I was recently discussing a radio program with a friend who understands media quite well – but who seemed to be „playing dumb“ during the discussion. The radio program in question was a German one – BR’s Radiosalon had broadcast a debate about privacy versus the „espionage“ tactics used by many online media giants (I used the word „espionage“ to describe the behavior of such mega-media companies’ data gathering techniques, the BR Radiosalon program was actually called „Wie soll unsere digitale Zukunft aussehen?“ )
My friend is an acclaimed scientist with a deep understanding of statistics, research methodology, etc. I have a great deal of respect for his work, and I do not wish to ridicule him. On the contrary, the views he expressed are actually quite widespread and widely considered to be quite “normal” (I will get back to this aspect of “normal vs. abnormal” further below in this post). Indeed, these views were also discussed in the radio program.
The point in question is whether or not people have “something to hide” (though in my opinion the more crucial issue is that most people seem to have little or nothing to show). I agree with my friend that there is little to be concerned about if / when other people collect data (indeed, I am even of the opinion that data cannot really be “owned” — the way I see it, data are always freely available to anyone or anything that can recognize them). If someone sees me and scribbles onto a notepad that my race is “caucasian”, then their racism is their problem, not mine. Whether other people check off boxes or fill in blanks has nothing to do with me — instead, it is all about their point of view, perspective, biases, prejudices, etc. I couldn’t care less if large media companies record data about me or my behavior — unless they use this data to lie about me or to propagate rumors which are untrue.
If a larger portion of the population were more literate, more numerate, etc., then even such misinformation and propaganda would not really matter very much (cf. also this post by Gavin Patterson, CEO of BT). The other day I posted a “heatmap” graphic that was used in an article which was purported to be about how much of a webpage is commonly read. Of course it is impossible to measure whether a person actually reads something, but that did not prevent the author from pontificating profusely on the topic.
Apparently, the vast majority of people are less interested in literacy than they are in belonging to a crowd.:
Freud was saying that masses are bound by libidinal forces. They love each other and delegate their ideas and ideals to the chap on top. […] Hate is delegated to the others outside. — Dr. Leopold Löwental (39:50 – 40:25) in the BBC documentary “Century of the Self (Part 1): Happiness Machines”