THE BLOG

The War on Privacy Is Over

03/13/2014 11:07 am ET | Updated May 13, 2014

The war on privacy is already over. We can stop discussing if and how corporations and the government will take our most personal possessions. It's time to cope with a world that's always watching; where everything is always recorded. If it feels like we're living in a battlefield, it's probably because we are.

Like Russia's "bloodless invasion" of Crimea, the War on Privacy has been silently and expertly waged by fabulously wealthy oligarchs, a group who has decided that profit and power can be gained by taking what isn't theirs. And like the developing new Crimean War, there's not much the "good guys" can do about it. Crimea will be annexed by Russia and any idea of privacy rights has been thrown out the window. There's just too much to be gained by the powerful for the advance to come to a stop.

Propaganda, not tanks, has been Russia's greatest weapon. They claim to be liberating and protecting ethnic Russians, to be doing the bidding of a "legitimate" Ukrainian President who just happens to be in neighboring Russia, and that the masked, mystery soldiers closing down and patrolling airports and securing borders are simply freedom fighters of an entirely unidentifiable origin (even though they speak Russian and carry Russian armaments). Who is to dispel the falsity of their claims? The Russian state media relentlessly claims that they are in the right, and the war-weary NATO nations have been rendered powerless. A New York Times editorial won't stop anything.

Russia continually points to the "legality" of their activities, knowing full well that even the United Nations could never come to an agreement threatening them, since Russia is a permanent member of the UN Security Council with full veto power.

Similarly, the West's wealthiest and most powerful corporate executives at Google, Facebook, AT&T, Verizon and others have aggregated and mined our personal information, property that wasn't theirs, in order to profit their shareholders (and to inflate their own stock options).

Legal scholars have debated for many years whether or not the U.S. Constitution protects the "right to privacy." It appears, however, that the Supreme Court has determined that only portions of a person's privacy can be protected, and over the years the judicial system has increasingly given freer reign to politicians and to the private corporations lobbying them to take and make use of what was once commonly thought to be ours and ours alone: our very most personal and private information.

Over time, these companies have intentionally whittled away their user protections, knowing that societal shifts and expectations would force consumers to participate and use their products, regardless of the terms and conditions agreed to. Since they own or direct much of the media, their well-oiled PR machines have effectively made society's decision for them. It's uncool not to have a Facebook. You have to have the latest smartphone. You must use Google every day to exist: after all, without a profile, you may not be even be able to get a job. As a result, consumers have become akin to a frog in a pot of cold water, slowly increasing in temperature. The frog is boiled before he ever realizes how hot his room's become.

For evidence, see Cullen Hoback's masterful film, Terms and Conditions May Apply. In the documentary, Mr. Hoback shows how giant internet companies have changed their privacy policies over time, with nary a negative consequence. Even when they are brought in front of Congress, no permanent, significant actions are ever taken against them, because the lobbyists bought with our user information are as effective as advertised.

Like Russia's occupation of the airports in Crimea, the acquisition of our personal information is surely an act of war. Just consider the terminology bandied about by marketing departments at these social media companies: based on the information gleaned off their profiles, consumer profiles are "captured" so that advertisements can be "precisely targeted." Google and Facebook are like more effective versions of the NSA and GCHQ, with massive databases of every information point imaginable about us, optimized for their own profitability.

The world has rapidly moved forwards, but privacy is DOA -- a casualty of war. We just have to deal with it.

To show you how absurd it's all become, Senator Dianne Feinstein, Chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence, is publicly accusing the CIA of spying on Senate computers and she's raving mad about it. Meanwhile, there has been perhaps no greater supporter of the invasive NSA programs -- and of the Silicon Valley-based social media titans depriving the American public of its privacy -- than the California Senator.

Worse yet, Edward Snowden -- the very same "American traitor" ensconced and protected in Russian territory -- appeared at SXSW in Austin, Texas this week via Google Hangout to advocate for civil liberties and privacy protections. That's right -- the privacy advocate, the reform champion, was speaking from Russia (the land of the free) through a Google (do no evil!) service to much applause. Every layer of this story is filled with hypocrisy, and anyone paying attention should know it.

I can't blame Snowden. It's the way of the world today, and I couldn't live or work without Facebook, Twitter, Google and LinkedIn. I guess you could call me a hypocrite, too.

When even your champions have surrendered and refuse to fight, the battle is over. The war on privacy is, too.

This Blogger's Books and Other Items from...