Privacy is Power by Carissa Véliz

Last month I read The Age of Surveillance Capitalism by Shoshana Zuboff, a book I would highly recommend. Privacy is Power by Carissa Véliz is another one on the same topic, surveillance capitalism, and it’s even better for a couple of reasons: it’s three times shorter and the style is colloquial, as opposed to the academic language used by Zuboff. I loved this book because it offers information so clear and in such a way that is accessible to almost everyone.

In the beginning, Véliz describes the day of a regular person, which is appealing and interesting. Most of us can relate to a few aspects of her life. It is a long description, but I think it was needed because its implications are so powerful. I just loved the way the book starts.

After that she talks about personal data, how it’s used, who gets it and why, the implications of giving out our private data. She makes a very good point about the stupidity (my words) of “I have nothing to hide”. As if (my example), the people who said they have nothing to hide would show their internet searches to their spouses or a bank statement to their parents and, in both those cases, it’s much more likely that the spouses and the parents care more about them than Google and Amazon do.

Privacy is Power by Carissa Véliz

Some of the details included in the book are chilling, when it comes to medical data and how easily it was for an NHS Trust to break the trust their patients put in them and share personal data with a third party without having asked for the consent before doing that.

She finishes the book with a list of things we all can do to protect our privacy and our children’s privacy. I am shocked, I have to admit, when I see parents happily showing pictures of their children without thinking of the implication of their actions. A picture with a child having a tantrum today can impact their chances in the future, depending on what the programmers who make the algorithms think about that. We all should think of what we share and why we share it too because, as she very rightly points out, what we share does not affect only us but all around us too.

I will make some changes after reading the book, which is pretty amazing, considering that I already use a lot of privacy settings, I have VPN, I hardly share anything on Facebook, and I think about all the things I share online. Probably because I am a blogger with 3 blogs (lifestyle and food, besides this one), I realize how important privacy is and, surprisingly, I share less online than some of my friends, without blogs.

I will leave a quote from the book, while I urge you to buy/borrow it and read it:
“That we are allowing companies to profit from the knowledge that someone has a disease, or has lost their son in a car accident, or has been the victim of a rape, is revolting.”

Privacy is Power by Carissa Véliz

Details about the picture: food, something we share on social media, but that can say so much about us, without realizing. This slice is a M&S vegan cheesecake slice, which can mean that: if I was living in US I would be more likely to vote for Democrats as their environmental policies are stronger; that I can afford £4 for 2 slices of cake from the supermarket; it might mean that I would be more willing to buy something that is vegan in the future. This might not be much, but, if you add the information obtained on my likes and shares on social media, a company might know if I am vegan or just doing veganuary. Also… none of these details are relevant if I would want to buy a new vacuum cleaner or a book, so why collect it/share it.
My rating: 5/5 Stars
Would I recommend it: YES!
Published by: Bantam Press
Year it was published: 2020
Format: Hardcover
Genre(s): Non-fiction – IT
Pages: 224

About the author: Carissa Véliz is an Associate Professor at the Faculty of Philosophy and the Institute for Ethics in AI, as well as a Tutorial Fellow at Hertford College, at the University of Oxford.
She works on digital ethics, including privacy and AI ethics, practical ethics, political philosophy, and public policy.
Website & Social Media Links: carissaveliz & she is on twitter at @carissaveliz

6 thoughts on “Privacy is Power by Carissa Véliz”

  • I know that by sheer accident, I share far too much information online, although I don’t always tell the truth I have to admit! For instance, the comment site which seems to log me into your blog whenever I comment, insists that I use my surname, which is an issue I must get addressed quite soon! I would also really like to have a Facebook business page which is only used by the book loving community, however that has already proved to be a failed experiment. Dave set me up a page with all the privacy settings he could find available and with no personal information in it at all – Guess what? within an hour, my tech nerdy nephew-in-law was on checking it really was me and then began posting personal stuff, so although the page is till there, it is now inactive and I don’t use it! I want to be connected, but only when I want to be and with the people I choose to be! Sounds like a book that might wind me up a bit too much and have me closing everything down! 🙂

    • There are two aspects when it comes to privacy online, what we share, and what we don’t want to share, but companies can get a hold of, like how much we spent looking at an ad without clicking on it. That is significant for them too. We just don’t even understand the scale of it without doing research on the subject, and that’s scary.

      It’s quite scary to see how easy it is to find someone online too. I wasn’t sure of my neighbour’s name, so I did a quick online search, found them fast, I saw pictures of their children, where they went on holiday, pictures from their honeymoon, even political related comments on her facebook page. Looking for a name to write on a card is ok, but someone wanting to do them harm can find the information as easily as I could.

  • Sounds interesting! It’s partly age related I’m sure, but I’m often horrified by the things young people especially share online. Apart from anything else, I can’t imagine that employers don’t check online before taking on new employees (even if that’s kinda creepy) and would I really employ someone who spends their time swearing at people with a different political outlook on Twitter, especially if they’re doing it when they’re supposed to be working? Or who told “funny” stories about their current employers?? And as for the NHS thing, I was stunned speechless when the government gave a list of all the names and addresses of those shielding from Covid to all the supermarket chains last year. Yeah, good idea – make public a list of all the most vulnerable people in society who mostly live alone…

    • Unfortunately it’s much more than checking what people say on twitter. In China, for example, people can be hired or fired, can buy tickets for the 1st class or not depending on what they spent their money or if they missed a payment. It seems incredible that buying alcohol can impact if one can buy a plane ticket or not, but it does. We, in the west, are not surveilled by the state, but that does not mean that our privacy is safer. A low Equifax score can mean we do not get a mortgage and not we and neither the bank know why and how they came up with that score. Who knows if in a decade a similar HR score will be made by a random company.

      Sadly, surveillance can start with good intentions, exactly as you said. The governments in UK wanted to help the ones who are shielding, but that can be used for nefarious purposes by hackers. It might also be used for other things too, we just don’t know about them or they are not used now, but can be in the future. What if, the ones who are shielding and engage in what is considered unhealthy purchases can be flagged to the NHS. Maybe they buy too much alcohol and sweets and that can be a sign that they are depressed and they are trying to cheer themselves up.

  • I’m going to add this one to my wishlist, though I have a feeling it will disturb me greatly if I read it. My older daughter rarely posts photos of her children online anymore, and I’m pleased to say my younger daughter has never done so, for a variety of reasons. You’ve probably noticed I rarely post photos of people at Instagram and never without their permission.

    Good review!
    Kelly recently posted…The Dog Lover’s Jigsaw PuzzleMy Profile

    • The information in it are disturbing, but we need to know about them, so that we can act. I already made some changes regarding my emails. I am, gradually, moving my email conversations from gmail to one of my emails (I have an email for each blog and those are managed by my husband). The details on things like DNA testing kits and child surveillance are chilling too. As you said, posting pictures is very delicate, but Carrisa talks about posting other things, like hands, which is something I didn’t think about.
      I know you’ll enjoy it if you are going to read it. Also, I saw your latest puzzle and it’s just lovely.

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