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Concern Trolling, Data Privacy Edition

FaceApp is making people look old, but not nearly as old as your takes.

FaceApp is back in our respective timelines, and this time it's making people look old.

Neat.

It's also come up that FaceApp is owned by a sketchy Russian company, and people are (rightfully) warning FaceApp users about what that means for their privacy.

Also neat.

And right on time, the Scorching Hot Takes™ about how people shouldn't care what FaceApp does with their information since they use Facebook, Google, and others every day1.

I'm normally cynical about the world, especially privacy, and I don't disagree that companies like Facebook and Google use and abuse people's privacy and personal information every day. But when users of those sites provide those companies with their information, it's a real trade-off.

I use Gmail fully knowing that Google scrapes every email to expand its advertising profile for me, but I get a free email account with nearly unlimited storage and top-notch security in return.

I use Twitter knowing that they, too, build an advertising profile on me, but in exchange I get to stay connected with people easily. Maybe a little too connected, but still, reciprocity.

But when people use FaceApp, they're sending their information to a company they know next to nothing about, based in a country that is an open advesary of pretty much the entire world, and in exchange they get a picture of themselves that makes them look 50 years older.

That's unbalanced as hell.

In 2019, realisitically, no one is off the grid. And if you are, your life is difficult:

These companies are unavoidable because they control internet infrastructure, online commerce, and information flows. Many of them specialize in tracking you around the web, whether you use their products or not. These companies started out selling books, offering search results, or showcasing college hotties, but they have expanded enormously and now touch almost every online interaction.
Kashmir Hill, Goodbye Big Five

From this viewpoint, the attitude of "you give your data to these companies, why not give it to everyone" reads less as cynicism and more of concern trolling—neither of which are good starting points for conversations about privacy, but the latter is infinitely more combative.

And please don't think I believe that corporate misuse or outright abuse of our privacy is acceptable because of the trade-off. Far from it2, I think the trade-off makes abuse even worse: it's a violation of an agreement3, but at least in these circumstances, there's an incentive to compromise your privacy for more than a cheap giggle at the sight of an older you.

Footnotes

  1. If you haven't seen these takes on Twitter, count your blessings. If you want to see the tweets that inspired this post, search for them. Or DM me. I'll send you links. I just don't want to link to or embed them here.

  2. You'll notice my lack of mentioning Facebook in the trade-offs. This is by design. I am not on Facebook, and you shouldn't be either.

  3. I am not a lawyer. This is not legal advice.

  4. The cover image for this blog post uses a photo by Lianhao Qu