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Online privacy is overrated

Ryan Westlund
I'm a programmer, writer, and philosopher. My Github account is yujiri8; all my content besides code is at yujiri.xyz.
Originally published at yujiri.xyz ・2 min read

Online privacy is overrated. The widespread concern about corporations collecting data on us is almost entirely unwarranted. And I used to be passionate about it too, but then I started to realize how unreasonable it was.

Privacy advocates will talk about how the eevul corporations are collecting your data without your "consent", and compare it to "touching stuff that doesn't belong to them":

Startpage's privacy message

Honestly, this is ridiculous. Consent is a word that suggests someone doing something to you, something that affects you. It's not "touching something that doesn't belong to them" because there's nothing being touched that's our property. I don't own the information of what websites I've been visiting and stuff. I don't have a right to someone else not knowing things.

Personalization is a benefit. Who would honestly prefer to see random ads instead of ads that at least have something to do with something they're interested in? Who cares if it's 'creepy'? We should care that it's clearly beneficial.

Advertising is a glorious business. It's a business where us end users can benefit without even paying anything. Essential online services like search are able to be free because of advertising. (Actually, Google isn't free but rather we're forced to pay for it because it's heavily tax-subsidized, but that's a sunk cost with regard to whether we use it or other search engines.) It's even more mutually beneficial than other businesses. Advertising businesses shouldn't be seen as scary villains, quite the opposite.

Google showing you results it thinks you want is good and I hope Google does more of that.

Besides, you can opt out of Google's search result personalization! Or use Tor. But due to my changing perspective, I recently switched my default search engine from DuckDuckGo back to Google and enabled the data collection.

None of the other search engines are as good as Google anyway. Even with personalization turned off, I regularly got more relevant results with Google than with Startpage or DuckDuckGo, both of which I used for a long time. Let's stop sacrificing quality of service for no reason.

Originally published at yujiri.xyz.

Discussion (11)

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dmfay profile image
Dian Fay

And if I believe that advertising is a parasitic "industry" which only enables the provision of these services because it in turn is enabled by a socioeconomic context which rewards voyeurism so much more than simply doing or making something useful is rewarded?

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fleshmecha profile image

This sounds like propaganda for a certain search engine.

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mburszley profile image
Maximilian Burszley • Edited

You don't have to hide it, he names his sponsor explicitly in the propaganda: Google.

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tobiassn profile image
Tobias SN

The thing is, Google and the others don’t need to track you to make a profit. They can still make almost as much money without it, but they do it anyway to squeeze every last cent out of users.

But think of it this way. Imagine someone in real life watched everything you do. Wouldn’t that be creepy? I bet it would. Now imagine it’s your digital life, and the person watching you is a multi-billion dollar corporation. It’s the same thing, so why is one situation so much more worse than the other?

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yujiri8 profile image
Ryan Westlund Author

The thing is, Google and the others don’t need to track you to make a profit. They can still make almost as much money without it, but they do it anyway to squeeze every last cent out of users.

I don't know how different their profit would be without it. Do you? Even if you're right that it's a small difference, who would blame them for it? I squeeze every last bit of use out of the services I use.

But think of it this way. Imagine someone in real life watched everything you do. Wouldn’t that be creepy? I bet it would. Now imagine it’s your digital life, and the person watching you is a multi-billion dollar corporation. It’s the same thing, so why is one situation so much more worse than the other?

Well the main difference as far as I'm concerned is that "someone in real life watched everything you do" implies someone physically watching, meaning I'd have to be constantly aware, not only of the effects of their surveillance, but of the surveillance itself. That would be uncomfortable, sure. But it's not like some Google employee's eyes are on me all the time and I can't get away from it.

And it's also much intimate than real life. Someone watching everything I do in real life would stop me from being able to have private conversations, but being tracked on the internet doesn't. As much data as Google gets, it can never be as intrusive as someone watching everything I do in real life.

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tobiassn profile image
Tobias SN • Edited

I don't know how different their profit would be without it. Do you? Even if you're right that it's a small difference, who would blame them for it? I squeeze every last bit of use out of the services I use.

No, I do not know what the difference is. But from this article by DuckDuckGo:

Almost all of the money search engines make (including Google) is based on the keywords you type in, without knowing anything about you, including your search history or the seemingly endless amounts of additional data points they have collected about registered and non-registered users alike.

If you ask me, I think a search engine company is very qualified to talk about this.

Well the main difference as far as I'm concerned is that "someone in real life watched everything you do" implies someone physically watching, meaning I'd have to be constantly aware, not only of the effects of their surveillance, but of the surveillance itself. That would be uncomfortable, sure. But it's not like some Google employee's eyes are on me all the time and I can't get away from it.

