Michael Battalio

Friday, May 15, 2015

Serious conversations (part 62): Data collection and surveillance - part 3

        This series is a continuation of my conversations with an atheist friend of mine. These are my edited responses from that conversation. The sixtieth – sixty-second entries deal with data surveillance.

        Previously I discussed two problems with the collection of data by companies using a hypothetical grocery store card as an example. Now, I continue with a problem with all data collection by companies.

        Another large problem is knowledge of your rights when it comes to data collection. End user agreements are so long that no one reads them, and one has to think that is by design, (iTunes user agreements are often used as punchlines. I tried to read one all the way through once. I eventually gave up.) that way the user won’t know if there is some stipulation about the company unilaterally changing privacy or data collection. (See this
article from 2010 about some of what Facebook did) Facebook, Apple, Google, Microsoft, and almost certainly most companies do this so they can later exploit data collection for means that their user might not approve of, but because they sign a user agreement, what the companies are doing isn’t illegal.

        Now despite my concern over companies collecting my data, I still trust them more than the government because companies at least have the motivation of profit. If the government could be trusted with my data in the way that I trust my software companies or ISP, I would also gladly provide my information for improved governmental services. My worry about the government collecting data is that besides a few elected officials, the public can’t hold accountable the bureaucrats that really run things. Some of them are benevolent, but some of them must also be, perhaps not malevolent, but at least mischievous or lackadaisical.

        I also have a disdain of government surveillance when it is phrased as patriotism (e.g. the Patriot Act). I find patriotism to be easily corruptible (that is a discussion for another time), and using the ideal of patriotism to goad people into accepting an increasingly powerful police state is an example of that. Everyone is so defensive when their patriotism is question (perhaps mostly so politicians) that they will acquiesce to prevent an assault on their patriotism. That's how the whole surveillance state started.

        In the end, if I could trust entities with my data I would have no problem with data collection as I could envision many benefits to me if all the services I used had a complete understanding of how I use not only them but other services. Data collection is good; it is the entities that utilize it that are untrustworthy.

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