How Much Privacy Do You Have From Big Tech? — Jane S. Hoffman
How Much Privacy Do You Have From Big Tech? — Jane S. Hoffman
Big tech is watching you.
In fact, companies such as Google have more than 2,000 pieces of data on you.
Each time you search for something, Google learns a bit more about you.
Big tech then uses that data … our privacy and sells it to make money.
And your cut is ZERO.
Jane Hoffman — author of Your Data, Their Billions: Unraveling and Simplifying Big Tech — and I discussed how much privacy do we really have.
I didn’t agree with everything she said (you’ll quickly hear why) but the questions she brings up are spot on.
- An Introduction to Jane Hoffman (00:00:00)
- Why Google Works (00:04:01)
- Big Tech’s 2,000 Pieces of Data on You (00:06:32)
- Dividend for Your Data (00:20:09)
- Is It Possible to Scrub Your Online Footprint? (00:31:25)
- Roadmap for Looking at Technology in the Future (00:28:49)
Jane Hoffman is s an American public policy expert and author on consumer affairs and the environment, and, most recently, on big tech companies and private data. She has served many roles in government and civics, including at the United Nations and New York City and state governments.
Before You Leave:
Charles Mizrahi: Jane, thanks so much for coming on the show. I was looking forward to it since we first spoke last week. I am so happy you are here.
Jane S. Hoffman: Thanks so much for having me, Charles.
Charles: Folks, the name of the book is, Your Data, Their Billions: Unraveling and Simplifying Big Tech by Jane S. Hoffman.
Jane: I’m going to hold mine up too. We can do a double hold.
Charles: There you go. For those three people who watch podcasts and not listen, you now see two copies of it, including my wife who listens to the podcast by watching YouTube.
Jane: Go Mrs. Mizrahi!
Charles: Yes, ma’am. Okay, Jane, first of all, what made you write this book?
Jane: Seriously, it was anxiety. I’m at Harvard — I’m a fellow at Harvard where I study technology. I was taking a class on digital platforms. I thought, “Before I take this class, let me go to the library and read up on it.” In the very Harvard way, you read about the subject before you take the class.
I couldn’t find a book that really unraveled and simplified big tech and the digital platforms. I couldn’t find anything out there that was really accessible and democratized the information in a way everyone could understand it. It sort of sat in the back of my mind.
I thought maybe I would create that book and here we are.
Charles: Love it. You wrote this book and the more I got to reading it, it really is like a primer for what big tech is. You break down a lot of things: where your personal data goes, why privacy is important, what Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Amazon do with your data.
Were you trying to attract a 50-plus audience, or technophobes or people who have no idea or what?
Jane: Exactly. I think people use technology but might be a little afraid of it or they see technology advancing at such a fast clip that they can’t keep up. What this book can do is ground you. It gives you everything you need to know but were afraid to ask.
No question is too dumb. No insight is too small. This tells you everything you really need to know.
Charles: A lot of what you need to know here is frightening.
Jane: I think we don’t realize it. There are so many plusses with technology. You can order your Tide on Amazon and it gets delivered the next day. I’m not subtracting from the plusses. There are a lot of advantages to the digital marketplace, but there are a lot of minuses too. We have to think about that and we have to think about it in its totality.
Charles: When I got on Google — let me think back. When did they start Gmail? I was one of the [first]. I remember as soon as I saw it. I was reading about Google as a company in 2004 or maybe even earlier, about the algorithms and the keywords. I said, “Holy smokes.”
I wish I was smart enough to buy the IPO, but I bought it a few years later at $85.
Jane: That’s still a pretty good investment.
Charles: Yeah, I still own it. I just keep buying Google every time I see it trading at an attractive price.
Jane: Now, did you buy Facebook?
Jane: That’s really taken a hit.
Charles: No. I didn’t quite understand the enduring competition advantage. I did understand with Google because I was using it for my business. Every time someone clicked it made money. Back in ’06 or ’07 I think Bing was coming out at the time — Microsoft’s search engine.
Microsoft threw billions of dollars at it. They even paid you at the time to use Bing. You got paid money or something. I said, “This is a business.” Even when they pay you, people don’t even want to use it. They use the competitor. I think I started buying Google in 2010 or 2011.
I kept adding throughout the years. I’m pretty happy.
Jane: I’m sure it’s been a very fine investment. Part of why Google works is because you trust its results. Imagine if you typed into Google “Italian restaurant near me” and you got a Japanese restaurant. Google, you trust its information. The fact you trust its information gives a lot of its value because everybody uses it because they know it’s right.
Charles: When I first signed up for a Gmail account, at the time I had Yahoo. I saw Gmail and it was, first of all, simple and easy. I liked it. It made all the sense in the world to me. But I realized it right at the get-go. I understood the keyword search thing.
By the way, back in the day when you had email accounts they only gave you 10 megabytes of storage. You had to start deleting stuff, clean out your spam, etc. Here it was, wow, unlimited. I remember the first thing I said is, ‘There has to be a catch.” The catch was, they got to read every single email, see everything, know everything about me.
I want to tell you, Jane, I didn’t care because they are giving it to me for free and there has to be a cost. The cost is my privacy.
