Privacy for Sale
I saw ads for Mullvad VPN on the subway in New York City recently. “Free the internet,” they declared. “A free and open society is a society where people have the right to privacy.” The ads are colorful and striking, a mix of low-brow design and high-minded messaging. It was only the latest example of how the right to privacy is now a commodity — a development that is only possible in a highly surveilled society.
Companies like Mullvad and DeleteMe offer what was once an inalienable right in the U.S. — for a price. This raises questions about equity and ethics. While some companies (Proton, for instance) offer free accounts, other companies charge monthly fees to erase your data trails from the internet.
Even if you are particularly savvy about how data about you is being tracked, why is it that privacy is now considered opt-in? How did we get to this point?
Getting out of the web of mass surveillance is trickier and more time consuming to deal with than paying $9 or $20 a month, despite the marketing promises of VPN companies or encrypted email platforms. Companies and governments have been spending decades developing digital doubles of individuals made up for data points from across the internet and through biometric information.
Even what would seem like the most logical action takes a mighty effort. Take the iPhone. I must have spent four or five hours trying to lock it down from prying eyes. I couldn’t believe how much data I was sending to Apple and dozens of third party apps. And Apple does a pretty good job policing its walled garden for security threats. I still have no idea if I am safe from mobile surveillance. Who has the time or the energy to deal with all this?