Around every corner in my connected life lay one of these traps. Data-collecting companies, especially when they’re trotted in front of lawmakers, like to say they give us “control.” But often it’s a false choice between forgoing some new capability vs. letting them mine your life. That’s not how technology has to work.
In my privacy project, I found that every swipe or tap of a credit card lets as many as a half-dozen kinds of companies grab information about what, where and how much we spend. Since I can’t live without a credit card, I switched most of my purchases to the new Apple Card, which restricts its bank, Goldman Sachs, from selling customer data.
That’s good, but Apple didn’t do anything to stop data collection by the Mastercard network its card runs on, or by retailers and point-of-sale system operators. Sometimes companies say they protect our privacy, but I find they often use a narrow definition of privacy. Same for your smartphone: Apple brags, “What happens on your iPhone stays on your iPhone,” but doesn’t stop app makers from sending your personal information to third-party tracking companies.
Facebook, Google and lots of other data-collecting companies offer privacy control panels that hardly anybody ever uses. I don’t blame anyone for keeping away: I’ve tried adjusting the terrible default settings for Google, Facebook and Amazon, but the companies keep changing the controls and the types of information they collect. Using a virtual private network, or VPN, doesn’t do much to stop them from grabbing data from a device you use while logged in to one of their services.