Recently, the 5th season of Netflix’s critically acclaimed series “Black Mirror” was made available. Regardless of what you thought about this season, the second episode provided a thought-provoking glimpse into the operations of a fictional social media giant. What’s perhaps most chilling about this episode is just how much information said social media giant could access. The episode details how slowly law enforcement is able to access personal information; that is, until they reach out to the social network. The social media giant, meanwhile, obtains more information faster without any regard for privacy or the law, displaying surveillance capabilities beyond anything Orwell could have imagined up to and including tapping the phone of the episode’s protagonist.
As much as such probing may have been necessary for the imagined incident of Black Mirror episode “Smithereens,” social media companies engage in such privacy violations as a matter of routine. These violations aren’t done in service to the law but usually done in service of their bottom line – justified by saying that their users agreed to it. However, there is no good reason to allow private enterprises more access to private information than we would allow a government without due process, and much less as a condition of service.
Why Privacy Matters
In 1928, a case was placed before the Supreme Court – Olmstead v. United States. This case was meant to determine if the government needed a warrant to tap phone lines. This case – overturned in 1967 – ruled the government did not. In his dissent, Justice Louis Brandeis declared that people had a fundamental right to be left alone. He reasoned the purpose of privacy is that, when brought into the public light, our private information could be used to compel testimony against ourselves. He felt that Americans must be secure “in their beliefs, in their thoughts, in their emotions, and in their sensations.”
This idea that violations of privacy – even without an associate crime – could result in punishment is not without merit. Teachers who once worked in adult entertainment found themselves fired when students publicized their past. These teachers were punished for activities over a decade old. It is also legal in most states for employers to fire you based on harmless posts expressing a view the employer doesn’t like (dissatisfaction with the job, unhappy with low pay, etc.). With such strong economic penalties for private thoughts – often shared on social media – being exposed to the general populace, privacy is more important than ever.
Self Interest Against Privacy
Most social media platforms are free to use. Servers, employees, electricity, and internet connections used to maintain those platforms are not. This creates an interest among social media platforms to monetize – most notably through ads. By selling personal data, these companies can serve targeted ads with maximum efficiency.
This model necessitates an invasion of privacy. Every post, every website visited, every search term entered can be used to build a profile intended to sell to you specifically. This certainly doesn’t sound to us like the actions of a company that respects your “right to be left alone.”
This is what makes Emenator stand out. Like any other business, we must generate revenue to continue business operations, but we also respect the privacy of our users. We believe that you are a valued member, not the product.
Responsibility to Personal Data
It is our fundamental belief that your personal data ought to remain that – personal. Even elected government officials in this country cannot sieze personal data without due process. Therefore, the question of access to your information becomes one of actual rights. Why should social media giants have the right to barter your data in the name of profit? We do not do business that way. We do not broker in your data, and we never will. Your information is your own, not our commodity.
While certain information is needed to make social media sites work, what data you share with us is entrusted to us only to provide a better service, not to profit from or to serve ads based upon your overall activity across the internet. That is our responsibility and we stand by it.