No one is coming to save us from Big Tech

Alexandra Kubiak and Jon von Tetzchner examine the importance of data privacy, the impact of Big Tech's surveillance on our lives, and how using privacy tools can help regain control of personal data.
No one is coming to save us from Big Tech

This Sunday, January 28th, marks a little-known holiday called International Data Privacy Day. And while it’s unlikely that this Sunday will be markedly different from your other Sundays, you need only glance at a myriad of headlines, many written by this very publication, to see why we should be taking our data privacy seriously. 

It’s become virtually impossible to exist in today’s digitally interconnected society without generating a trail of data, what with apps logging our every ping, scroll, keystroke, and tap. We know exactly why they do this, too.

We all know the unnerving experience of receiving an ad so targeted that it convinced us that someone was listening to our conversations. But we’ve only recently come to understand the true toll that this surveillance is taking on us, our well-being, and the fabric of our society.

In addition to invading our privacy, these platforms are wreaking havoc on our mental health, our body image, our elections, and the entire concept of truth. 

Sustainable oil

Our reliance on digital services has transformed us into commodities, our personal data traded like currency between corporations. It’s a bleak truth: those who have amassed enormous power have shown little inclination to relinquish it voluntarily. Users are becoming distrustful of Big Tech, causing Big Tech to try to market itself as being more private.

Exemplified by Meta (Facebook) telling users they have full control in the “Privacy Center” whilst pushing features like “Link history” packaged as a useful tool onto users, only for Meta to get more user data for targeted ads.

It’s like an oil company promoting how sustainable they are. 

Leading the charge

But again, the main problem we face is not one of awareness. 77 per cent of Americans have little or no trust in leaders of social media companies to publicly admit mistakes and take responsibility for data misuse, and 76 per cent expect them to sell users’ private data without their consent.

As new technology like AI emerges, 81 per cent of survey respondents expect that it will be used in a way that they’re not comfortable with. Worse yet, 71 per cent of respondents don’t expect tech companies to be held accountable for misusing their personal data. 

So how do we bridge this gap between scepticism and cynicism? Thankfully, this same survey offers us a glimpse: 78 per cent of adults trust that they can make the right decisions about their personal data, but 61 per cent are sceptical that anything they do will make much difference.

We’re here to say that, not only are you capable of making data privacy decisions for yourself, you absolutely must. Private search engines like Startpage and private web browsers like Vivaldi are leading the charge away from Big Tech’s surveillance economy right now.

The fact that Startpage’s search volume has steadily grown, year after year, and Vivaldi sees a constant increase of users shows that consumers are ready and willing to make a change. 

Not only do privacy tools let you instantaneously take back control of your privacy and data, but like most actions, the impact compounds the more people participate. You need only look at the U.S. government’s recent antitrust lawsuits against tech giants, or the EU’s recent regulations around AI, to understand the power of collective pressure.

The surveillance ecosystem

Big Tech was fined a staggering $3.04 billion in 2023. A not-so-fun fact is that it only took them seven days to earn enough to pay it all back. This can make the situation seem hopeless, but if enough people take advantage of online privacy tools, we have the power to undermine the key narrative that tech giants continue to use to justify their actions: that their surveillance ecosystem is the only way to monetize the Internet. 

As individuals, our privacy matters. It's not a commodity to be traded; it’s an inalienable right.

We’re living proof that there’s a better way, which is why we hope you join us in making 2024 the year that users finally take their collective power back.

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