How corporations threaten your privacy


Illustration by Hannah Paul

Claire Maurer, Columnist

Throwing caution to the wind regarding personal privacy seems to be common reaction of many to that fact that any reality of privacy seems far from our grasp. I’ve heard this when people claim to have given up on privacy, as though the responsibility of protecting privacy is too much work. It appears increasingly true that only the paranoid will remain with any privacy going forward, but everyone should not have to be paranoid about their privacy to have any.

Nearly every privacy article you read will conclude that it is in your hands as an individual to protect your own privacy. They’re right; you must be smart about how to protect your privacy. However, the bigger question is how is your data being used for control, surveillance and law enforcement in ways you are not aware of. 

Our definition and value for privacy have become increasingly questioned over the past several years. A recent controversial tech startup Clearview AI was once a little known app that developed a facial recognition software marketed to law enforcement. The app allows photos to be uploaded, say from security cameras, and matches it to faces in photos existing across the internet. While the company will likely go down in several legal battles, it has brought to the forefront how critical it is to take legislative action to ensure privacy law is passed in the interest of the user, not just the tech industry. 

Tech lobbying is currently driving national legislation to be drafted. Additionally, lawmakers often distrust experts in the field of internet security or simply do not understand how to regulate the massive trove of data we have created. Because of this lack of trust and understanding, Congress is very behind on regulating how far companies and the police can go in using technology to invade people’s privacy. This has left privacy regulation in the hands of judges and state legislatures, if it is regulated at all. 

We participate in politics, dating, writing, reading, calling, banking, shopping and endless other things online, all of which add to data on our behavior. The government and private entities can legally access highly intelligent surveillance technologies easily and at a low cost, through all the data that we willingly give up. This shows the potential for a highly sophisticated, entirely legal surveillance state. 

We must identify what privacy should be and how to protect it. Since many of the biggest American tech companies started nearly twenty years ago, they have had no regulation. It’s about time the law provides guardrails of privacy going forward. Companies such as Clearview AI make it clear that we need to care about privacy, not just for our own security, but for the preservation of our social and political systems.