Who cares about privacy anyway?

Published: Mar 21, 2020, 05:00 IST | Lindsay Pereira | Mumbai

We give away more information about ourselves than ever before and don't seem to consider the repercussions

As people prone to over-sharing, we take this openness for granted, forgetting that data is more valuable than gold. Pic/istock
As people prone to over-sharing, we take this openness for granted, forgetting that data is more valuable than gold. Pic/istock

Ipic am no longer on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. I didn't bother with Snapchat and TikTok, so the need to uninstall them didn't arise when I decided to purge my presence from these networks. I deleted my accounts a while ago, not because I didn't want to stay abreast of the latest in cat memes or photographs of how my friends were holidaying, but because I started to question the basis of how these platforms were changing our view of the world.

The number of people interested in how I live has dwindled since then, to one or two over the past couple of years, which I believe is a direct fallout of my refusal to engage with social media. When I created a Facebook account a decade ago, it seemed as if friends and acquaintances poured out of the woodwork overnight, liking every status update, congratulating me on minor accomplishments such as checking into a cool restaurant. Today, no one asks if I have watched the unmissable Netflix show of the week, or if I have an opinion on what a foreign government is doing. They are all busy discussing the unmissable show of the week and putting up lengthy posts on what foreign governments should be doing. I am happy for them and happier about the fact that I have been left alone to live without sharing how I am living.

No one can deny how social media has changed the lives of millions. It has made a lot of rich people richer, in much the same way that the opium trade once made rich smugglers respectable. I use the analogy of crime because I believe there will come a time when the people who created these platforms will also be called to account for what they have unleashed. Their dirty footprints can be found everywhere, in the aftermath of every riot and attack on democracies the world over. They claim to be on the side of freedom of expression, which is a clever front for the kind of exploitation that makes shareholders salivate while a patina of respectability is being spun by PR agencies.

As I write this, the 2020 State of Hate report has just been published in the United Kingdom, documenting how the threat of violent far right extremists is on the rise, fuelled primarily by social media. It refers to YouTube as an 'organ of radicalisation', pointing out that its algorithms push viewers to extremes. This is now a fairly old story, given the number of warnings that have been issued by scholars, scientists, doctors, and journalists on how things aren't what they seem. In India, the effects have been chilling for a long time, but don't seem to bother us as much as they should have.

There are cultural implications for how we give up data. As people prone to over-sharing, we take this openness for granted, forgetting that data is more valuable than the gold we traditionally tend to hoard. I suppose it springs from our eternal need to boast, from a time when our mothers would discuss our successes at school with strangers at the market, or when the contents of our cupboards would be aired for neighbours who walked in and out of our homes without knocking.

That tendency to offer too much information has been amplified, which probably explains why my friends still insist on checking in at airports, Instagramming their holidays abroad, or telling everyone who is online what music they are currently listening to. I can't deny that there may be people interested in that sort of pointless information (I certainly am not), but there are corporations listening in too, serving up ads, filing away information about purchases, sometimes sharing personal information with governments prone to prying.

None of us can change how millions choose to use a product or platform, of course. What we can do is restrict their ability to cause more harm than they do. Not retweeting something, for instance, prevents it from being amplified. Not commenting on a Facebook status prevents it from appearing on more timelines that it needs to. Not forwarding propaganda on WhatsApp now has the frightening possibility of saving lives, because that is the era we live in. Choosing who we follow has a direct impact on what we allow into our lives.

I don't miss being on any of these platforms. One assumes life can't go on without being in the thick of things. And yet, it does.

When he isn't ranting about all things Mumbai, Lindsay Pereira can be almost sweet. He tweets @lindsaypereira
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