Sometimes I can tell how much writing a blog post is going to hurt by how many other tasks I discover need doing before I’ll sit down and face it. As someone who hates housework I’ve done a fair amount today. My flat is sparkling.
I am avoiding a vital piece of self-care that many of us don’t think nearly enough about right now: guarding my data online.
I know I’m not alone in this. I love convenience. I want to read the thing I just found - right now! - so I press ‘accept’ to whatever warning the website flashes up. Privacy? Nah. Cookies? Sure, have ‘em all.
Fact is that I don’t understand it, but I trust it like a lemming. We all do it, so it must be fine, right?
I’ve never worked with tech much before, being a trainee therapist and (experienced) popcorn-maker by trade. I’ve been aware of controversies, of Cambridge Analytica, which seemed oh yeah, pretty bad. I know that Facebook is shaping our politics in frightening ways. I know that traditional media is struggling in the face of our own personal online knowledge bubbles.
But surely that doesn’t mean me in my bubble? Because my bubble is the right one. Right?
I still have my Facebook account, an ancient profile photo I’ve never updated. As a student 15 years ago I was an early and active user, posting photos to show off how great my life was going. I stopped that a long time ago and set my account to be as private as I could while never deleting it. I tell myself that I haven’t left entirely because there are two valuable groups on there I just couldn’t leave, or risk missing out on meet-ups and updates.
But working for Untapped has slowly chipped away at my complacency. At Untapped we have to think about these things. We work with our users’ data all the time. We use it to create AI feedback, telling them things about themselves even they weren’t aware of. We pass that information back to the person it belongs to, in a form where they can work with it, grow in self-awareness and emotional intelligence. We treat their data with the utmost respect, and it is kept private and confidential between us. We never pass it on to third parties. And we hold our ethics pretty tightly.
So I’ve been forced into facing this a bit more. I recently watched Joe Toscano’s Youtube video on how we are all working for the tech giants, feeding them streams of data about how we use their products, how we live our lives. So they can process that data and turn it into massive profits for themselves.
I know this awareness is seeping into me because I’ve downloaded Firefox. I’d already started using duckduckgo as my search engine. But like any behavioural change, I can see that changing my daily digital habits is going to take time and effort. Change is hard, but now I am more aware of the vast implications of handing out my data without thought, I intend to make those changes.
As someone who works on the more human side at Untapped, I have been hugely avoidant about facing these truths. But I’m realising that, for me, as well as basic privacy and security, this is about self-worth as much as anything. Recognising that my data is valuable, and that handing it over to huge corporations for them to churn it into more dollars just isn’t really good enough any more.
And on the other side, what possibilities that wealth of data holds! If we can use it as we do at Untapped - to learn about ourselves, our habits, our unconscious biases and quirks – well just think of the power in that. Capitalism has so far taken us down another, far more prosaic and frankly boring route – mainly, how to squeeze us for every dime every time we’re online.
But maybe we can start to imagine and create alternatives. Maybe we can fight for them too.
There are some great organisations now campaigning and educating on this issue to help us all improve. A good place to start is the Own Your Data Foundation. I also recommend looking at the Beacon Network set up by Joe Toscano, who I mentioned earlier. There’s a useful list of resources on their website to help you better protect yourself and your data.
So read up, give it time to sink in, join the fight. But also recognise that this is digital self-care. You wouldn’t let someone exploit your time or money in the ‘real’ world. Start saying no in the digital one.