Lots ink and and many pixels have been spilled in the past 24 hours about personal rights, digital privacy, and government interference. I don’t think enough has been spilled about the systemic reality that made so much of this possible: corporations have the right to access a lot of your information, and they do so with the hope of monetizing your activities.

(I had an elaborate bank/YMCA/your closet metaphor prepared, but I figure anyone who is reading this understands what I was driving at: storing personal data on a corporation’s server is different from storing it on your hard drive. So I will jump to my main point instead.)

When you store data on servers owned by a corporation, you cede some rights of ownership and privacy to that corporation. They can read your documents. They trawl them extensively for the purposes of advertising. Corporations are not governed by the fourth amendment, and they have more incentive to actively monitor your data anyway. The NSA does not have a vested interest in monetizing everything you do. Corporations (especially you, Google) do.

Let me repeat that: corporations have an interest in building a specific profile on your patterns of behavior and consumption and using that profile to both actively and passively direct your habits to align with their financial goals.

Google wants to see what you talk about in your e-mails so that they can tailor the advertisements you see. They also want to catalog your searches, so that they can suggest things in the future. The problem is twofold: first, Google exempts certain results from searches because it doesn’t fit established patterns. While you may think that you are seeing the entire universe of results, you are actually seeing only the results Google wants you to see. Second, Google makes a profit from corporate advertising dollars. If we already know that they are limiting our searches, how do we know which results pop up because they match our patterns of behavior, and which pop up simply because a company paid for it to be there? The truth is, we often don’t.

While we are willing, and often eager, participants in this relationship, the outrage running through so many of my news feeds right now indicates we have a troubled relationship with digital privacy. It makes me wonder: why does this backlash occur only when we are presented with evidence that the government is able gather the information? Aside from the Orwellian confirmation of a Fourth-Amendment-squashing program many suspected existed, did we learn anything new? And in truth, given how much we entrust to corporations right now and how bad their data-protection track records are, isn’t that data-driven profile is probably just a FISA Court authorized subpoena away anyway?

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