Well, you are aware that Google is tracking you, right? And I don't think it matters if it's a single person or an entire company, you're still being watched.

And it's also much intimate than real life. Someone watching everything I do in real life would stop me from being able to have private conversations, but being tracked on the internet doesn't. As much data as Google gets, it can never be as intrusive as someone watching everything I do in real life.

Google can (and will) listen to your microphone when using Chrome, Android or anything else they made. You can't even touch anything related to Google with a 5-meter pole without getting tracked. That article I linked earlier also shows that they have trackers on 75% of sites, so I honestly think that's much more intimate than a real person. For them, it's no longer a matter of when they know where you are (With Android they already do) or can see/hear what you're up to, they can (And I wouldn't be surprised if they do) know virtually everything you do from the moment you turn on your Android device till you turn it off. This extends to what you do on your computer too if you use Chrome.

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yujiri8 profile image
Ryan Westlund Author

No, I do not know what the difference is. But from this article by DuckDuckGo:

DuckDuckGo is a search engine who's entire platform is privacy, so they're not at all a reliable source about this.

Well, you are aware that Google is tracking you, right? And I don't think it matters if it's a single person or an entire company, you're still being watched.

No, it doesn't matter what the number of people is. The point of that paragraph was the difference in presence. It's much less intrusive to watch some invisibly in ways they don't have to be continually aware of than to be physically present and monitor someone.

Google can (and will) listen to your microphone when using Chrome, Android or anything else they made. You can't even touch anything related to Google with a 5-meter pole without getting tracked. That article I linked earlier also shows that they have trackers on 75% of sites, so I honestly think that's much more intimate than a real person. For them, it's no longer a matter of when they know where you are (With Android they already do) or can see/hear what you're up to, they can (And I wouldn't be surprised if they do) know virtually everything you do from the moment you turn on your Android device till you turn it off. This extends to what you do on your computer too if you use Chrome.

I'll check out the video. But again, even if they had trackers on every website, that would be a huge step down from seeing and hearing everything I do. I can still easily get away from Google by leaving my phone or turning it off, and browsing with Tor or similar means.

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yujiri8 profile image
Ryan Westlund Author

I checked out the video. It's pretty crazy, but not terribly surprising and I don't think it harms my point that much.

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tobiassn profile image
Tobias SN

DuckDuckGo is a search engine who's entire platform is privacy, so they're not at all a reliable source about this.

The fact that they’re a search engine means that they can look at their own numbers and compare them to what Google makes from search queries. Whether they’re privacy-focused or not doesn’t matter. In fact, if you’re gonna talk about trust, you should know that Google is not that reliable either.

No, it doesn't matter what the number of people is. The point of that paragraph was the difference in presence. It's much less intrusive to watch some invisibly in ways they don't have to be continually aware of than to be physically present and monitor someone

Doesn’t matter, you’re still getting watched.

I'll check out the video. But again, even if they had trackers on every website, that would be a huge step down from seeing and hearing everything I do. I can still easily get away from Google by leaving my phone or turning it off, and browsing with Tor or similar means.

As long as you’re logged into your Google account, Tor won’t do anything for you. And they can still manipulate search results.

I checked out the video. It's pretty crazy, but not terribly surprising and I don't think it harms my point that much.

You still can’t deny that it’s intrusive and downright unethical.

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yujiri8 profile image
Ryan Westlund Author

The fact that they’re a search engine means that they can look at their own numbers and compare them to what Google makes from search queries. Whether they’re privacy-focused or not doesn’t matter. In fact, if you’re gonna talk about trust, you should know that Google is not that reliable either.

Whether they're privacy-focused absolutely matters. You don't take the word of someone with a vested interest in harming the reputation of X for something negative about X.

Doesn’t matter, you’re still getting watched.

Differences of degree matter. To argue that the two are equivalent because "you're still getting watched" would be a fallacy. (The perfect solution fallacy is a specialization this same reasoning; I don't know of a name for the more general version.)

As long as you’re logged into your Google account, Tor won’t do anything for you. And they can still manipulate search results.

Is it so hard to log out of Google when I need to do something I don't want tracked?

And yes, Google controls the search results, but that isn't relevant to privacy in this case since if they don't know who the request came from, they wouldn't know whose information to use.

You still can’t deny that it’s intrusive and downright unethical.

I don't. I agree, it's intrusive and it's also unethical since they're dishonest about it. Again, that doesn't impact the point, which is that privacy is overrated.

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sergix profile image
Peyton McGinnis • Edited