facebook PRIVACY AND THE RISE OF AI - Escape Artist


As originally published exclusively in “Escape Artist Insider Magazine – June 2023 edition”. 

Seventeen years ago, a Harvard University student’s idea for a local campus-wide networking platform was made public and opened to the world at large. Within several years it began to rival the earlier and more popular MySpace. The new social network, Facebook, quickly outstripped its competitor’s market share and became one of the most ubiquitous digital outlets for people to share, follow, and “like” every intimate detail of their personal lives. Over the years, Facebook has grown to become a vast catalogue of the digital lives of billions of people, acquired or founded numerous data-hungry offshoots, and dug its voracious code into every aspect of even the most private corners of our digital life. Within the rising tide of social media came many other corporations and brands that sold us convenient, curated, worldwide relationships, all of which made it their goal to turn human identities into products and data into currency. It has taken nearly two decades to reach the point where the catastrophic ramifications of social media are largely understood and culturally accepted. But in those two decades, social media giants have embedded themselves tactfully into our digital lives and begun to siphon immeasurable amounts of personal data.

In a new era marked by the parabolic growth of Artificial Intelligence capabilities, it becomes imperative to reflect upon the implications these advancements have on our privacy. We are on the verge of repeating the same mistakes we made with social media, only with a significantly more invasive and capable behemoth. Are we willingly choosing the allure of progress or the temptation of profit over our fundamental right to privacy? Are we even aware of the breadth and severity of consequences likely to result from these advancements? Did we learn our lesson the first time from social media? On a global scale, the answers may unfortunately always be cause for concern but on an individual level, there is still time and opportunity to become informed and prepare for a world where pseudo-intelligent packets of code ferry every byte of data and context about who we are back to a pseudo-ethical, but ultimately indifferent, army of computer servers designed to do only one thing: make money.


I should note early on that I don’t consider myself biased against AI or technology. I’m not irrationally afraid of it or impulsively prejudiced against artificial intelligence or any other new technology. I’m extremely engaged and excited about the progress being made and have spent great amounts of time and energy to understand it better, from how basic machine learning works on a mathematical level to how GAN tools and LLMs aggregate context and render useful outputs. I see the potential for practical and benevolent implementations. As with most new technologies, I believe the technology itself is quite amoral, and it’s the intentions of the humans building and implementing it who dictate whether it will be a net positive or net negative for humanity. With its seemingly limitless capabilities, AI does hold the power to revolutionize numerous aspects of our lives. 

As it is continually improved science and medicine will forever be changed for the better. Even in these early stages, specially designed AI programs are outperforming humans in STEM field tests and making new discoveries. While it’s true that AI or its elusive final form, “Artificial General Intelligence”, may never be able to think and act in all the miraculous ways humans do, it does already have many strengths of its own. Existing large language models are surprisingly good at using large amounts of context to rapidly generate useful outputs. Adversarial networks are extremely useful for image recognition and object detection; if you have a modern security system or a modern smartphone camera, you have probably already benefited from this capability. AI is also particularly good at automation, replication, and iteration. Because it’s run on computers, it can work tirelessly as long as there’s data to inspire it and electricity to power it. 

From automated processes to personalized recommendations, AI’s power seems boundless. However, as we probe and develop its transformative capabilities, we are confronted with a paradox. The insatiable hunger for data that fuels AI’s learning algorithms and the intimate facets of our lives it will infiltrate pose a significant threat to personal privacy. What’s more, it’s not simply the obvious, sensitive data that is of concern. Information like metadata, context, routine, habits, interests, and relationships are all seemingly innocuous insights into our public lives, but expose exponentially more about ourselves to the technocrats and their software than would be prudent. So, we find ourselves on a tightrope, attempting to strike a balance between harnessing the miraculous benefits of AI and safeguarding our privacy.


In the digital realm, every action leaves behind footprints, forming a trail of personal data. Every search query, every social media post, and every online transaction adds to this vast tapestry. You use a VPN? You can now be profiled into a category of users whose traffic also comes from the same VPN endpoint. You’re conscious of what you share on social media? Instagram’s terms of service explicitly grant them the right to listen to everything through your microphone—all the time—and they openly admit to doing so for advertising purposes. The seemingly minuscule pieces of information that compose our digital footprints hold immense power and value. Aggregated together and processed against an unimaginable amount of data, these digital footprints reveal every detail about our lives, preferences, and vulnerabilities. These small breadcrumbs are more than enough to lead data miners, brokers, advertisers, and governments all the way back to our doorstep and more often than not, usher them inside. The custodians of our data bear a significant responsibility to navigate the fine line between innovation and ethical data practices. Even assuming they are absolutely trustworthy, technology moves so fast that even their hypothetical best intentions can leave our data extremely vulnerable.

