Misunderstanding, Lack of Disclosure, and Lies

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Recently, the US Congress embarrassed itself again trying to learn how the internets work during an interrogation of Google’s CEO, Sundar Pichai. It seems like a day hasn’t passed since when Facebook hasn’t revealed some privacy intrusion, even those that were otherwise “approved” by unwitting users.

But is anybody lying?

I guess it comes down to how broadly you define it.

The claims from Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg are it was  doing one thing while doing another are probably the result of ineptitude more than connivance, but it’ll be telling if any class action lawsuits come of it. Right now, there’s no proof of purposeful lying.

But there’s a lot of evidence for lack of disclosure and subsequent misunderstanding.

In fact, ensuring that consumers don’t know how deeply, regularly, or imaginatively their data are being exploited is a foundational principle for the way many tech companies communicate with them.

The same mouseprint terms of use, quickie consent popups on apps right before you want to use them, and aspirational declarations about consumer control over the data produce ill-informed congressmen who ask Pichai stupid questions…because they’re also consumers who have been told as little as possible.

Tech companies make no real effort to get any of us to truly understand the scope of what they’re doing with our data. Their cheerleaders are happy to claim that it’s just a case of caveat emptor.

Our ignorance is our fault. 

Yet our condition stands in stark contrast to the detailed and explicit understanding those same tech companies engender from their true customers…all of the businesses that pay it for exploiting the data people provide freely and without comprehending those uses.

Would consumers be as happy or forgiving of social media and digital tools if they knew the truth? Would it be even possible to educate every user to some minimum level of understanding that could credibly yield “informed consent?”

We just don’t know, since all we’ve heard so far comes damn close to sounding like a lie. 

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