Jane: Tell me why you don’t care.
Charles: At the time I didn’t care because I didn’t know much about it. I figured what are they going to do, just market to me? I was in the marketing business from the perspective of mailing lists and data. So I totally got it and totally understood. Back in the day it was buying the data.
Literally you were buying mailing lists and stuff like that for certain demographics. So I figured back in ’04 or ’05, so they’ll market me, they’ll target me. I didn’t care. So if I’m interested and they see I’m interested in, I don’t know, building birdhouses, they will send me stuff about birdhouses. I was cool with that.
Jane: I understand why you might have been comfortable with that, but there is an enormous downside to losing privacy. I think the concept of privacy changes with demographics. A 15-year-old might have a different sense of privacy than a 50-year-old.
15-year-olds are creating this beautiful, curatorial visual history of perfection on Instagram. Maybe a 50-year-old is in some Facebook groups of like-minded people, people who like knitting, people who like mystery novels. But there’s a downside to losing our privacy.
Big tech has at least 2,000 pieces of data on you. That means they know your medications, where you shop, what you search for, where you go, your mother, your spouse, your best friend, your brother. Nobody knows as much as big tech knows about you.
That information can be used against you in some ways at some point. Right now you feel the liberty of it, but there’s a downside to it.
Charles: Oh no, I’m totally with you. What I knew about privacy in 2004 or so when Gmail first started and what we know today, definitely. You write in your book also that Google started scanning emails from 2004 to 2017 in order to personalize your ad experience.
I said, “Alright, that’s cool. I don’t mind that.” Then all of a sudden they came out with Google Calendar, then Google Docs, Photos. Wow. Google, Facebook and Microsoft know my name, my gender, my birthday. Facebook knows my physical address, my email address, my phone number, what devices I use, income level, race, political views, education and religion.
I remember back in the day when Ma Bell was around the listings in the phonebook. Everyone called 411 to get that and you had to pay to opt out of that where it was unlisted. That was just your name, address and phone number.
Jane: I remember as a single woman in New York City you didn’t want to be listed. You were not listed and had an unlisted number.
Charles: Right. You put the letter “D” or you put your first initial to so no one would know it was a woman. The joke was that everyone knew. If you put J. Hoffman it was a woman. What changed? I’m not talking about big data, because we can talk about that in a moment.
What changed in our perception of how — really, let me talk about me. How I went from 2004 thinking, “So what I’ll get focused ads about my interest?” And now, everything is known about me. What changed in society that makes this so dangerous?
Jane: I think people are starting to realize that privacy has value. Privacy has meaning in our lives. There’s something to keeping some things personal that no one knows. What’s changed is we’ve seen the downside. For instance, one day you may be trying to get a job.
Say a guy is trying to get a job and he takes Prozac. They can filter for that and say, “We don’t want anybody who is taking Prozac because they are mentally unstable and a health risk.” They can filter for that. Or, “We don’t want anybody who is divorced.” You might not be able to get a job.
Or you could be misidentified. I know a mystery writer who was googling how to kill someone. So now big tech thinks she’s a murderer. She was just trying to do research for her book. I don’t know if you saw in the New York Times yesterday on the cover, a guy had taken pictures of his child’s groin to send to a doctor and he got tagged as a pedophile.
He lost all his technology access. He was a technologist so he knew how to get around it, but he lost all his access because he was mislabeled. When you are having a heart attack and the EMT can access all your information, that’s very valuable to have the data.
When you’re an EMT and selling that information to a tabloid, not so much.
Charles: I’m with you. I am totally with you, but let’s break down what you just brought up. The first part, filtering me for Prozac or other medications I might take, is that happening today or something that could happen?
Jane: I don’t have proof that it’s happening today. I see it as something that couple happen. If we shifted to an authoritarian regime, that information could be used against you. We could have social credit scores like they have in China. You could identify people through what they are doing online.
Charles: I hear you. I respect that opinion. But we don’t have an authoritarian government at this point. If we did, that wouldn’t be problem number four. That would be my top problem. Tanks rolling through the streets and storm troopers at my house is problem one. Knowing what meds I’m on, I don’t really care.
Let’s put that aside for a second. Yes, the data is out there. Look what the government has on every one of us. Back in the days of Herbert Hoover there were files kept on every one of us.
Jane: Big tech has more information on you than that.
Charles: I’m not talking about more or less, I’m just talking about someone has personal information about me that I would never dream they know about me. That’s fair. Let’s move on. I do hear you and respect it, but it’s not there yet. Big Brother is not really impacting my life.
Now we are seeing something here that you just brought up where a father took a picture of a child or even pictures of kids in baths. My daughter once sent me a picture of her kids in the bath. I said, “Do me a favor, don’t ever do that again. I don’t want to be tagged.”
Then my son told me it’s only if it’s previously listed, it looks like something, I don’t know. They match it up to a known — it wasn’t as easy as just taking a picture of one of my grandkids in the bathtub. That wasn’t it. It was some sort of matchup with a file. Put that all aside for a second.
