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Why I don’t read articles about data retention

5 November 2015


Why I don’t read articles about data retention

Copyright – Süddeutsche Zeitung / Worldcrunch – October 18 2015 – By Sarah Schmidt

Sure, it’s disturbing that our government (and others) are spying on us, but changing the way we surf, instant message and share is just way too hard.

Dear digital content colleagues, I am very sorry to say so but I don’t read your long exposés about data retention — even though I know they’re well researched and very informative, and despite the fact that I think it’s important that extensive articles are written on the subject. Süddeutsche Zeitung user statistics reveal that most of our readership feels exactly the way I do. All it takes is for the “V” word (Vorratsdatenspeicherung, “retention” in English) to appear in a heading, and reader numbers on that topic plummet.

It’s not that I don’t have an opinion about it. I believe that the federal government shouldn’t be saving information about when or how long or with whom I speak on the phone or to whom I send e-mails. I’m grateful to all those opposition members and activists who sue, protest and demonstrate about how this undertaking is senseless and dangerous.

But there are other reasons why I’m not keen to confront this subject. I find it frustrating, and it highlights my own laziness.

It’s disheartening mainly because it has become clear since the Snowden revelations that nothing, absolutely nothing, on the Internet is private. That’s bad enough in itself, but if the federal government decides to store all the information that some NSA server has already digitally catalogued anyway, it really doesn’t make a difference to me anymore.

Worse is that every article on data retention reminds me how carefree and lazy I am. Why should I be annoyed that the government is saving my data when I voluntarily give it to digital companies? Google probably knows me better than most of my good friends. But I also use its Chrome and Gmail products too. Every once in a while I even click on the personalized advertisements that appear on websites. I post pictures and news and give information to Facebook about how I use it. And although I have installed Threema, an encrypted instant messaging application, it’s more of an alibi than anything else. It’s not a real alternative to WhatsApp, the cross-platform messaging app, if virtually none of my friends uses it.

Regarding Threema, I really did try to become a responsible and well-educated Internet user, but the only thing the crypto-workshop taught me was that surfing securely and privately is so time-consuming that many average technically educated people with a career and private life are deterred by the necessary training period.

Ever since then I have lived with an inner conflict raging inside me. I know that it’s wrong to ignore it, but I’m doing it anyway. Psychologists call this “cognitive dissonance.” My privacy is important to me but obviously not important enough to safeguard it. It’s the same inner conflict experienced by someone who rejects intensive livestock farming but still eats burgers, someone who smokes but knows it’s bad for their health.

One way of dealing with cognitive dissonance is repression. But there is another, more lasting solution for this psychological queasiness: changing my behavior.

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