Apathy to data breaches and privacy erosion enables a dystopian reality, with a vanishing line between public and private life. Are we heading towards digital totalitarianism?
Totalitarianism is the erasure between private and public life, as per Hannah Arendt. Any secret that just shouldn’t be there immediately becomes overgrown with conspiracy theories, and the exposure of confidential information becomes the story itself. These are arguments that American historian Timothy Snyder is making in a chapter of his book On Tyranny.
Snyder takes aim at news media reporting, saying that we’re much worse than fashion or sports journalists for making the exposure of sensitive and private material into a breaking news story. Snyder’s book is concise and he doesn’t really argue the issue further, so I will. And I’ll take a different stance.
Data leaks are our bread and butter here at Cybernews. However, many leaks aren’t really news at all to most people, who’ve become inured to their private information being exposed and abused all the time.
In our increasingly interconnected world, it’s getting harder and harder to maintain that private life that, as per Snyder, is one of the pillars of democracy and a way to escape totalitarianism. So much of your private data – from your WhatsApp number to even your DNA – is out there in the public, up for grabs.
Naturally, when you’re getting bombarded with news on endless data leaks, exposing your driver’s license, Social Security numbers, email addresses and physical locations, even seemingly irrelevant information like your Duolingo progress, you eventually become apathetic to it all.
Unless it’s something really personal, like your explicit images before or after plastic surgery, you simply don’t care.
Here it is – your life is showcased in the window of the most tourist-busy street.
A frequent explanation as to why people don’t care is that they’ve got nothing to hide, no money to steal, and, honestly, their private life just isn’t very interesting.
But combine that with the personal information you’ve fed into apps like Amori’s Texts from Your Ex, and you have yourself an eternal life. Your digital doppelganger will live long after your death. Intended to be created or not, it will never get tired, won't complain – well, until it becomes sentient – and won’t bore anyone with its personal life.
This isn’t not science fiction, nor a teaser for the new Black Mirror season. It’s a scary dystopian reality that we enable by, well, not caring enough.
The erasure between the private and the public might not be a direct result of totalitarianism just yet. However, the treasure trove of information that’s readily available only needs one authoritarian with an idea how to use it to enslave people or, well, their digital doppelgangers.
Theoretically, in the US and other democracies, your privacy is respected, and laws like GDPR and the Delete Act (a similar concept to the EU’s right to be forgotten) are drafted. Companies are fined left and right for failing to comply with data privacy laws. Misconfigurations, sloppy cybersecurity practices or just a lack of caring leads to accidental exposure of treasure troves of data that mostly end up on the dark web so that cybercriminals could further exploit them.
Personal data leaks might have become a part of your daily news intake. But we name those companies not for you to come to terms with the fact of privacy erosion, but so that you can confront them. Reach out to them by email, call them, leave comments on social media. Hold them accountable for their carelessness with your data.
Believe me, that information about you floating on both the clear and dark web, it’s not harmless. It could be used against you and against us all by some evil minds.
As we grow accustomed to the exposure of our personal information, our apathy becomes the catalyst for a sinister reality where the distinction between our digital selves and our authentic lives blurs. Our future hangs in the balance, with the stark choice between vigilance and the perpetuation of a dystopian digital reality.
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