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Privacy is Power: Why and How You Should Take Back Control of Your Data

Review. This book written by Carissa Véliz raises awareness about the dangers of the new data exchange economy and shows the steps to follow to regain our privacy.

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By Sasha Muñoz-Vergara. Published: July 17, 2021.

This book should be a must-read. Privacy is Power is a call to educate yourself about the dangers of the digital age as you read this review, data vultures, as the author refers to data-owning organizations, maybe stealing your most personal information, such as your passwords or image. They could be reading the conversations you’ve had with your partner, or some artificial intelligence algorithm could confuse your face with a criminal’s one on the other side of the world. “It doesn’t matter if you are a nobody - society is made up of nobodies, and that’s who data-hungry institutions are interested in,” says the author.

Carissa Véliz, a professor at Oxford University’s Institute of Artificial Intelligence Ethics and the author of this book, narrates various possible scenarios and real-life cases about data misuse (such as Cambridge Analytica, IBM, Google, or Facebook). It may look like a chapter of 1984 by George Orwell, but it’s nothing dystopic. It’s happening every day.

There’s nowhere to hide

All tech devices are connected to keep an eye on you to help those interested in profiting from your darkest secrets. Privacy is Power starts with an everyday journey through the actions that expose us to data thieves. Including checking your cell phone as soon as you wake up, taking your count steps to watch wherever you go, using Amazon’s Alexa as an assistant, talk about sensitive topics in front of your smart TV, subscribe to websites that have no privacy regulations, or even give your name to strangers. Everything we do generates data, and data is power.

The way the book is written is simple. Still, it deals with a complex issue that concerns everyone, both ordinary citizens and the extensive technology organizations that develop all the applications, pages, and resources to collect the information. The problem becomes more complicated when the governmental institutions are involved in mechanisms of control and attack democracy because “being watched all the time interferes with the peace of mind needed to make autonomous decisions.”

One of the controversies he discusses is personalized ads, such as those from the Facebook scandal and Cambridge Analytica, which would be the origin of the so-called data economy. The lack of control is the lack of regularisation, such as the new facial recognition policies that the UK police implemented to compare the facial features of people with any wanted offenders. Governments and their institutions disguise the violation of the right to privacy with claims about national security, although rather than protecting it, they put it at stake.

Another dilemma is the use of data without the consent of people in medicine. The data that insurance companies or technology giants buy to include in their algorithms. “Technology wants to make you think that what brings innovation to the market is inevitable,” says the book, and contrasts it by betting that “technology doesn’t happen to us, we make it happen.” The author argues that no technology can surpass human knowledge, as it is the people who enter the data into the machines.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, applications have appeared to infer whether a person has the virus with their databases, although they cannot diagnose it as a clinical test. Karisma Foundation conducted a study on the privacy risks of government applications for COVID-19 tracking. It found that most of the apps referred to physical contact tracking and exposure, that they have access to geolocation, share their library data with third parties, and lack transparency about the uses of these apps.

The book also comments on the Italian city Vo case, where the first person in the country died of coronavirus. The University of Padua conducted a study there: all the city inhabitants were tested, positive cases isolated, and after that, there were no new coronavirus cases. All without the need for an app. Read more in this article.

Although the book seems hopeless and seems to want to scare us (because when you read it, you feel like deleting TikTok and eliminating all your friends from Facebook), the author has a propositional and educational conclusion. In a world where machines handle us, it’s time to realize that not all technology is evil and to enjoy the right to privacy. You don’t need to deprive yourself of every device you have. The power is in the data and in what is done with it.

Do you want to know how you should demand and live your right to privacy? The steps, tools, and suggestions are in the book, which you can find on Amazon.