There’s one post I wrote I keep getting back to - the price of privacy. It’s a sad piece I originally wrote on my old blog back in 2020, and I read it again when I get the “something’s wrong with the world” tingle. Last night, I gave it another read.
It turns out one of my privacy heroes, Michael Bazzell (that’s one of the guys behind Mr. Robot, if you’re familiar with the show), has quit making podcasts. His excellent privacy community-led magazine, Unredacted is following a similar fate (there’s a new issue that just came out, but the opening words from him don’t sound very promising).
Coincidentally, I had an article to read from the excellent folks at 404 media, but when I got to it, I was greeted with a sign-in prompt and a paywall. While some of their articles are for subscribers only, which I am, I haven’t encountered many that required me to be a paying subscriber. I usually navigate away from writers on Medium or Substack because I dislike paying to read someone’s blog. To me, blogging has always been by the free Internet and for the free Internet.
404 Media is a different story because what they do is independent journalism, some of the best I’ve seen in recent years (you should try them out if you’re into good investigative tech journalism). So I read up why they decided to block almost all of their content from non-subscribers. The short answer is, AI:
“Requiring an email address to read our articles has, for the moment, stopped our content from being scraped and repurposed by AI. It will also, we hope, serve as a preventative measure against the impacts of the Internet being flooded by all of this AI-generated drek.” The article is long and goes into great details about how and where their content was reused without permission on different sites.
The right to privacy, which for me was always about owning content and the choice to share it, goes hand in hand with the right not to have AI bots scrape your content and spread it all over the Internet. As I said before, the struggle for privacy is not just about about not giving away our emails, phone numbers, articles and images. It’s the fact that we don’t have the option to say no anymore. No one bothers asking us - not really. It’s been this way for so long that when the AI craze came along, it was simply assumed that scraping our content to train it is how things work.
The day when some lawyer will threaten to sue me because I plagiarize my own words you’re now reading from a website that doesn’t even exist at this time is not too far off.
The Internet is shit, and it’s getting worse.
I remember my struggles with trying to keep things private and how hopeless it all felt until I gave up. Only the other day, I listened to some radio dude screaming about how we should stop using Google and how billionaires make the Internet a horrible place. But he’s wrong. It’s not them, it’s us. We are the users. We are the ones that give them power by embracing their products.
It’s so bad there’s no alternative, but most of us don’t even know it. Most folks would stop using Google and go to Duck Duck Go and use its recycled Bing results instead, which are not much better, or hiss at the mention of AI but feed it by using social networks that do just that. It’s the same story about the anarchist at Starbucks who opposes capitalism and types away their manifesto on their flashy Macbook Pro.
I don’t have answers right now, but I’d like to think that poking at this time and time again might lead to some one day.