Bottom line, you don’t have to use this. We are getting Google’s services. I am taking the other side of the coin. I forgot where I saw this, but I saw a study that basically said they ask people how much they would use Google services if there was a charge to look up how the Mets are doing, how many people live in Wyoming, how many moose there are in Canada, all these things.
I saw this thing that said it’s $15,000 or $16,000 a year that people would be willing to pay. Not that they would pay, but they would be willing to pay. Let me ask you this, Jane. We are getting so much free stuff. Google Sheets, Docs, the calendar, all that. It’s costing me $0.
I remember back in the day it was costing me $1,000 for software and it didn’t do a tenth of what Google does. Isn’t there a balance there? Why can’t we say, “Don’t use it.”
Jane: You could say, “Don’t use it.” You’re not going to like this Charles because I have a sense of your political views, but what if there was a free service like NPR or PBS like Google. So it was the government and it was free, but your data didn’t get bought and sold and you didn’t get pushed ads.
What would be wrong with that?
Charles: You wouldn’t get pushed ads. I don’t know. I don’t have a problem with it. I really don’t. I want to tell you, I don’t have any secrets. I hopefully don’t do any bad things that people know about. Hopefully the things I do aren’t bad enough that people would say, “Let’s go in this guy’s background.”
I don’t know. I don’t think of those things. I don’t see it as a threat. But, apparently, you do.
Jane: I will give you some other examples. In Tampa, Florida, the police analyzed data of kids and they tried to predict what they called “pre-criminal behavior.” There’s no such thing as pre-criminal behavior. If you commit a crime, you commit a crime, but there’s no such thing as pre-criminal behavior.
But if you were getting Ds and Fs in school, they went to your house and they hassled you and they wrote up some tickets because according to an algorithm, one day you might commit a crime. Do you think that’s fair?
Charles: That’s a loaded question. For kids, no. But I will say if it was terrorist activities or things that could harm the public, if it was an algorithm that could predict the next suicide bomber that could crash a plane into a building, I’d want to know about that.
Jane: I hear you, but we are talking about kids who are getting Ds and Fs in school. The reported who did that story in Tampa Bay won the Pulitzer Prize. There are other incidents where it seems like a privacy violation, but maybe it wouldn’t bother you.
A guy in the Midwest, his daughter was 16 years old. She was getting mailers from Target about having a baby. I don’t know if you saw this in the book.
Charles: I saw that in the book and I remember at the time reading about it.
Jane: I’ll tell your listeners the story. This teenage girl was pregnant, unbeknownst to her father, but Target knew before she showed because she had been searching prenatal vitamins and cute baby clothes. The father went to the manager of this Target store — this is a true story — and yelled at him.
“Why are you sending my daughter all this pregnancy stuff? She’s not having a baby. She’s in high school.” He went home, he found out his daughter was in fact pregnant. He went and apologized to the manager of the store. That’s an incident where information gets out maybe before you want it out.
Charles: If there was a way to find child abusers and domestic violence prior to the situation I think that’s great. You think that’s not a good idea?
Jane: I’m not saying it’s not a good idea to find domestic violence and to find terrorists. I think it’s a great idea to find terrorists.
Charles: So we agree on that. Where do you see the problem?
Jane: It’s an ethical dilemma. It’s very hard to say. If we live in a privacy-free world, which may be where we’re going, it will be interesting to see what is privacy, what is intimacy, what is the meaning of a personal relationship. If we are going to live in the metaverse, what is intimacy in the metaverse?
You are an avatar. Are you going to use haptics to feel? What would it mean to climb a mountain? If we go totally digital, what does that mean for relationships?
Charles: Back up a little bit. You went off the cliff on that one. Back up just a hair. We were talking a few minutes ago about Tampa and some kids who might do something bad. I countered by saying it’s a loaded question because you don’t want this with kids.
Who actually went ahead and got this data and where did they get the data from?
Jane: They got the data from big tech. They had an algorithm. It was a sheriff’s office in Pasco County.
Charles: So any sheriff’s office in any town in American can go and get this?
Jane: It’s not hard to get data on people. You could get data.
Charles: How was this done? Is there no background to that? They just happened to say, “Let’s try to get this data?” Or was this some big deal going on behind the scenes?
Jane: I don’t know the details of the deal behind the scenes, but it was more elaborate than “let’s get data.’ It’s not that easy.
Charles: So there must have been something happening.
Jane: Yeah, but I don’t think getting a D or an F in school mean you are going to commit a crime.
Charles: Put that aside. I agree with you. My point is, if it was that easy — and I think there are parts of the story we might not know because if it was that easy to go to big data and get that kind of information and go to the next step, I think there had to be something more to it.
People around this country and more municipalities would be doing more and more of this. Why don’t we do this with young people for school shootings? I think that would be a great use of it. I don’t know this case, so let’s move aside from it.
I ask this just as a question to you. I know your job and what you do is basically asking the good questions and saying it’s ethical. I’m with you. I really am. I mean that sincerely. But let’s be practical. It’s an ivory tower kind of thing.
Jane: [laughing] Yes, but whenever anyone says, “I’m totally with you,” you know they are not, right?
