Privacy is a moral issue. Verizon seems to be doing something that lacks respect for this moral issue. There are times we might exchange some lack of privacy for some other good. Like we exchange Google tracking for having a better-customized experience. But in this case, we have at least some sense of the exchange going on. If I save my favorite places on Google Maps, then that tells Google something about me. However, there is a moral issue when companies change the default and sign up everyone who does not explicitly opt-out for less privacy than they signed up for. Verizon recently did this.
Verizon Changing Everyone’s Privacy
Verizon users are now automatically enrolled in a data collection program tracking information like websites visited and mobile app usage. Recently reported on by Input, the telecommunications company runs a two-tiered tracking program and automatically enrolls every customer in the first tier.
The Verizon Custom Experience and Custom Experience Plus programs are a rebranding of Verizon Selects, launched in 2012 to help marketers target smartphone users with increased precision. While customers had the choice to opt in for Verizon Selects, you must manually opt out of the Verizon Custom Experience. […]
The basic tier still logs the websites you visit and the apps you use. According to Verizon, website data is stored “for no more than six months.” A timeline for app data storage is not explicitly stated on the company’s FAQ page.
The Wired piece also gives the complex way you can opt-out from this tracking.
Privacy Creep Is a Serious Issue
This is a sign of a more serious issue of privacy creep. We are getting less and less privacy. Plus, doing this without consent adds to the issue. Many look at this as a legal or technical issue but we need to look from a moral perspective. Sure his is legal, but we need to ask morally if it should be legal. Legal positivism does not work and is not consistent with Catholic ethics.
There is also the issue with defaults. Many studies have shown that most people just take defaults so changing the default changes the behavior of a large percent. They had a tracking program before, but you had to opt in rather than opt out.
Unfortunately, this action has the effect Pope Francis spoke of in Fratelli Tutti 42:
Everything has become a kind of spectacle to be examined and inspected, and people’s lives are now under constant surveillance… Respect for others disintegrates, and even as we dismiss, ignore or keep others distant, we can shamelessly peer into every detail of their lives.
We need to show respect for people. The human being created in the image of God is the basis of all Catholic social ethics. Pushing people into less privacy without even asking seems to lack respect for others.
I have written a whole bunch more on privacy but wanted to just make a short piece on this point.