Privacy is the Cloak Hiding Surveillance Capitalism
Companies build empires while preaching about their commitment to privacy. Seeking prime positioning on the parade, their leaders sometimes work together and at other times fight. In an interview with Wired, Zuckerberg discussed a pivot to privacy in response to the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Apple have long claimed the high ground; criticising Google and Facebook for a dependence on “personalised” advertising. And then they showed their true colours by proposing to surveil content on your iPhone. Meanwhile they used privacy protection as justification for cutting off 3rd party cookies, to cap Facebook at their knees. Google are following suit with Chrome, cohort based (FLOC) targetting, whilst ramping up their privacy-washing and opaque “user” controls.
Consumers are increasingly concerned about their online privacy, even if they don't think of it as a fundamental right. But emperors, as the child with courage points out, often have no clothes. Are you fooled by the trillion dollar privacy cloaks worn by Big Tech? And if not, what do you think it covers?
A search engine alternative called Mojeek has always taken the position that the real problem is data harvesting. Since inception, and as publicly announced in 2006, they have never tracked users. Mojeek collects only the data necessary for providing results: the search query, language, and location. A location which can be defined, or hidden by the user, as they so choose.
Do you benefit from all this collection, linking, and use of identifying data? On Google you get “peronalised” results and “optimised” (for whom?) ads. Personalised as in, "we know what is best", by Google. Personalised using their view of the world, and from spying on you. And don’t forget Google’s view is increasingly an AI. Welcome to the present; where information neutrality is under assault.
Mojeek have a different perspective. The belief that two users who make identical search queries, with the same location, time, and language setting should get, by default, the same search results. They are guided by the principle of information neutrality. This is also known as search objectivity. If you really want non-objective search, you can use "personalised search" from Google or Bing. Or indeed from other so-called privacy search engines that, under the hood, pass data to Microsoft (mostly) or Google.
In the US, the Federal Trade Commission is coming around to Mojeek's view of search. Rebecca Slaughter made the following argument in a little-covered speech on October 1st, calling for a model and rules on data minimization instead of the surveillance business model:
"Fundamentally, data minimization should mean that companies collect only the information necessary to provide consumers with the service or product they actually request and use the data they collect only to provide that service or product"
She also talked about other myths that need busting: 1) that privacy is the key issue; 2) that more notice and choice is the solution; 3) that surveillance advertising is necessary to support free services; and 4) that the FTC is toothless without new legislation.
When will the emperors change their cloaks? The time it takes them to change will depend on the regulation and that will take years. In the meanwhile, you can pay more attention to those already practising what they preach. For search you do so without surveillance at Mojeek.