Charles: Where I’m with you is, where does it carry out? If you can tell me there’s an algorithm that can find the next 9/11 terrorists…
Jane: There is not an algorithm that can find the next 9/11 terrorist.
Charles: OK, but if there is something…
Jane: You can’t use algorithms to predict human behavior. You can predict buying patterns, but humans are unpredictable by their very nature. If you want to use technology to predict human behavior, you are the next step up technology. I see it, but it’s really Big Brother. That’s not Libertarian.
Charles: But aren’t we having that already? Isn’t Big Brother all around us already?
Jane: They are buying and selling our data and making money off your data. What I propose is instead of them making trillions, those are trillion-dollar companies, that’s 12 zeros, why don’t you get a data dividend for your data? Why don’t you get a monthly check for your data?
Charles: Good. And why don’t they charge me for using their services, which are all free? You’re OK with paying for Google?
Jane: I’m OK with paying for it if I got a data dividend.
Charles: What’s a data dividend? How do you come up with a data dividend?
Jane: It would be based on your searches, how many times you search and what you search for. I have a couples of sources. I have one source who says a data dividend for someone who earns under $198,000, which was the COVID relief cutoff, could be $50 a month.
This is not going to alleviate poverty, but why shouldn’t you get a piece of the pie when they are making billions and trillions off your data?
Charles: I will give you my answer: Because they are providing a service I can choose to use or not use and I am gaining tremendous benefit by using Google, Gmail, all their services. Which in the past, I remember back in the day, would cost hundreds and maybe thousands of dollars to buy software and floppy disks.
You had to load them and update disks. I don’t have to use them, but I do. So you are going to give me $50 as a dividend and they will charge me $300 a month. Do you think businesses are going to pay out money without charging on the other end?
Jane: No. What could happen is this new international corporate tax, that money could go back into people’s pocketbooks instead of the Treasury.
Charles: You think that’s possible?
Jane: I don’t know if it’s possible, but I think it’s an idea worth thinking about. Sometimes policy ideas are worth thinking about to move the needle.
Charles: Let’s think this through for a sec. Let’s use Facebook just for an example. Facebook pays a dividend to Jane Hoffman based on how many times they sold your data or some type of percentage of how much money they made off your data?
Charles: Every month they are going to write a check to you and at the same time provide the services Facebook does for free?
Jane: They might not write a check to you, the U.S. government might write a check to you. They are going to write a check to the U.S. government in taxes. Then the government writes the check to you instead of the government keeping the money. It’s a little different than what you stated.
Charles: Wow. I’d like to see that happen. Money goes to the government and they’re not going to hold onto it. Instead, they pay you money?
Jane: It’s like an IRS refund. It’s like an IRS rebate, a COVID rebate.
Charles: You don’t see any downside to big tech or any private or public company advancing dn spending more money knowing they are going to pay more taxes to this dividend that people are going to get? The government isn’t going to charge a vig on that right? They are just going to pass through?
Jane: Time will tell, but typically regulators are seven to nine years behind the innovators. What has happened is the Davids have become the Goliaths. They have gobbled up all the important new technology and they are no longer the small innovators; they are now giant innovators.
The regulators can’t keep pace with the innovators. Typically, they are behind.
Charles: Always. Right. 100% I agree with that. They are being the 8 ball. Does this factor in tech lobbies speaking to congressmen and paying off senators with money to make sure this never sees the light of day?
Jane: Tech lobby is really powerful, but social movements are powerful too.
Charles: I don’t know, Jane, maybe.
Jane: We’re going to have to agree to disagree, Charles.
Charles: I don’t know. I live in the real world. I don’t know. Money talks. Carried interest, you’ve seen the news. No matter what, democrats or republicans, they could not get rid of carried interest. Carried interest is really nothing more than a loophole for rich people and private equity to make money.
Both sides of the aisle couldn’t agree to that because the private equity lobbies paid enormous amounts of money to make sure it doesn’t die. Every time it keeps coming up it can’t die. I’m just thinking, if they can never get rid of carried interest, which is nothing more than a tax shelter or tax evasion for the wealthy, especially private equity and hedge funds, I don’t know how this will ever come to be.
Jane: It might not come to be, but it’s worth talking about. Sometimes ideas are worth exploring, whether you agree or disagree. It’s worth exploring. They are new ideas. It’s important to think about it. It’s important to think about technology’s influence in our lives, its importance to our lives and where we see it going in the future.
Charles: I agree with that. I am just saying there is a flipside to that. Technology, especially the use of Amazon, Google, Facebook and Microsoft, provides such an amazing — it levels the playing field between someone who has no access to libraries or information.
Now you have the world literally at your fingertips on your iPhone. Imagine 30 or 40 years ago someone said there would be a genie that would sit on your shoulder and any question you would ask you could have an answer. It’s unbelievable. And it costs me zero!
Jane: It will change the educational system because the educational system used to be about memorizing information. Now that we have information and you can access it, it should be about analyzing and synthesizing information because we don’t need to memorize it anymore.
Charles: I’m with you. I remember Wikipedia and in high school teachers wouldn’t let me kids use it because it was free. They said it’s not accurate. I remember my mother every week used to go to a local supermarket and they used to get one Funk & Wagnalls encyclopedia.
