Note: this is a Dutch book (I read both Dutch and English). It hasn’t been translated into English, but I will give my take on it in English, since that’s the easiest language for me to write in.
Book blurb: Facebook weet bij wie je gisteren op bezoek ging. De Belastingdienst zag hoe je er kwam. Apple hield bij hoe lang je er bleef. Samsung hoorde wat je er zei. En Google wist al dat je het van plan was.
In Je hebt wél iets te verbergen: over het levensbelang van privacy laten onderzoeksjournalisten Maurits Martijn en Dimitri Tokmetzis zien dat privacy het meest bedreigde mensenrecht van onze tijd is. Ze leggen bloot welke gegevens je allemaal weggeeft en aan wie. En, belangrijker nog: welke ingrijpende gevolgen dat heeft.
My take: The literal English translation of this book is “You DO Have Something To Hide: On the Vital Importance of Privacy”. In it, two journalists of independent Dutch online journalism platform De Correspondent dive into the murky world of what happens to the data your part with online (thanks to those reams of unread User Agreements etc. you blindly sign in order to use any app on your phone/tablet/computer these days).
It’s scary stuff. To know all my data is known across the world because third party apps actively bid for the right to send me advertisements is a very depressing thought. No matter how careful I might (want to) be, the User Agreements change all the time and all you, the user, can do to continue using the app or website is click ‘agree’. Big companies like Facebook and Google have broken their promises to not sell data on time and again, and I don’t really even want to know what those third-party types are doing. Both The Circle and 1984 are mentioned several times. I really do feel very much like the ostrich on the cover.
Martijn and Tokmetzis also raise interesting and important moral and ethical questions about online privacy. Our notion of privacy (i.e. ‘track me with cameras all you like when I’m in town, but when I’m at home whatever I do or say is nobody’s business’) is outdated. It simply doesn’t match the overwhelming reach of our technology anymore. Your phone/tablet/watch/device tracks you everywhere you take it (even into the bedroom), your Google searches tell a detailed story of your interests, who you contact is common knowledge. A new definition of online privacy is badly required. Thankfully there are some people out there putting in the brainwork on this. They mention Bruce Schneier, Helen Nissenbaum and Evgeny Morozov as authors and thinkers they’re fans of, if you want to read books on a similar topic in English.
This is a very topical book that will probably seem extremely dated in about a year or two, three. Technology doesn’t stop for such things as ethics, after all, even though many of us wish it did. Our philosophy needs an update as much as our device’s operating system does. And the big data-grabbing behemoths that more and more control our world really do need curtailing – but how, that’s still not quite clear, not even to the authors.
I’m a fan (and member) of De Correspondent. I like their thoughtful approach to the news, their focus on the background and context of stories, and their regular check-ins with their members to make sure they are still staying true to their mission. They are currently working on their English-language site but here’s their English-language Facebook page in the meantime if you are curious about what kinds of stories they post.