Writing on EFF Deeplinks, my colleague Hayley Tsukayama makes an important, often overlooked observation about the "value" of your private data: the money companies make from spying on you isn't a good proxy for what your data is worth.



This is in the context of DASHBOARD Act ("Designing Accounting Safeguards to Help Broaden Oversight and Regulations on Data") which will require spying companies to tell you how much they make by creating nonconsensual dossiers of your activities and preferences.

As Tsukayama writes, initiatives like these are grounded in a form of privacy nihilism, the idea that it's too late to force companies not to spy on us, and so the next best thing is to make them compensate us for surveillance.


This is surrender. The sums companies make by spying on us are totally uncoupled from how much our information is worth to us:

"Companies advertised lists of 1,000 people with different conditions such as anorexia, depression and erectile dysfunction for $79 per list. Such embarrassing information in the wrong hands could cost someone their job or their reputation."


Rather than buying into the idea that privacy is a product, we need to treat it like a right, with no price-tag: "No person should be coerced or encouraged to barter it away. It's not a good deal for people to receive a handful of dollars in exchange for it."

This echoes Malavika Jayaram's important critique: "'privacy is a luxury' disproportionately affects people with less power, agency and resources."




It also taps into my own dissatisfaction with the idea that "if you're not paying for the product, you're the product" - which implies that paying companies will make them respect you more.

If this was true, buying a John Deere tractor would cause the company to bend over backwards to give you rights and freedoms - not abuse copyright law to force you to get your repairs exclusively from them (see also: Apple).


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By all means let us have laws "requiring transparency about data collection, including the right to know the specific items of personal information companies have collected on you, and the specific third parties who received it. Not just categorical descriptions of the general kinds of data and recipients. Users should have a legal right to obtain a copy of the data they have provided to an online service provider."


But this is just table-stakes. Our goal should be "Requiring companies to respect everyone’s privacy rights—and giving individuals the power to hold those companies accountable when they don’t."


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