It was like $1.99 every week and that was our set. The rich kids had World Book. The even richer kids had Britannica. Now everybody has an encyclopedia at their fingertips that is updated as events happen, which is free.
Jane: Right, but what do you do with the information?
Charles: What you do with the information is different. What information? The information I get or the information that’s provided?
Jane: The information that’s provided. We have to use the information in a different way.
Charles: Agreed. But I am just saying it doesn’t cost. I happen to donate to Wikipedia because I feel it’s a tremendous resource for everyone. So I am more than willing to pay. I am just saying, Jane, I hear everything you are saying. I am just saying it’s a seesaw. If you are going to take from here it’s going to give from somewhere else.
It’s not going to be a line item you cross out. If big tech starts charging, what about that? And now people say they are charging, the poor can’t afford it and it’s only an elitist thing. How do we win on this conversation?
Jane: I don’t think there is a winner. I don’t think there is a loser. There are just new ways to think about technology. We have to think about privacy. Is it a luxury good? Should privacy be a luxury good or something you have to pay for or should everybody have access to privacy?
Should we live in a world where technology dominates our lives? If so, what are the advantages and disadvantages? I think we’d be a lot better off with 10 Amazons than one, but I don’t know how we’d get there. But it’s something worth thinking about.
Charles: A few years ago I was on DuckDuckGo.
Jane: Right. DuckDuckGo does not buy and sell your data.
Charles: Right. Privacy. They don’t sell your data like Google. Folks, you can just go to it: DuckDuckGo.com. “Privacy simplified. Join tens of millions of people who rely on DuckDuckGo’s free, all-in-one privacy solution to help take control of their online privacy.”
So I can certainly use this. I have never used it.
Jane: It’s actually very good.
Charles: OK. Is it very good in the sense that it’s better than or equal to Google’s search? Or is this somewhat less than that?
Jane: No, it’s equal to a Google search it’s just that your data is not getting bought and sold. So you have privacy.
Charles: Anyone can use this, right?
Charles: My question is, if someone is concerned about their privacy, shouldn’t they be using this?
Jane: Yes. Or they should get a VPN — a virtual private network. You pay a monthly fee of $5 or some of them are $20. If you want privacy, you should really have a VPN.
Charles: Do you use DuckDuckGo or Google?
Jane: I use DuckDuckGo.
Charles: I’m sure everyone out there who is concerned about privacy would want to use this because their data is not sold. You searching for how to build a birdhouse, nothing going back to me is going to show I searched that?
Jane: No. There’s no difference. If you looked on Google or DuckDuckGo there is no difference.
Charles: I understand that, but it’s not going to come back to me. I’m not going to get targeted ads or anything about where to birdseed, hammers or nails?
Jane: A biography isn’t going to be developed on you. Right now a biography is being developed on you with little pieces of information. He buys shoes in September. He buys pasta at the end of the day. There’s a biography of you. DuckDuckGo doesn’t have a biography.
Charles: What other sites are there out there that really make your privacy yours?
Jane: It’s really DuckDuckGo is the one you should think about. And getting a VPN.
Charles: If I get a VPN and I have DuckDuckGo, how much of my digital footprint is out there?
Jane: There’s already so much out there on you. I should have done a search before we met, but I didn’t want to talk about you in that way. I did that once before and the guy was surprised. There’s a lot of information on you already. You can do that now and on a go-forward basis you might have discrimination on privacy, but your past information is already out there.
The medications you take, your sexuality, where you are every minute of every day, is already out there. On a go-forward basis, it’s worth thinking about.
Charles: If I wanted to scrub my whole entire footprint online, is that possible?
Jane: No. Not possible. People try and people will sell you services, but it would be very hard to scrub your entire history. Every time you do something there is a data broker buying and selling it in a millisecond. Every data broker would have to be contacted. The information on you is already out there.
On Saturday night he went to an Italian restaurant. The restaurant has the information. Waze, if you used Waze to get there. There are so many layers of technology that are part of your decision-making process.
Charles: Do you use Google Maps or anything like that when you go somewhere?
Charles: And you’re not concerned that Google at the end of the month sends you a timeline, which I thought was extremely freaky when I first got it. You know it’s an email once a month or whatever where it showed me every location I was in. That is really freaky.
Jane: That information has been used in child custody cases.
Charles: I remember when EZ Pass came out. I had a friend of mine whose brother would say, “They’re watching you. They know where you are.” You are paying your toll — this was back 20 years ago or whatever when EZ Pass came out. I said if you aren’t doing anything wrong then who cares where you are traveling.
All these paranoid people have been proven right. Everyone is so paranoid. They were really futurists.
Jane: I think the future holds some interesting things for us. I always think innovation will win out in the end. Maybe there will be some interesting innovation around privacy. I think there’s a need. When there’s a need, sometimes technology companies fill it. I can see that happening so privacy becomes something that gets developed through technology we all use.
Charles: It’s a service. It could be a monthly service or whatever that some private or public company comes out and says, ‘OK, we are going to take the other side of the coin.” If there are a lot more people like yourself who are concerned about privacy and data, maybe there will be a way it can shut them down and you pay them.
