, private cloud server and the like to replace what Google offers hassle-free.
The solution feels like it's still a long way off.
Image via Amnesty International