Lack of Tech Regulation Will Hurt American Economic Standing Soon

I’m a bit of a privacy nut; I’ll admit it. I regularly make trade-offs and choose not to use a product or service, forgoing the “convenience” it might offer me because I have read and do not agree with the privacy policy. Such as with most tech companies in the US, because we have failed to see the appropriate and vital need for government intervention to create and uphold a fair marketplace that promotes innovation, does not permit a stranglehold of huge sub-sectors of the economy by established mega-companies, and protects consumers from said mega-companies parasitic behavior, we are stuck in a kind of doom loop. We cannot break up these companies to create a competitive marketplace and we cannot seem to regulate how they make their money and how the tech platform economy works because our government is just as dysfunctional, captured by corporate donations through lobbyists.

I’ve addressed the government part before; today, I want to look at the tech sector and explain why I don’t believe that my personal convenience is valuable enough to be all I get in exchange for the data I produce that gets siphoned off my phone or my web browsing activity, with no notice, warning or compensation. The fact is these companies have established their position as market dominators by selling your information to the highest bidder and feeding you ads across all the personal tech products in your ecosystem.

Google (now a division of “Alphabet”) gives you a decent email system for free. It also developed the operating system and user interface for nearly all cell phones and tablet devices whose names don’t begin with a lower-case i. I have a GMail account because I needed one to use my phone and its associated app store, but I do not use it for email. I stick with Protonmail, which is a European company that centers itself around security and does not scan/sell your personal info. They have an adequate free product and a paid service, as well as a calendar and a VPN service, for those looking for more security. In general, if you pay a nominal fee for something on the internet, it is less likely that the company producing that product or service is using your data as the profit mechanism to support the production of the product or service that you are using, but you also have to read the fine print.

I use the DuckDuckGo search engine and mobile browser. This company is for profit and does run ads, but they are ads that are based on the exact search terms you used, not the historical data they have accumulated on your search history precisely because they do not collect and store data on your search history. For my PC, I use Mozilla Firefox and my homepage is set to DuckDuckGo for search.

I also use my GPS location tracking on my phone exclusively when I’m navigating somewhere I haven’t been. Many apps tout features that work better or automatically do something extra when you turn this on, but when you do, you have basically turned your phone into a tracking device by which companies can see where you are, where you have been and when. This is a form of data stream about yourself that you are creating, by choice, or possibly without considering the potential risks. As far as I’m concerned, no for-profit company needs access to this info about where I go or how long I might be there. It’s none of their business. One with different political leanings might replace my issues with corporations with their issues with the government. 🤔

One of the other “inconvenient ” actions I take personally is to keep my email, calendar and alarms as separate functions in different apps on my phone. Again, these are all things people do at once with Google. A little extra work for me, maybe, but I will take the effort to keep too much of my personal info from being known by any one company. This also means my phone and computer do not sync. But since I only use my computer sparingly, I simply dedicate my phone to holding my calendar, appointments, notifications, alarms, reminders, etc.

The last of my security-based proclivities that I will share is that I absolutely positively will choose NOT to generate personal data that I do not need. I’m talking about a manufactured need that a corporation has produced a 7-8 figure ad campaign to convince you that you have. Examples include step trackers, genetic info (i.e. 23andMe), and any Fitbit-style trackers. I did finally decide to try a step tracker for a short while when I found one that did not demand permissions for my GPS location, did not make me sign up for a subscription to use it and did not store my info in the cloud. It literally just counts steps, stores the data on your device and tracks daily/weekly progress over time. I used it for a time to test the distance on my regular dog-walking routes and then uninstalled it. It turns out, this app was developed in Europe. I was not surprised to find this.

Some people think that consumers have carefully considered these privacy issues and formed an opinion that they do not care, the risk is worth the reward, or that they are totally comfortable with their data being collected and used by whatever terms of service a corporation has at the time. I would argue instead that most people have never read a tech company’s terms of service in their life and have never thought about any of these issues before. They just want to have access to whatever cool and novel tech stuff for a little money as possible. Very few people have considered the ramifications of systemic surveillance, tracking and general data production on the population. I think this is beginning to change.

People are starting to wake up to the fact that what they had assumed regarding corporate data collection policies and data security is always subject to change and it is very likely that your information has already gotten loose into the wild, so to speak. Without any sort of enforcement mechanism with teeth from a governmental oversight agency of some sort, it is up to “the market, ” which is all of us deciding which products to use and where to align our spending.

People aren’t going to stop using Google or Amazon tomorrow, but if there were alternatives being built in Europe, for example, where they have stronger, consumer-centric data collection and management policies with enforcement, slowly but surely, people will start using them instead. A recent example I found is called Ouraring, which is a sleep and fitness tracker, built by a European company who centers privacy at the core of its business model. I am almost thinking about considering this as an alternative to other similar products. I’m not 100% sold yet, and I would need to do some more research, but it looks promising, if I felt the need to track/improve my sleep and fitness routines.

It will not be long before the dysfunction in our government, their inability to act consistently on our behalf to solve our modern issues, and their insistence on thinking backwards instead of forward to the problems we have now and will have in the future will become a liability. The “rule of law” only works when it is applied with equity, universally, and we can be assured as individuals that we are being treated fairly. The choices we make when we vote now will determine whether we move closer to our further away from those goals. So watch your choices of elected officials and pick wisely for those who are willing to learn about and take action on these issues, because frankly, this is the sort of thing that will determine the future of our economy and our ability to maintain our leadership status on the world stage. We can always do better, one elected official at a time.

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