Hey folks. That This week’s winner is Reed Hastings, who lost a million subscribers but saw Netflix’s stock skyrocketed because he didn’t lose anymore. What a showman!
The general view
I got an email from Google the other day. “Dear Steven,” the text read, “This is a reminder that any existing location history data you have in your Google Account will be deleted on September 1, 2022.” This was a surprise to me because I thought I had long ago turned off the voluntary feature that let Google log my whereabouts as if I had my own personal Mossad agent following me around 24/7. I checked my account and discovered that although I had indeed informed my silent shadow to go down, I had not deleted my location history from before then, which included my whereabouts between June 2013 and January 2019. Should the government subpoena me, they will wanted to know everything.
I appreciated Google’s promise to proactively wipe this clean. Given the timing, I wondered if the email came as a reaction to the Supreme Court Dobbs vs. Jackson decision denying the right to abortion. It had not; I had forgotten that Google periodically issues such notifications in cases like mine where the location data is just hanging around. But Google understands that Dobbs the decision has made the processing of personal data a more pressing issue. Not just Google, but all of big tech—and a lot of smaller app developers—may be asked to routinely hand over information that could lead to the prosecution of abortion seekers and those who help them. Meanwhile, people are delete apps who track their menstrual cycle in fear that the data could be used against those suspected of having a miscarriage.
So it’s no surprise that Google within a week of the Supreme Court’s bizarre reading of the Constitution adopt a new policy: From now on, when people visit certain medical facilities — “counseling centers, domestic violence shelters, abortion clinics, fertility centers, addiction treatment facilities, weight loss clinics, and cosmetic surgery clinics” — Google immediately deletes those stops from the user’s location history.
It’s a welcome step, but hardly a solution to the constant erosion of our privacy in the digital age. The big companies insist that they are on the case. Google, like almost all the big tech companies, has a huge privacy effort with well-meaning people trying to protect its users from dystopian abuses of its technology. Apple has made privacy protection a marketing focus by using end-to-end encryption for critical data. (Also, Apple doesn’t have an equivalent to Google’s location history, even for those who might want it.)
But we are still miles away from sufficient privacy. Overall, it is almost impossible to take full advantage of today’s wonderful technology without making our personal information vulnerable – from governments, hackers or all too often advertisers. We have built an entire infrastructure based on absorbing data. So it’s no wonder that when state governments consider a cosplay of The Handmaid’s Taledo we have to worry about pregnant people being vilified by their phones and their apps.