Let’s talk tech. Some of you don’t like tech. You fear it. You are worried that Mark Z. is sneaking into your bedroom at night to read your diary. You are afraid that China or Russia or some geek in Estonia is selling your social security number, DOB, mother’s maiden name, and Name of First Pet to the bad guys.
In other words, you think it’s still 1998 and we can do something about it. Well, you can’t. Want some proof? Go to Google. Search for your first name, last name, and the name of your street. Even better, the name of a street you lived on 15 years ago. For me, “Jane Davenport Central Park West” did the trick. Bingo!* Everything about me in the first 5 results, including current and old cell phone numbers, and including a fake middle initial I used once to track marketing results, but that now has a life all its own.
What can you do? Delete Facebook? Please. The Hub posts 12 times a day – so often, his own children had to un-friend him. You can delete Facebook, but it doesn’t solve the problem. Reminds me of the story of what happens to people who go to the police to say they are being cyberstalked. “Just unplug your computer!” says New York’s Finest. No worries! I can still churn butter by candlelight. Just need to add a little more whale blubber to the lantern, and I’ll be all set.
Technology is a public good like clean water, a utility like electricity, and a transformative force like the railroad and factory. It can be used well or badly; it can be used for good or harm. We can’t really tell where this is going to lead us, since we’ve just started the journey. Here’s a tale of two techscapes, and some punditry on what we can do to help the future.
First, the dystopia
Some of you may visit doctors, even hospitals. Well, don’t. They are terrible at storing, sharing, and protecting data. They are even worse at making life easier for you, the patient. The technology they have doesn’t do a thing to make YOUR life easier, does it? You call your doctor to make an appointment. That’s 10 minutes of your day lost right there. Before you show up, a receptionist calls to remind you to show up. Maybe one minute, but it just interrupted my genius train of thought while writing this blog.
When you arrive, you wait for 45 minutes. Doctor comes in, makes a diagnosis in 5 minutes (“no longer spring chicken syndrome”) then prescribes something. Anyone on blood thinners? Anti-inflammatories? Pain killers? Antibiotics? Heart pills? Emotional stabilizers? Raise your hand! Oh, everyone?
Your doctor prescribes meds by giving you a piece of paper or “transferring electronically” to your pharmacy. Great! You show up at your pharmacy, and sit around in that little folding chair for another 30 minutes, and finally get your meds.
So far, so 1998. But now it’s 2018, and you need a refill. All hell breaks loose. You call it into your pharmacy. You show up to get it, but then you’re informed “sorry, no more refills. Call your doc.” You go home. You call your doc the next day, because the office hours are 10 am to 2 pm. The assistant, Taylor, assure you they will do the rest.
They don’t. The pharmacy’s “system” never got it. But Taylor said they “transferred it electronically!” 3 phone calls later, with much begging, the pharmacy calls Taylor, who finally talks to someone in the back room who knows what’s going on. You’ve had to shepherd the process along each step of the way. Repeat for the rest of your life. No wonder you need blood pressure meds!
the promised land
Here’s how it should work, how it can work, how it will work someday – and how it works right now with Capsule. You go to the website, and open an account. Then you text them. “I need my blood pressure meds.” They ask, “please give us your current pharmacy or doctor name”. Next question? “When can we deliver it to your door? Today between 7 and 9 pm? Great!”
And you get your meds. No phone calls, no hand holding, no calling the doctor to say “the pharmacy doesn’t have it”, no calling the pharmacy to say “but the doctor said they sent it”. You use the website, the app, call or text, and it just happens like magic.
Frankly, I wouldn’t even be that miffed if they sell my diary to Vladimir Putin himself, because I’m so delighted with how little I have to do to get what I need. If Capsule is taking standard precautions to protect my name, identity, and prescription history, well that’s gravy.
So what should you do? Here are some options.
Get paranoid, but not too paranoid. If you really want and need more control over your data, you can delete Facebook – but that cat already got out of the bag and left the planet. Use their tools, by all means. Use DuckDuckGo instead of google. Use ProtonMail instead of Gmail. Use Signal instead of whatever text app you’re using right now (like Facebook’s Messenger).
Put credit freezes on each of the 3 bureaus – that means they have to get your permission to unlock it before they will give your credit info out. It’s more of a pain for you, but then again are you really opening credit cards and getting mortgages on a weekly basis?
Don’t Elect Idiots
Why, oh why are the people supposedly proposing solid regulation to protect the public such idiots? They seem to have no clue at all what Facebook is, or that it doesn’t make or sell a physical product they can put on a shelf. They don’t know that Facebook doesn’t really have anything to do with why their wifi is so slow (that’s Spectrum), or that Facebook isn’t Twitter, or why emailing is not the same as texting. As a result, we are way behind countries that have public data privacy laws to protect the public. In Europe, there are laws to hold companies accountable for data use, allow users to port their data to other platforms, to require a company to delete their data, and to get a reasonable explanation for the results of an automatic decision (like when “computer said no”)
If we don’t get some good, solid laws in this country as well, It’s going to be the difference between places with first world water treatment laws and “I think they refilled my bottled water from the pond out back”.
Are you in favor of an anonymous web? Not me. I want to know who bought that ad that’s disguised as a news article that swayed the election. I want each and every email I get to be traceable back to a real company or person – ditto for phone calls, texts, comments on blogs, and Amazon reviews. When you’re operating in the public space, you need to show your public face. You may have a private persona also, but that can be saved for ProtonMail and Signal.
You shouldn’t have to reveal your name and address to the whole world …. but I want Facebook and Google to know who is buying ads, and tell the public. I want it to be fast and possible to trace the barrage of anonymous threats of death and rape against women who dare to criticize gamers back to that specific 16 year old living in the basement of their mother’s home. Identify verification was expected for many pre-digital transactions: we need to use the same balance of public good and right to privacy in the digital world that we have for everything else.
I also suggest supporting Troll Cakes.
Fasten your seatbelts
You ain’t see nothing yet. Read this article from New Scientist about AI. You might have to subscribe, but it would be worth it.
*which is not the same as Bing