Getting paid through the government with the tax, I don’t know about that. My thing is if the private sector comes up with some innovation, would you be willing to pay for that?
Charles: How much would you be willing to pay?
Jane: I’m not sure. I would have to think about it. It depends how good it is, how reliable it was, how sophisticated the technology is, how private…
Charles: Let’s assume — play with me here for a second — it’s 90%. Nothing is going to be 100%. It can scrub 90% of your past and whatever it captures going forward, 90% of that will be socked away. So 10% or whatever, let’s be real, using Google Maps and Gmail, I don’t think you can ever get out of that.
There is going to be some trap to catch your data. Agreed? I think just buying a newspaper online is going to find that.
Charles: OK, so if it was 90% good, how much would you be willing to pay for that?
Jane: I really can’t put a dollar value on it.
Charles: Would it be worth $1,000 a month to you?
Jane: It might be.
Charles: You are a person of means. You work at Harvard. Let’s put it this way, you have $1,000. What about the poor guy who doesn’t?
Jane: That’s what I’m saying. Should privacy really be a luxury good? Should it be something you pay for? I mean you can do things now to scrub your history and push the negative stories down on the search. People do that. Reputation Defender does that. There are things that do that.
But most of us don’t have these negative things we are trying to hide. It’s just a personal sense. And it’s who we are psychodynamically. Psychologically your privacy doesn’t have great meaning to you. That’s OK.
Jane: There’s a freedom in that.
Charles: My concern, Jane, is this — and you can disagree with this — I see this as a tradeoff. You are right, the pendulum might have swung to the other extreme where big data has more leverage at this point. Look, am I comfortable with them having it? It’s a trust factor.
It’s not going to be leaked, hopefully. Every search I’ve ever made on Google will hopefully never be shown. That will be devastating. We look at crazy things. Like you mentioned, how to murder. I once looked up Air Force One after watching the movie “Air Force One” with Harrison Ford.
Air Force One was hijacked. How to breach Air Force One. I am sure I am on some CIA or some Secret Service database somewhere as a guy who looked up how to break Air Force One. I understand the threats. I understand that. But I am just thinking it through.
You spent a lot more time thinking about this. I think it will put those who are economically disadvantaged at an even bigger disadvantage because big tech is not going to stand still and just pay out money without looking for another way to recoup that money.
Jane: I think what I talk about in the book is not just policy prescriptions like reevaluating Section 230. It’s not just policy prescriptions. What the book is really about is technology and what it means in our lives and what technology is doing with your data and are you aware what technology is doing with your data.
Charles: So I read your book, I’m a 61-year-old guy — I’m not 61.
Jane: How old are you, Charles?
Charles: Look it up online. Anyway, you read this book, you just presented me with a lot of ah-ha moments. By the way, I do like how you go through in the first chapter the invention of the internet. I had no idea this was being discussed in 1920. I gotta do more research on that. I thought that was fascinating.
It was mapped out in 1920 by pioneers Harry Nyquist and Ralph Hartley at Bell Labs. They did amazing things at Bell Labs.
Jane: They really did.
Charles: Those people must be aliens. Something was in the water there. It was unbelievable. OK, I read this book and you tell me so many amazing things. You really scare the blank out of me. Now what? What do you want me to do? What action do you want the readers to do?
Jane: Actually, I don’t think it scares people. I think it’s informing them, but maybe not scaring them. But I think it gives you a roadmap for the future. It allows you to look at your technology use in a broader and contextualized way. You contextualize your technology use.
OK, I am using technology, I know I am doing this and I know this is what’s happening. I’m OK with that or I’m not OK with that. But it gives you the knowledge to make your own decisions. So big tech isn’t making those decisions for you and government isn’t making the decisions for you. You are making the decisions based on the information you have read.
Charles: You know a lot of your colleagues that use DuckDuckGo as opposed to Google?
Jane: I do.
Charles: So you are in a circle where many people know? I mention it to certain people and they have no idea. But then if I go to more Libertarians or people who are concerned, they look at me and go, “You have to be crazy to be using Google and Facebook.”
I don’t know how many people use it as opposed to Google, but do you see that as something that could possibly gain traction as time goes on?
Jane: Yes, it is gaining traction. It’s gaining market share. Maybe because I am in circles where people are always talking about technology and the new thing and how people are adjusting and the sociologic importance of technology and how it’s changing our lives and relationships.
Maybe somebody else who watches a lot of basketball is talking about the Celtics. I’m a little more boring. Maybe we could talk about the future a little bit.
Charles: I want to talk about chapter seven because it made me smile. Chapter seven in your book talks about Tomorrowland. Not Disney. It talks about a whole new world. You walk the reader through augmented reality and a whole bunch of things that seem like pretty good stuff.
You want to touch on a few of those points with the short time we have?
Jane: Sure. Maybe what happens in the future, instead of going to a concert, you have a holographic experience in your living room. That performer, you can almost touch them. They are performing in your living room. That’s going to transform entertainment.
Some people would prefer never leaving their homes and having the performer perform the songs they want in their living room.
