We'll never have digital privacy until we all care about digital privacy

Android figures
(Image credit: Jerry Hildenbrand / Android Central)

It's been a while since I talked about digital privacy (or maybe not, but whatever). It just so happens that it's one of the things I am passionate about and seeing it erode day in and day out bothers me.

What bothers me, even more, is that most people just don't give a damn. I am not just spitting out some sort of feeling or hunch here, either. There is actual data that people who read Android Central just aren't interested in hearing about it. 

To be clear — I'm simply talking about the number of people who click or tap on a link and spend enough time there to read a short article. I'm not involved in learning or collecting anything else from anyone other than the number of views on a specific web page.

An example might be in order, and I'm happy to oblige. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has sidestepped our Fourth Amendment rights and purchased cell phone location data from a third party. The Constitution, as well as the Federal Trade Commission, make it very clear that this should never happen. But it did. Of course, it did.

Google Maps on Galaxy Z Flip

(Image credit: Andrew Martonik / Android Central)

I was gung ho to write about what happened and what it means, but then I remembered that very few people would read it. I know this because I have written about the improper use of location data time and time (and time) again, and very few people decided to read it.

I could have written about it anyway. Nobody in charge here would have stopped me from writing a thing I thought was important, but in the end, we all work here to provide the content that people want to read. There were just other things to write that people did care about and would read, and that's more profitable. As much as I hate it, I am here to serve.

Saying you have nothing to hide is lying to yourself.

Anyhoo, DHS knows where to go and what you do without ever getting a warrant because it's easy to buy location data from some scummy company that tracks you through your phone. You should care.

It's easy to say you aren't bothered because you have nothing to hide, but that's not being honest. You have a lock on your door and you probably don't use your Social Security number as your email address. You obviously value your privacy, at least a little bit.

Nothing will change until we demand it changes

Pixel 6 Pro Privacy Dashboard

(Image credit: Jerry Hildenbrand / Android Central)

This happens because we allow, or even encourage, it to happen. Every time you click or tap OK without reading a policy or agreement, you encourage more of the same. Those policies are only listed because someone forced a company to list them. If you ignore what is going to happen — by doing something like not reading what Google will share if you use Google Sign-in — it is going to happen. You don't get to act shocked or surprised when it does.

In a perfect world, all of this sort of crap would disappear and no company would intrude on your privacy at every turn. This world is not a perfect world. Companies make billions of dollars from your user data. You are a cash cow. 

I'm a cash cow too. Every person reading this is, even if they don't like it. Maybe I'm even worse because I know what is being harvested from me, and encourage you to be diligent and know what is being harvested from you, yet still participate. I guess I should be suggesting that everyone drop out of the digital age and live in a cave if I wanted to be consistent.

Home sweet home

Welcome to my cave, please wipe your feet. (Image credit: Jerry Hildenbrand)

Yeah, that's stupid. I can be stubborn and sometimes a little mean (I'm sorry I'm just drawn that way) but I am not stupid. Tuning out from life is not the answer. The real answer is to hold these shitty companies that profit from data and play fast and lose with it accountable. Think about this when you buy a portal to the outside world like a phone.

Since this isn't going to happen in a world where money does all the talking, I'll repeat myself again and suggest a way to live your digital life that gives you a tiny bit of control:

  • Read the terms and conditions as well as the privacy policy of every service you use, every product you buy, and every app you install. Ideally, before you use it.
  • Decide if your benefit is equal to the value of what you're giving away. 
  • Live by the decision you make.

An example: I'm a hypocrite because I use Google Assistant. I know this makes me a hypocrite because Google collects every little greasy scrap of data from me it's legally allowed to collect.

Google Assistant helps me know when the mail has arrived. Google Assistant helps me turn the lights on and off. Google Assistant lets me know who is at the front door. Google Assistant allows me to call for help if I need it. These are all very important things for a person in a wheelchair.

We are all just cash cows. It's time to be a bull.

Google also does a decent job of protecting the data it collects. Not because it cares about me but because it is profitable. Either way, chances are Google isn't going to give my data away or be sloppy and let someone get to a server somewhere.

My decision was that the benefit to me is equal to the data I give away. You might feel differently and if you do, you should stop using Google Assistant — or any service that doesn't afford you an equitable benefit.

A final suggestion if I may — one big giant over-reaching tech company is no better than the other big giant over-reaching tech company. Stop pledging some sort of fealty to a faceless corporation that does not care about you. You are a cash cow to all of them.

And for christ's sake, please start caring about privacy just a little bit.

Jerry Hildenbrand
Senior Editor — Google Ecosystem

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.