The fact that we don’t see hordes of people running around screaming their lungs out in sheer utter terror is evidence of the fact that most people either don’t know about or don’t think much about the state of surveillance in the modern world. Even if you’re a privacy minded person employing techniques to deny insight to nosy neighbors, the stranger next to you on the bus or the mother with the shopping cart right behind you at the store, privacy escapes us all. A decade ago, I was chiefly worried and concerned about governmental surveillance, particularly through (rogue) intelligence agencies and electronic eavesdropping programs. Now, we also have to be mindful of huge private corporations like Google and Facebook.
The amount of information that these entities have collected about our intimate details is staggering. Everything you do on your smartphone is connected to your account with a private company. The power they have over you can’t be overstated. It takes an enormous leap of faith to believe that this will not be abused at some point. Any person with even an inkling of political ambition could be effectively stopped in his tracks by the threat of unveiling his search history, the posts he has liked and so on. Companies could face extortion from these entities if their politics or business decisions prove to be “undesirable”.
There has recently been a lot of talk about regulating such massive private companies. I’m torn on the desirability of this. The libertarian within me deplores such state interference in private affairs, but at the same time I don’t want to make a “constitutional suicide pact” argument against a genuinely civilizational threat. Libertarians have mostly fallen foul of this already with the immigration debate. Non-Western immigration is pushing us farther and farther away from any realistic prospect of achieving a libertarian minded society.
If regulating them isn’t an option, and if we don’t feel morally comfortable with literally bombing their data centers to wipe out their blackmail servers, what can we then do? I propose a mutually assured destruction type solution with a twist. If everyone, or a sufficient number of people (including prominent people) decided to make their embarrassing online details public, we would all collectively share in the embarrassment. You can’t attack your neighbor or political opponent for something you’re done yourself. Such a solution would defang the gargantuan tech behemoths that are currently morphing into semi-private governmental entities. The primary downside is of course the massive embarrassment that would have to be endured.
There is also the issue of inequality. Not everyone have done their embarrassing deeds online and have thusly not left electronic traces. As a consequence, some people would be more embarrassed than others. Unfortunately, I think that too few people would view the revelations through the lens of for the greater good. Relationships would be ended, marriages broken, friendships terminated, business deals cancelled, politicians retiring and so on. We must also consider that some countries are more “connected” than others. They would mostly escape “unharmed” from this revelation suicide pact. That is another element to consider before we all collectively spill the beans on ourselves. To end on an obvious point, getting everyone to do this at the same time would also be a tremendous hurdle. Nobody wants to be the only one laying bare their innermost secrets while the others pull back at the last minute.