Is privacy a thing from the past?
We hear it claimed a hundred times a day that privacy is dead. Today, Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft know more about us than our parents or best friends thanks to the information they collect on us by storing our mail, our files, our photos, analysing our interactions and activity on the Internet. Let’s go even further: our personal data fuels the most popular digital services. Without personal data there would be no Google Agenda to remind you about your meetings, no interaction with your friends on Facebook. Who then is able to defend our privacy? Certainly not the companies whose business model is based on personal data collection and profiling users in order to sell targeted advertising. Certainly not states which provide the means to spy on the online activity of their citizens while pretending to protect them.
After all, if you have nothing to hide, why panic? is what government services will say. Not convinced that this argument bears up: the French are more and more mistrustful regarding on-line surveillance. As for companies, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, has no hesitation in stating that privacy is an outdated concept, and Eric Schmidt, the former CEO of Google, explains that if you do something that you would prefer to keep secret, perhaps you should not be doing it…Their argument is based on a classic confusion: what one wants to keep secret is what one is ashamed of. And if it’s shameful, it’s wrong.
All of us have something to hide…luckily!
Let us pause for a moment: what society is homogeneous enough for the behaviour of each and everyone of us not to be problematic to someone? I could be very comfortable with the idea of abortion, but know that I might be judged on this. I could have grievances with my government, wish to protest or even to think about alternatives without wanting it put on record. I may simply want to put curtains on my windows and a latch on my toilet door without doing anything illegal inside.
Believing in the end of privacy has many implications. Exaggerating slightly, it’s like believing that History is over, that there will be no more conflicts or moral evolutions or revolutions – if not, is it surprising that we might want to think and share discreetly? It’s to believe that there are no longer any controversial subjects between people - at that rate, we should perhaps delete polling booths and the secret ballot. Mark Zuckerberg, so careless of others’ privacy, did not hold back in buying the four houses surrounding his … to ensure his privacy. A photo of Facebook’s premises also revealed that the webcam and microphone on his computer were covered with a piece of tape to prevent any spying without his knowledge… and protect his privacy, again.
Ensuring the privacy of Internet users must once again become a core value for companies. Monitoring alters our behavior, pushes us toward self-censorship: the consultation of sensitive Wikipedia pages has significantly decreased following Edward Snowden’s revelations. How can we give free rein to our creativity when we know that each of our errors will be recorded, and carefully registered on the GAFAM servers or in government records? The privacy of our thoughts and exchanges is the prerequisite to the emergence of thoughts that go against the established order:
And off the Internet?
Let’s get off the Internet for a minute. What, in our daily lives, guarantees our privacy? The state is at liberty to install cameras on every street corner, there is nothing to prevent my neighbour on the bus from listening to my conversation… The only place where my private life is guaranteed is my home. There I am protected by walls, curtains, a barrier if I wish. I can lock the door. I am also protected by the law: no-one has the right to enter into my home without being invited, under penalty of breaking and entering. Not even the police are allowed to enter my home outside of certain specific times (even though this is becoming less and less true with the current state of emergency). No-one, neither individual nor official, has the right to install any sort of surveillance or observation equipment in my home. I have the right to eject from my premises – and without warning –anyone whose presence bothers me. My home is my free and private space: no monitoring, no pressure, no unwanted presence.
The solution: a digital home
It is time to transfer the benefits of the physical home to our digital lives. Every individual must have a digital home providing exactly the same level of comfort:
- Be the only one able to access the data therein.
- Be able to control all authorized access, and revoke it if necessary –
- Be able to store what is wanted, knowing it is safe from prying eyes
This home is not only intended to protect our privacy. The need for a digital home has become more pressing as we delegate decision-making in our daily lives to algorithms which feed on our personal data. Insurance quotes, control of our home automation system… He who controls the personal data will come to control the decisions which significantly impact our lives. One solution: repatriate our personal data to restore our digital sovereignty, and find sanctuary for them within a digital home. That’s what we want to do at Cozy Cloud: offer individuals a personal space, respectful of their privacy.