On avoiding nihilism about your data

Today on ZDNet:

A huge trove of voter data, including personal information and voter profiling data on what’s thought to be every registered US voter dating back more than a decade, has been found on an exposed and unsecured server, ZDNet has learned.

It’s hard to exist in 2017 and not feel like you’ve already lost—your personal data’s out there. Facebook already has it. Google already has it. The GOP already has it. The temptation is to say “fuck it” and not care, because what can you possibly to do change any of this?

And you’re partly right, individual action will probably do very, very little. One person can delete their Facebook or switch to DuckDuckGO, but can’t change the culture that a) allows major political parties to profile you and b) be so cavalier about that data they basically say  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ when they accidentally leak it. I’m sure the Democraty Party is just as shitty with how they treat this data. Collecting this information is creepy. If you had a notebook logging all the political activity and preferences of your neighbors, you’d be a creeper. Just because a major political party does it doesn’t mean it’s suddenly OK. “They do it too” is an argument my daughters make when I catch them doing something wrong, not politics that are respectful of individual human beings.

With every leak, it makes it easier for someone use your identity to commit fraud. With every ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ it makes it easier for a troll to dox someone and with every doxxing a marginalized person thinks that much harder about participating in the discourse.

We collectively need to get and stay angry about this. Laws need to change to shift liability so that there’s more money to lose by keeping private data indefinitely than by keeping it. Personal data should the equivalent of storing toxic waste—you keep it if you absolutely must, but it’s not worth it otherwise.

At the risk of being labeled idealistic, every time we reduce humans to data we dehumanize them. Reducing humans to a numerical profile may be how we think elections have to be won, but it’s not how I want humans treated. I want a political system that rewards treating human beings like human beings, not a profile in a database.

It speaks to me of the systemic problems in how we determine political power in our country. Our first-past-the-post voting system, our campaign financing, our gerrymandering, our lack of ballot access, all lead to having two massive political party structures that are less and less accountable to the humans on the ground whom they purport to represent. This is not to say both political parties are the same, or to say that political parties don’t do some good, but that systematically, they are organizations that exist to try and win a certain type of election. I optimistically (naïvely?) believe that we can make systemic changes and get politics closer to our ideals of how humans should treat each other.

I strongly believe that the government is us. It governs with the consent of the governed. If the system is broken, we try to fix it within the framework we’ve all agreed we’ll use to try and fix it. If that still doesn’t work, we all get together and peacefully decide on a different framework. The Constitution of 1789 was not our first governing document, nor will it be our last.

On avoiding nihilism about your data

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