Hidden in the shadows

The guy was following me everywhere. I did not notice at first, obviously, but then I started having glimpses, checking the rearview mirror, glancing backwards when I walked. He was there. Undoubtfully. He kept the distance. He was extremely discrete. But there is no doubt it was the same guy over and over again, right behind me. It was scary, but at the same time it seemed harmless. I could not confront him, he vanished when I tried. I couldn't get closer than 10 steps from him until he turned a corner and somehow disappeared. He would turn back when I was unaware. As weird as it sounds, I got used to it.

Then one day I had the strange impression that he was even following me in my own house. Again, I could not confirm it, but that feeling in the back of your neck when someone is looking at you. I was at the verge of becoming paranoid until I saw him. He was there, hidden in the shadows of a corner in the living room. God, how is this even possible? I shouted and run for him. It was outrageous, how did he dare to enter my house? How did he even managed to do it? But just as he did, he flew, he vanished. I never recovered the calm. I felt observed, all the time. I ended up adjusting my own behaviour, being more cautious even at my own home. He was still there, of that I was sure. But days passed on and on and I grew used to that feeling. I forgot the fear.

Months later, news broke out that yes, indeed they've been doing this for ages. They were doing it for our own safety, tracking down misbehaviour and flagging threats. That in the world we're living today we need to have these guys around if we want to be safe. Then they showed pictures of terror. Many of us realized that, well, they have a point. It helped that we were already used to our shadows anyway, creepy as they were.

Then someone else said that, well, all the information these guys were gathering was indeed pretty helpful for something else. With it, they could profile us and be more effective with advertisement. They could create a massive global new economy sustained by it. One in which they will flood us with gifts, lots of free stuff, if we just let those guys be around checking out what we do. I thought: well, if they're going to be around anyway maybe I can just benefit from it in some way, right?

And that's how I live today. I came to terms with my shadow. I know he is there, but I don't care. Not that I can do anything about it, anyway. He does not even hide anymore. He has never spoken a word to us and he still keeps the distance, but he's there when I play with my kids, he's there when I have a dinner with friends. He is always there.

The case for digital privacy is today, more than ever, on top of the agenda. I have more questions than answers on the topic, but I do have the impression that we've all been cooked slowly until today, where we live our digital lives unaware or, better said, careless of the fact that everything we do is being tracked down. I think it boils down to:

  • We think we cannot do anything about it.
  • We believe we're a drop in the ocean, uninteresting for anyone and therefore, in a way, anonymous.
  • Some may justify it as necessary to manage real world threats.
  • Few are willing to give up on free essential services of their digital lifes like Facebook or Google.

On the other hand, privacy seems like a pretty fundamental right of human beings. So fundamental that we are not even giving it much value, apparently. The gap between where we stand right now and an Orwellian dystopia is indeed smaller than you acknowledge. First, be aware, then realize we still have choices.

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