from the not-the-sharpest-knife dept
We’ve noted repeatedly how the hyperventilation about TikTok privacy is largely just a distraction from the U.S.’ ongoing failure to pass even a basic privacy law or meaningfully regulate data brokers.
We haven’t done those things for two reasons. One, the dysfunctional status quo (where companies mindlessly over-collect data and fail to secure it, resulting in endless privacy scandals) is hugely profitable to everybody in the chain. Two, the government long ago realized it can abuse the barely regulated info-hoovering user tracking system we’ve built to avoid having to get warrants.
There’s simply no meaningful incentive for reform.
None of this is helped by the fact that an ad-based, wealth-obsessed tech press is financially incentivized to prioritize engagement clickbait (billionaire cage matches! Poorly-made blockchain-based ape art will change the world!), over nuance and deeper analysis. A media ecosystem owned by billionaires that seems to have an ever-dwindling interest in meaningfully challenging money, power, or the status quo.
The result of our collective superficiality isn’t hard to find when looking at the tech knowledge of the broader public. A recent Pew survey of 5,101 U.S. adults found that 80 percent of Americans know that Elon Musk now owns Tesla and Twitter, but just 23 percent were aware that the United States lacks a meaningful privacy law addressing how companies can use the data they collect:
52 percent of the public wasn’t sure if we had a privacy law. At the same time, while 77 percent of the public knows that Facebook changed its name to Meta in 2021, less than half (48 percent) of those surveyed know what two-factor authentication is. And while 87 percent know that more complicated passwords are better, just 32 percent have a basic understanding of how “AI” (LLMs) function.
When the press covers consumer privacy, the fact that the U.S. government has proven too corrupt to pass even a basic internet-era privacy law rarely gets mentioned. The idea that the government has been lobbied into apathy on this subject for 30 years by a broad coalition of industries (opposed to anything but the most toothless oversight) rarely even warrants a mention in mainstream tech coverage.
While I’m sure a superficial, clickbait obsessed tech press isn’t the only culprit here (our shaky education standards surely play a role), I can’t imagine it helps much. As a tech reporter I’ve watched a long, long line of quality independent tech news outlets get dismantled in favor of superficial clickbait machines, terrified of offending anyone in power, whose output is now being clumsily supercharged by “AI”.
Tech journalism’s failure to accurately portray the sorry state of U.S. privacy was perfectly exemplified by coverage over the TikTok privacy scandals. Endless outlets parroted worries that a single app might share U.S. consumer data with the Chinese government; few if any could be bothered to note that same Chinese government can buy endless reams of consumer data from barely regulated data brokers.
As a broadband and telecom beat reporter in particular, I’ve similarly seen how when press outlets cover substandard broadband, the real underlying problem (consolidated monopoly power has lobbied a corrupt government into apathy) again rarely warrants a mention. It’s systemic, and until we dedicate some serious time toward creatively funding independent journalism, it’s simply not getting better.