Death by a Thousand Cuts
I was recently playing around with mail merge on Google Docs at home, because Tuesday is my skip day for work-life balance (ok, really, I don’t have a good excuse).
I used MailChimp’s mail merge, which I’ve previously used quite successfully, only to find that it wouldn’t load. The developer console gave me some random script errors, which I attributed to RequestPolicy, my Firefox cross-domain request blocker. Of course, RequestPolicy said it *wasn’t* blocking *any* requests, but I turned it off anyway and tried again. When that didn’t work, I turned off AdBlock and tried again. No more extensions that blocked requests at all. No luck.
Of course, a clean build of Chromium in incognito worked just fine.
Ad blockers, privacy extensions, and their ilk have been a sort of “compromise position” when it comes to privacy. Those of us who actually care turn them on, knowing that the vast majority of people who don’t care act as the lifeblood (or Soylent, if you wish to be provocative) of internet commerce. It allowed us to accept pretty much universal tracking of who we are and what we do, since we assumed *we* didn’t need to follow those rules.
What’s happened is not an immediate, intentional disabling of that technology, but a gradual atrophy. I recently read that AdBlock on Firefox ate up RAM, so I ended up turning it off on my phone, and getting much better performance as a result. Every single site I go to seems to want something from cloudfront.com. How do I know that Amazon can’t know what I’m doing across every single domain? Realistically? I can’t.
Remember the fable of the frogs in the pots? One frog was boiled quickly, and jumped clear to safety. The other frog was boiled slowly and croaked.
We’re the frog that stayed in the pot and built an insulating boat. And now that boat is leaking.
I’ve religiously kept my account on Facebook separate from the real world, and kept separate accounts for everything that matters, but the constant juggling I’ve used to square the circle is probably not going to work forever. And while it’s not exactly connected, I suspect that any solution that divided people into a class of digital “knows” and “know-nots” could not last forever.
Those of us who care about privacy may eventually be forced to make a choice:
a) accept the current norms in privacy
b) deal in a less technical and more political manner (that means organizing, talking to each other) with those who run the digital world
c) find some new, more financially and technically sustainable way of maintaining control over our information and who knows it.