Monday, December 23, 2019

What am I missing here?

This morning I read this article in the NYT, bemoaning the way in which cell phone location data is used to invade people's privacy. They certainly come up with a number of scary scenarios:

Imagine the following nightmare scenarios: Governments using location data to identify political enemies at major protests. Prosecutors or the police using location information to intimidate criminal defendants into taking plea deals. A rogue employee at an ad-tech location company sharing raw data with a politically motivated group. A megadonor purchasing a location company to help bolster political targeting abilities for his party and using the information to dox protesters. A white supremacist group breaching the insecure servers of a small location startup and learning the home addresses of potential targets.

It did just cross my mind that a popular cop show the First Reader and I watch occasionally depicts the cops using cell phone location information to intimidate their targets, not to mention using a facial recognition system that would be the envy of the Chinese government, trawling through the phone and email and financial records of anyone who interests them, and generally tearing up the Fourth Amendment into tiny pieces and trampling on them. But, you know, it's all right because they're the Good Guys. If their audience buys this world view, I doubt the opinions of a New York Times columnist will bother them. Day by day in every way we are accepting the surveillance state...

But that's not where I was going, which was, actually, to Amazon. It took approximately 30 seconds to find a $10 Faraday cage that is advertised as blocking GPS tracking.

Over time, protest could become the exclusive right of those with the means to safeguard themselves technologically, including having a second, “burner” phone. “It’s technologically possible to be anonymous, but it’s hard,” Mr. Tsui told us. “You can only protect privacy with tech right now, and so only those who have money and knowledge can do it.

Well. If "money" means having an extra $10 to spend to prevent your $500 smartphone from reporting on your movements, and "knowledge" means being able to do a cursory search on Amazon... that's a low bar.

I suspect the higher bar will be understanding that invasion of privacy is not a good thing, and that your privacy is worth more than the convenience of pulling out your smartphone to tell your friends where to meet you at the protest. And that ship may have already sailed.

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