The digital landscape has become a battleground where privacy and convenience wage a constant war. We willingly embrace the convenience of digital services, often surrendering fragments of our privacy in the process. Big tech companies, the gatekeepers of planetary amounts of personal information, capitalize on this trade-off, employing sophisticated profiling and targeted advertising techniques to make immediate profit from this exchange or simply build capital based on the massive potential value of the data accrued. The commodification of our personal information has become a lucrative business model. However, as individuals, we have the power and responsibility to seek alternatives or choose to opt out entirely when no ethical option is present. Decentralized and privacy-centric technologies offer a pathway towards reclaiming control over our personal data, open-source software initiatives help us build our new technologies on an architecture of transparency and accountability, and conscientious habits and good digital hygiene help us stay safe where some level of data exposure is inevitable.


Amidst the growing concerns over data exploitation, individuals should feel more compelled and more empowered to safeguard their privacy. For those willing to take a stand for their right to privacy, the most important first step is awareness. Being conscientious of what data and metadata you share, how it’s collected, and how it’s used is the crucial first step. Along with that should come the understanding that almost all your data is potentially permanent. There are some economic limitations to the storage of data, some slowly emerging laws about “the right to be forgotten” and have your data deleted, but in practice, once your data is out of your control it’s safe to assume it’s permanent.

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In the personal war against Big Tech and Big Data, knowledge is power. It is helpful to have as deep an understanding as possible about how the technologies you use daily actually function, what their capabilities are, and their limitations. Chances are your cell phone is doing frighteningly more to expose sensitive personal data to many different parties than you know. Fortunately, if you develop an understanding of how your phone is used to data mine your life, you can begin to arm yourself against the attack and take back your privacy and ultimately, your personal autonomy.

If awareness and conscientiousness are the first steps in the battle for privacy, then limiting exposure is the second. Limit the number of devices, applications, and online accounts you have or interact with. Does a smart-home device add any real value to your life? Does an internet-connected and AI-assisted home thermostat with a built-in camera really add the amount of convenience it promises? Limiting the number of vectors for collecting data and context about you in the first place will amplify any of the more complex privacy techniques that you may implement. For the non-tech-savvy individual trying to get by in daily life, drastically limiting exposure may even be sufficient in and of itself to reach the ideal privacy level desired.

The next step is limiting how much information and context you provide to the devices and applications you allow in your life. When creating online profiles or signing up for accounts and applications, provide the required information only. Most forms or profiles will suggest you provide extensive amounts of information that are totally unnecessary for the normal operation of the service in question. Consider using a pseudonym for account names where possible. And of course, limit the personal information you share on public platforms.

Be conscious of integration and “always on” types of technology. Many devices or services that may be inconsequential on their own rely on third-party programs like online services that use a Facebook account to sign in. Avoid devices that rely on excessive telemetry, like smartwatches. Reconsider allowing any smart home devices in your home or other personal spaces.

When implementing the more technical components of privacy, it’s important to remember that these further steps can be rendered ineffective simply by misusing or misunderstanding them in the first place. That’s not to say they shouldn’t be used, but rather that once again, knowledge is a key component of any privacy strategy. One of the most sensible measures of privacy and security that can be implemented is the use of a Virtual Private Network service or “VPN”. A VPN will add a layer of privacy to your online habits and go a long way to add security against malicious actors. Choosing quality hardware and more reputable brands for devices such as internet routers, computers, and cell phones, may not prevent the device manufacturer from gathering data, but it can at least keep your data from leaking or being sold unknowingly. Many other methods of increasing personal privacy remain to be discussed, such as encryption and open-source software but the aforementioned considerations will shoulder the vast majority of the burden that is digital privacy.

Ultimately, when evaluating the future privacy threat of artificial intelligence, it’s important to note that this technology will likely become inextricably woven into the fabric of our lives. That’s why it is urgent to implement privacy measures early, thereby minimizing the amount of data floating around waiting to be absorbed into the expanding mass of digital neurons. Eventually, AI will likely grow to be so pervasive that there is no way to effectively limit exposure or impose personal privacy strategies. For that reason, advocacy, thoughtful development, and extremely wise governance and policymaking are absolutely imperative for the preservation of not only our privacy but our personal liberty as well.


As the wheels of progress continue to turn, the challenges of digital privacy undergo superficial transformations, but the fundamentals remain and should be implemented as early and thoroughly as possible. The choices we make today, as individuals and as a society, will shape the world we live in tomorrow. It is crucial to embrace privacy-enhancing practices while spurring innovation built upon ethical standards. Tapping into the capabilities of powerful new technology while ensuring sober and prudent implementations has already proven to be a delicate balancing act. But it’s a balance that will define a significant portion of our future as both a species and individuals living in a world dominated by digital superintelligences.

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