Americans Gave Away Online Privacy to Advertisers Long Ago

Ronda Churchill/AP file photo

Facebook, Amazon and other firms have already dug deep into users' lives.

New stories surface every day detailing the National Security Agency’s administration of secret programs designed to keep the US “safe” in an era of internet communication and global networks. Having a strong opinion on any particular set of details would be premature.

But allow me to offer this: Whatever abuses of privacy occurred, we remain entirely responsible for our reaction to them and the subsequent action taken by lawmakers. So far, in general Americans have been apathetic—the New York Times described the reaction as “a collective national shrug.” While sales of 1984 have spiked in the wake of the NSA reveal, Americans have basically told our leadership that the monitoring of personal communications is A-OK. If we look for a genesis of this unbelievable attitude, I believe we must look closely at the tech industry’s addiction to revenue models that cost end-users nothing except their privacy.

The conundrum of privacy in a digital era is that the more of it you give away, the better the service you’re using becomes. Facebook mines your friends and preferences to make your Newsfeed as interesting as possible. Foursquare analyzes your check-in data in order to give you recommendations when you visit new cities. Twitter routinely recommends new and interesting accounts based off of who I already follow, as do scores of other services—network effects are, after all, what makes these websites so useful in the first place.

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