The issue: Our love affair with tech has a dark side.
What we think: The only force that can protect you is you.
Tell us what you think: Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We get it — technology is seductive. It’s shiny, it’s intriguing, it connects us to the world with the swipe of a finger or the touch of a button.
There’s a lot to love about technology, and the urge to rush out and add the latest and greatest advancement to your arsenal is understandable.
But if there’s any takeaway from recent headlines it’s that technology has its darker side. Moreover, that technology for the sake of technology can be dangerous.
Consider the debacle that was the Iowa caucus.
For those who haven’t been paying attention to the Feb. 3 start of the presidential primary season, the Iowa Democratic Party opted to replace its longstanding vote-counting model with a smartphone app that was intended to streamline the nominating contest. Instead — or perhaps inevitably — a communications breakdown led to a complete meltdown in the reporting process. And thus a participatory tradition long viewed as a model of democracy turned into what The New York Times dubbed an “Epic Fiasco.”
The chaos was so complete that on Feb. 10, the eve of the New Hampshire Democratic Primary, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg requested a recount. The Hawkeye State’s Democratic Party had determined on Feb. 9 that Sanders finished second to the former South Bend, Indiana, mayor by a mere 0.09 of a percentage point.
The margin was so slim that the Associated Press, which historically calls election results, declined to declare a victor.
Now, admittedly, that’s rather an extreme case from a state more than 500 miles from here. So let’s take a look closer to home, shall we?
Facebook. Amazon. Uber. Airbnb. YouTube. Twitter. Instagram. Google. Your smartphone and any app you put on it.
Have you ever considered the information they are gathering about you? Or what they are doing with it?
If you read the terms and conditions of those and other user-friendly apps, it’s all spelled out in complicated, borderline-incomprehensible English.
But let’s be honest, that “I agree” button should be labeled “Sure, whatever,” for all the attention we pay to the fine print.
That’s not criticism, it’s fact.
Back in 2012, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University found that the average person would have to spend 76 working days to read all the privacy policies they encounter in a typical year. And in January 2019, academics in Israel and New Zealand determined that 99 percent of the contracts on websites are incomprehensible and require at least 14 years of education — the equivalent of a college sophomore or an associate degree — to grasp.
That’s not an accident. If those terms and conditions to which we all just automatically agree are unreadable, authors Uri Benoliel and Shmuel Beicher wrote in the Boston College Law Review, it reduces a tech company’s liability to their consumers. (And it leaves your data open to a gathering and sharing free-for-all).
Look, there’s no way to totally cut out technology; it’s too deeply ingrained in our culture for us to turn back now. But you can be smart about protecting yourself and your private data.
Be judicious in what you agree to. If something is questionable, do your homework. And until regulators finally drop the hammer on big data, be cognizant that everything you send into the digital void — cat photos, selfies and all — is fair game for profit-driven harvesting.