Mark Hurrell.


The public interest

21 October 2013

My decision to disclose personal information, even if I disclose it only to my insurance company, will inevitably have implications for other people, many of them less well off. People who say that tracking their fitness or location is merely an affirmative choice from which they can opt out have little knowledge of how institutions think. Once there are enough early adopters who self-track—and most of them are likely to gain something from it—those who refuse will no longer be seen as just quirky individuals exercising their autonomy. Their insurance will be more expensive. If we never lose sight of this fact, our decision to self-track won’t be as easy to reduce to pure economic self-­interest; at some point, moral considerations might kick in. Do I really want to share my data and get a coupon I do not need if it means that someone else who is already working three jobs may ultimately have to pay more?

Few of us have had moral pangs about data-­sharing schemes, but that could change. Before the environment became a global concern, few of us thought twice about taking public transport if we could drive. Before ethical consumption became a global concern, no one would have paid more for coffee that tasted the same but promised 'fair trade.' Consider a cheap T-shirt you see in a store. It might be perfectly legal to buy it, but after decades of hard work by activist groups, a 'Made in Bangladesh' label makes us think twice about doing so. Perhaps we fear that it was made by children or exploited adults. Or, having thought about it, maybe we actually do want to buy the T-shirt because we hope it might support the work of a child who would otherwise be forced into prostitution. What is the right thing to do here?

Evgeny Morozov in the MIT Technology Review

The essay gets good in the second half.

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