We’ve given up too much control over our digital lives. We need a law to take some of it back.
Two decades ago, at the dawn of the internet age, in an era before smartphones, before apps, before all manner of devices that monitor everything from your car-hailing practices to your dating preferences, the Sun Microsystems co-founder Scott McNealy made a startling claim:
“You have zero privacy anyway,” he said. “Get over it!”
The in-your-face concept had the benefit of being completely prescient and even an understatement. We are now the most data-generating, most uploaded, most share-crazy humans in the history of the world, which means we are also the most monitored, the most data-chomped and, definitely, the most exposed.
Our information — much of it private — is the rocket fuel of the ever-expanding internet. Our data keeps it humming along, even as tech companies abuse that data with increasing frequency.
So here’s an idea: Maybe we refuse to get over it. Maybe we start to grok what we have become, and think harder about the trades we are making for the convenience we get from our gadgets. And maybe we put in place some rules — rules that have real teeth — on big tech companies.
The question, of course, is what those rules should look like. Some argue the United States needs a hefty, multipronged national privacy bill that would include more stringent requirements for how tech giants run their platforms. (Some even think there should be a new agency to oversee the industry.) Others think that current law will suffice, with some tweaking including better enforcement and more money for the agencies already charged with regulating the tech sector, like the Federal Trade Commission
I would argue that we need both, and fast, before these data-hungry tech companies become even more enmeshed in our lives. Do you like the idea of A.I. comparing your facial expressions to a company’s top and bottom performers during a job interview? I don’t. Do you want cameras in every device in your home? I don’t. Do you want your television-watching linked to your search history linked to your buying data? No, thank you.
I have said yes too many times before, thanks to the greatest tracking effort in the history of humanity that we facilitate every day by using a smartphone.
Let me be clear — I love technology, including my deeply felt relationship with that iPhone that spans decades now. But it has never been more urgent to put up some guardrails. While I do not consider the behemoth tech companies monsters, they can and do act monstrously.
You don’t have to be paranoid to realize that you are being followed, watched and crunched in ways that are breathtaking, and more than a little questionable. We need a national law to signal to these companies that the jig is up and that they need to stop abrogating their responsibilities to their users and to society itself — and I think it’s pretty inevitable we’ll get one in the next few years.