2018, after what feels like a stretched bout, has finally come to an end. And to say those last twelve months have been one of the most turbulent, jarring periods for the world of tech would be an understatement.
Phone makers showed how the phones of the future will bend, Google pulled the plug on a couple of its deserted social apps (like it does every year), Apple continued its quest for trying to convince everyone that the iPad is a computer, the MacBook Air was reborn, Facebook announced an always-on camera for your home, we learned that Amazon warehouse employees are forced to skip bathroom breaks (and pee in a bottle), YouTube claimed the throne for the most disliked video on its own platform, and even more.
More importantly, though, 2018 will be remembered as the year when public trust slipped away from the world’s biggest tech companies. While there are numerous incidents that led to me saying that, here are the ones that truly stood out.
Data misuse of over fifty million users on Facebook let Cambridge Analytica influence the US presidential election; Google said it tracked Android users even when they switched off the GPS setting, the Marriott breach compromised the personal information of about 500 million guests, another Facebook leak exposed up to 6.8 million users’ private photos, the WhatsApp misinformation wildfire led to mob lynchings of nearly thirty innocents in India, you get the idea. Phew.
If you still have faith in tech companies, well, then congratulations.
But most of you probably don’t.
By now, you’re most likely wondering whether there’s even a way out of this mess. If you ask me, that depends on how much you’re willing to give up. Should you just dump your smartphone and go back to the good ol’ days of feature phones?
No, the more sensible way to handle this is to simply understand the technology you use every day better and the companies that make them.
Let’s talk about the latter first. None of these tech companies, which claim to care about you and your well-being, are your friends. They’re businesses, and no matter how cute their mascots or advertisements are, the only element they worry about, at the end of the day, is their revenue. You’ll have to stop assuming they will take care of your privacy just because they said so. They won’t. You will have to.
I feel like Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, illustrates our situation quite accurately. A few months ago, he said at a conference — “Platforms and algorithms that promised to improve our lives can actually magnify our worst human tendencies. Rogue actors and even governments have taken advantage of user trust to deepen divisions, incite violence, and even undermine our shared sense of what is true and what is false. This crisis is real. It is not imagined or exaggerated, or crazy.”
He’s right; the so-called smart algorithms which most companies have pushed towards in the last year have also become an excuse for them to collect more user data.
But this doesn’t mean Tim Cook worries about you either. While he has, time and again, criticized the data-collecting practices of its competitors, he has also shaken hands with them when a large figure was involved. A few months, when the time had come for Apple to renew the contract for keeping Google search as the default search engine on Safari, he didn’t mind. How large of a figure, you ask? Reportedly $9 billion.
When questioned on the hypocritical behavior, Tim Cook justified the decision by saying Google’s search engine is the best and their browser has features like private web browsing to “help” their users. Private web browsing? Hurray.
The bottom line is you shouldn’t rely on Tim Cook or any other executive. For, it’s your own data, and you are the only one who should decide how it’s being consumed or distributed.
Therefore, it’s more crucial than ever that you understand the tech you use every minute of your life. Start consuming technology in a way you think is appropriate. Years ago, if you were not familiar with the nuances of technology, at best, you wouldn’t be able to reboot your computer. Today, you can end up compromising your personal information.
You’ll have to know exactly what you are signing up for when you click that Agree button. The data-hungry apps are not going anywhere. There’s a reason they’re free. Even if you aren’t unable to quit entirely, you can minimize their impact.
Don’t you like Google snooping on you all the time? Switch off the Web & App Activity settings. Not comfortable with how Facebook handles your personal data? Delete your account along with the media on it. There will be compromises, and even that won’t promise you’re completely safe. Verify WhatsApp forwards before blindly forwarding them further. You will just have to figure out which one’s the least bad.
I’m not going to give you false hope. The forthcoming year will be no different. It will bring even advancements on several fronts. Social networks will continue to struggle with the spread of misinformation and hate speech on their platforms. Phones will get even more memory and power so that you can scroll your social feeds at twice the rate.
So brace yourself, put on your seatbelt, and be prepared for what 2019 has to offer.
Oh, and before I forget, seasons greetings and a happy new year from all of us here at TechPP!