There are also changes that might happen to our bodies. This will be over hundreds and thousands of years. Because we are going to be hunched over a lot, I found a study out of Oxford where we might have a bump on the back of our neck and our arms will be getting shorter.
Our fingers will be getting shorter because we aren’t using them in the same way…
Charles: I see that all the time with programmers. They walk over with a hunch, they have a little belly. I don’t know if their digits are smaller, but they are different than the average person. I agree with you on that.
Jane: So there are body changes. There are changes in the way we entertain. Maybe changes in the way we relate. What is a relationship mean if you are living in the metaverse? They are developing at Carnegie Mellon this haptic technology where you can touch in the metaverse because right now you can’t touch in the metaverse.
What happens if you can feel in the metaverse? What is a feeling? What is love? What is sex? Is sex in the metaverse real sex?
Charles: A lot of these things you bring up are great stuff. You talk about the hologram performing. What about the person who is bedridden or the person who has disabilities and can’t get out of the house? What an amazing world. They can experience things you and I take for granted.
Riding a bicycle, they will be able to do that. The flipside is there are so many amazing things that could be.
Jane: Right, but if you think about what brings joy, love, intimacy, we don’t really know what intimacy will be in the metaverse. Now so many kids are focused on the likes they get on in Instagram picture or how many friends they have on Facebook, but there is an important study by a guy named Robin Dunbar.
You can only really have relationships with about 115 people and know them and know about them.
Charles: My number is way lower than that.
Jane: Well, five special friends, 15 good friends, but the cap is 115. Yet, people want to have 150 likes and 200 likes and I got 300 likes. That’s not the essence of a relationship. It’s a click. It’s different.
Charles: Yeah. Look at online dating. I thought it was crazy when I first heard about it years ago. I know so many people who have met. One of my sons met his future wife online. I don’t know which thing it was, I’m totally out of it. They both swiped the right way and they went on a date.
It was great. I do know a lot of people. I always had a problem meeting girls. I was too shy to talk to them. I would talk to them, but I couldn’t ask for a date. I think I would have done great on these things. I would have paid someone to take a good picture of me.
Jane: It’s so empowering for people who don’t want to ask and don’t want to wait to be asked. Women traditionally the role was you wait to be asked. With online dating, you don’t have to do that. You can contact the person, they can contact you. It’s easier to contact someone online.
It brings people together of different experiences and different backgrounds. The future of couples comes from the internet. Couples that met through the internet, that number is jumping. It’s beating out people who meet in person.
Charles: Meeting in person is so difficult, especially during the past couple of years. You know what I love about it when my son was telling me about this, you have to fill out something with all the likes and dislikes. Right off the bat there are so many commonalities.
You invest time and money dating just to find out by the third date they don’t like dogs. That’s a killer for me. Here, right off the bat, there are so many things they can go right into. I think it’s fascinating. The people I know, it worked. They got together.
Jane: If you keep doing it it works. Eventually you learn how to play the game. I think it’s really wonderful for gender equity.
Charles: What is gender equity?
Jane: Women don’t have to wait to be asked. You can ask.
Charles: I like that a lot. I’m a much better writer than I am face to face. It would have been much easier. I’m much better at sending texts. Girls could do the same thing back and forth. I totally see that. Technology is not good or bad, it’s how it’s used and what it does for society and our privacy. Would you agree with that?
Jane: Yeah and it’s what it means to you.
Charles: What it means to me. What does privacy mean to you?
Jane: I was talking about what technology means to me, but what privacy means is there are certain things that I don’t want public.
Charles: I’m sorry to cut you off. Forgive me. There are certain things you don’t want…
Jane: Public. And I think there are a lot of people like that, but they are not thinking in terms of privacy. They are thinking in terms of access to information.
Charles: With the little time we have, what do you feel comfortable letting the internet know about you? I looked you up. I read all about you, your husband, what you do and your job. I got a lot of information. It’s right on Wikipedia, right? It’s not too hard to find.
Then I go on Amazon and find out more about you. What do you feel comfortable with letting the world know about you and when do you draw that line?
Jane: I’m not sure I know where that line is for me personally or even where it is for society, but I think of my writings as a view into how I think. The book is window into how I think and information that’s specific to my ideas. That’s a window into who I am.
Charles: You look at your Wikipedia page, right?
Jane: I only saw it once. I haven’t seen it recently.
Charles: There’s a lot of good stuff about you. Anyone can look it up online. A lot of good stuff about you. I used it before our meeting, before our conversation. I did this because I wanted to get a good flavor for who you are and also to write your introduction. I got a lot of information.
I got a lot of footnotes. I got personal life about you. I know who your daughter is. I know when she was born. You feel comfortable with a lot of that.
Jane: I’m not sure.
Charles: That’s honest. I dig that. I totally dig that. Beautiful. Look, I want to have you on the show a year from now if you are OK with that. Or you can say, “I’m never going on that show with this Mizrahi guy.” But if you do agree, I’d love to have you on the show and use this point in time as a benchmark.
Maybe we’ll see all the fears you have come to fruition. And everything where I said you are a nut and didn’t make any sense, we could have seen coming.
Jane: Quickly, what’s your prognostication?
