• Richard Farr

Privacy creep

As Orwell almost said, Little DoubleThinker Is Scamming You.

This morning The New York Times treated us to a piece by one of their editors, Adam Satariano, on digital apps like Hubstaff being used by employees to track their work-from-home employees. What the software does is (a) clever and useful, (b) "ick" - to quote Satariano's own boss after he tried out the app, or (c) knock-you-backwards-and-bash-your-brains-out-onto-the-floor terrifying.


The correct answer is (c) - but even more terrifying than the software perhaps is that the CEO of Hubstaff, one Dave Nevogt, is quoted as claiming ("arguing" would be too kind) that Hubstaff doesn't intrude on the employee's privacy because the employee has agreed to use it and knows it's being used.


It's hugely important in a time like ours, I think, to pause and take in the stunning absurdity and three-alarm repulsiveness of this. Afraid for her life, a girl decides not to resist a rapist, so she "wasn't really" raped. Afraid that his children will starve, a man accepts a job in unsafe conditions at half the legal minimum wage, so it was "what he really wanted." Afraid of being crippled by the next beating, a woman "willingly accepts" slavery, so ...


But there's more here. It's not just that modern workers - reaping all the glorious benefits of freedom, as they are endlessly told, in the perfectly panoptic fantasy-tyranny of the capitalist workplace - will have no choice but to accept this new nightmare once it becomes widespread. It's also that they and their children will lose even more of what we are already in such danger of losing: the original idea - absolutely and ineradicably necessary to genuine liberty, as John Stuart Mill famously noted - that there are places of privacy, like the last patches of green grass in the concrete jungle, where you can choose to go; and that these places count as private partly because there is no legal means by which they can be bargained away.


Of course, it's not just start-up johnnies on the make who don't want to understand this. So many of us have proved far, far readier to pave over the green spaces than anyone would have guessed, even one generation ago.


"Hey Siri, can you tell me what it was like when I could still talk to my wife, just the two of us alone, in the park?"


"I'm sorry, all descriptions of criminal activity have been deleted."