Stasi couldn’t record what newspaper articles you were reading. For how long. And in what order. That, along with pretty much every thought you have ever explored while sitting at a computer, is now part of your permanent record – even if you never told a single human being.
My Fellow Users,
I have been forced to make a difficult decision: to become complicit in crimes against the American people or walk away from nearly ten years of hard work by shutting down Lavabit. After significant soul searching, I have decided to suspend operations. I wish that I could legally share with you the events that led to my decision. I cannot. I feel you deserve to know what’s going on--the first amendment is supposed to guarantee me the freedom to speak out in situations like this. Unfortunately, Congress has passed laws that say otherwise. As things currently stand, I cannot share my experiences over the last six weeks, even though I have twice made the appropriate requests.
What’s going to happen now? We’ve already started preparing the paperwork needed to continue to fight for the Constitution in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. A favorable decision would allow me resurrect Lavabit as an American company.
This experience has taught me one very important lesson: without congressional action or a strong judicial precedent, I would _strongly_ recommend against anyone trusting their private data to a company with physical ties to the United States.
I've heard quite a lot of people that talk about post-privacy, and they talk about it in terms of feeling like, you know, it's too late, we're done for, there's just no possibility for privacy left anymore and we just have to get used to it. And this is a pretty fascinating thing, because it seems to me that you never hear a feminist say that we're post-consent because there is rape. And why is that? The reason is that it's bullshit.
We can't have a post-privacy world until we're post-privilege. So when we cave in our autonomy, then we can sort of say, "well, okay, we don't need privacy anymore, in fact we don't have privacy anymore, and I'm okay with that." Realistically though people are not comfortable with that. Because, if you only look at it from a position of privilege, like, say, white man on a stage, then yeah, maybe post-privacy works out okay for those people. But if you have ever not been, or if you are currently not, a white man with a passport from one of the five good nations in the world, it might not really work out well for you, and in fact it might be designed specifically such that it will continue to not work out well for you, because the structures themselves produce these inequalities.
So when you hear someone talk about post-privacy, I think it's really important to engage them about their own privilege in the system and what it is they are actually arguing for.
There was a time, in the not-too distant past, when the Internet was mostly about sharing educational information.
Sadly, the Internet is now full of companies who want to use it as a vehicle for advertising and who are obsessed with building up a dossier on as many people as possible, to exploit for financial gain. Your privacy means nothing to these companies; they will collect as much information about you as possible, with no regard for your wishes.
It's some trouble to set all this up, and inconvenient at times. But unfortunately it's a jungle out there, and the default setup of browsers leaves you like a naked person in a mosquito-infested swamp.
Social networks exist to sell you crap. The icky feeling you get when your friend starts to talk to you about Amway, or when you spot someone passing out business cards at a birthday party, is the entire driving force behind a site like Facebook.
Because their collection methods are kind of primitive, these sites have to coax you into doing as much of your social interaction as possible while logged in, so they can see it. It's as if an ad agency built a nationwide chain of pubs and night clubs in the hopes that people would spend all their time there, rigging the place with microphones and cameras to keep abreast of the latest trends (and staffing it, of course, with that Mormon bartender).
We're used to talking about how disturbing this in the context of privacy, but it's worth pointing out how weirdly unsocial it is, too. How are you supposed to feel at home when you know a place is full of one-way mirrors?
We have a name for the kind of person who collects a detailed, permanent dossier on everyone they interact with, with the intent of using it to manipulate others for personal advantage - we call that person a sociopath. And both Google and Facebook have gone deep into stalker territory with their attempts to track our every action.