Charles: On privacy or technology or what?
Charles: I think there’s going to be backlash. I happen to agree with you. It’s already happened with Apple, right? Just on that basis, Apple really shut off and made it more where you have to opt in with cookies and all that. They killed Snap because Snap couldn’t pass it on.
Facebook got hit hard in terms of what information because Apple made it much harder to get your data through third party sources like Facebook. We saw those companies come to a crashing halt. I know it destroyed Snap and Facebook is having problems. I do see that.
Here’s my prognostication. I’ll give it quick without thinking too much about it. I think there will be a backlash and I think it will be from government. There is going to be rules and regulations biased on data and privacy. It will take time. You said seven to nine years. I think 10 years plus.
I do remember back in the early 2000s where the government was going after Internet Explorer as being monopolistic. By the time they got around to it, already new internet browsers came out. The government is always going to be behind the 8 ball. I don’t know what that watershed moment is going to be, but it’s going to be something where there is going to be some type of regulation on data.
I don’t know what it is, but I know it will be something. It can’t keep going like this. It really can’t. In terms of privacy, perhaps every big tech company will have an opt out that really means opt out.
Jane: A lot of times now you opt out and you lose functionality.
Charles: There’s a payoff. Right. So if you do opt out, forget about it. You might as well not even try. But maybe there is something where you opt out and you get 95% of the services or something. It’s like those things where if you don’t agree to this you can’t even go forward.
Back in the day in the internet, do you remember those — I think they still have them — where you used to put a piece of software on 14 pages long of disclosure. Who the hell read that? Some comedian said, “On the tenth year they will come take your first born. You checked it.”
Who reads that? No one read that? Some lawyer said you needed it. It was a joke.
Jane: Nobody reads any of the opt-in or opt-out information.
Charles: I think you are correct in saying that at least the conversation has started where people have a choice. They know something is up. Cookies for example. You have a really good explanation of what cookies are — not the eating kind — and how they track and follow you. I think it’s really good.
In a nutshell, I think there’s going to be some type of pushback. It’s going to be led by the public, some watershed event. It’s going to be some type of regulation where the consumer can opt out, yet still get a large percentage of the services the provider provides.
Simply because I think the pendulum has swung so far in one direction with no pushback yet. Maybe this might be it. Would I have gotten a good mark if I went to Harvard on that or not?
Jane: I’ll accept you in my class.
Charles: Probably for the day and then throw me right out.
Jane: Maybe for an hour. Definitely not a day.
Charles: I pushed it. Folks, the book is Your Data, Their Billions: Unraveling and Simplifying Big Tech by Jane S. Hoffman. She brings up a lot of good questions that, like it or not, you’re going to have to address. In the meantime, if you are concerned about your privacy, I will put a link in for DuckDuckGo.
I will also put a link in for what a VPN is. For many of you who have no idea, a VPN is a way to shroud yourself. Would shroud yourself be a good explanation of what a VPN is?
Jane: It’s a very creative explanation.
Charles: That will keep me for two hours in your class maybe. It’s a VPN. They don’t cost too much. How much is it?
Jane: $5 a month. $10 a month. Some are $20 a month. It’s a monthly fee.
Charles: It’s a way of preserving your privacy, keeping your privacy gate. Right off the bat, if someone used DuckDuckGo and a VPN, they would knock out a large part. Maybe not a large part, but a good part…
Charles: So it’s simple. People can do it today. They don’t have to wait for government regulation or dividend checks. They can start right now.
Jane: They could.
Charles: Start your kids off this way. That way there’s not a big file on them. Jane, thanks so much. I want to have you back on the show a year from now and we’ll see how this progresses.
Jane: Only if we wear boxing gloves, Charles.
Charles: Nah, we don’t need that. As long as we have a difference of opinion it’s fine, our principles are more or less the same.
Jane: I think difference of an opinion makes for interesting dialogue.
Charles: You could have went on any other show and they could have just read your PR thing. “Tell us about the book. Isn’t it a great book? Great. Thanks.” I said, “Let me read it.” I agree with a lot of stuff. I don’t disagree so much as I don’t have problems with the actual implementation of it.
I don’t see it happening as much in the real world. I do get it. In the ivory tower, your job is to think up problems and how they impact society. I got that. But on the real basic level of capitalism and how the system works and how governments work and how lobbyists work, it’s just it is what it is. It’s the system we have.
Jane, thanks so much. Once again, the name of the book is Your Data, Their Billions: Unraveling and Simplifying Big Tech. When did this book come out, Jane?
Charles: How’s it doing?
Jane: Doing well. Editor’s choice on Amazon and top 10 non-fiction.
Charles: Beautiful. A lot of people are reading this. Maybe you will see DuckDuckGo soar to the moon. How does DuckDuckGo make money?
Jane: That’s a whole other conversation.
Charles: You can’t give me one line how they make money?
Charles: More or less, what are they doing? They are getting paid to get their stuff in front of you.
Charles: Cool. Jane, thanks so much for coming on the show. I greatly appreciated. I enjoyed our conversation.
Jane: Thank you so much, Charles. It was really fun.
Charles: My pleasure.
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