Learned #9: General Data What Now?

Making Sense of Online Privacy


Welcome to Learned, a resource for all of us who are trying to learn how to keep our privacy private. In this issue:

  1. What We’re Learning: All About the GDPR

  2. What We’re Reading: The Light of Other Days

  3. Down the Rabbit Hole: Lawyer Up, Delete Facebook, and Hit the Gym

Let’s get to it.

Photo by eddie howell on Unsplash

What We’re Learning:

This week, we're learning all about the frickin' GDPR.

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) (EU) 2016/679 is a regulation in EU law on data protection and privacy for all individuals within the European Union (EU) and the European Economic Area (EEA). It also addresses the export of personal data outside the EU and EEA. The GDPR aims primarily to give control to citizens and residents over their personal data and to simplify the regulatory environment for international business by unifying the regulation within the EU.

So, what in the hell does that mean?

To start with, it’s the reason my inbox has been flooded with updated privacy policies from every service, site, and newsletter I've ever been signed up with. (just as I’m sure yours has, too.) See, the deadline to become compliant with the regulations was May 25, 2018 and there’s nothing international tech giants like better than just barely beating out a deadline that might cost them money.

But, back to the GDPR: Essentially, the GDPR means European companies (or international companies with holdings in Europe, e.g. Google, Facebook, and so on) must reveal what kind of date they are collecting on their users. From there users will be able to:

request access to that data, find out how it’s being used, and demand that companies either delete or correct it where possible (via Lifehacker).

While I’m not sure what that means for me, living in Asia, or for all of you who are not in Europe, I do know that it means we’re going to be in for some interesting times. For one thing, because of the GDPR, many companies are building tools that allow users to access the data said company has kept about their users over the years. That could lead to all sorts of misuse or malpractice suits.

And, for another, coming, as it does, on the heels of several data-breach stories[1], this new regulation becomes even more interesting as it gives the EU the power to fine breached companies if they have not addressed any issues within 72 hours. I wonder what the odds are that we’ll make it to the end of the year without a failure-to-comply suit?

By possible coincidence, I got news that my favorite password app, 1Password [2], is rolling out their first major update in several years. Updating 1Password is kind of a pain and will require me to look back through my archives to check for any data corruption or losses. But it also means this is a very good chance for me to clean up some of my digital detritus [3]. That’s going to be some work.

In the meantime, here are a few hot takes about the GDPR from around the web:

With any luck, the flood of emails will stop soon and we can all get down to the business of crying “Shame! Shame!” at any and every company found in violation of the regulations. Stock up on lemon juice and hot tea now…

  1. This interactive infographic from Data Is Beautiful tells the story more eloquently than mere words can.

  2. 1Password is a fantastic tool. What this, and similar programs, do is securely store all your passwords.

  3. My password vault is a treasure trove of long-dead or disused sites. It's going to take me a long time to wade through a decade and change's worth of passwords and accounts, but I think it might be worthwhile.

What We’re Reading:

The Light of Other Days

by Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter

Imagine a tunnel that can connect any two points in space and through which light waves can travel. Imagine we have the technology to create these tunnels - far too small and too gravitationally complex to move mass through - and thereby see anywhere there is light. Now remember that travel far enough into space and look back at the Earth and you can look back through time.

What would that mean for our understanding of history? What would that mean for our understanding of privacy? What would that mean for our ability to communicate with each other?

Answering these questions is the premise of Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter’s The Light of Other Days. It is, as in the quote above, the kind of science-fiction that tries to get a hold of the answers before the questions need to be asked.

In something of a departure for Clarke, the wormhole technology, while based in actual mathematics, is the least interesting part of the story and, as such, is read as a given throughout most of the novel. Instead, the authors explore the ramifications of the questions listed above. They do not provide the answer, but they give some very interesting insights all packaged up in a very tidy adventure story that spans generations and, well, all of time and space.

I’ve read this novel three or four times over the years. It’s one of those ones that just grabs you by the scruff of the neck and keeps hold long after you’ve actually finished reading. It’s really, really good.


joeldavidneff.net | joeldavidneff at gmail | @smileytoad | @joeldneff | coffee

Down the Rabbit Hole:

Reddit's prescription for dealing with a breakup has always been: Lawyer up, delete Facebook, and hit the gym. Really, that's not bad post-breakup advice. Hell, it's not bad advice for your average Thursday.

So, here's how to delete Facebook. And I mean really delete it. Like no one will ever know you were there delete it. While you're at it, Lifehacker's Virginia K. Smith recommends deleting your old tweets:

I’ve been meaning to delete my old tweets for ages…to go through and clear everything from 2009 up until the beginning of 2018. Now no one can dig up all the garbage I tweeted as a 21-year-old, and the relief is palpable.

Maybe before you do that, take Andy Baio's advice and try reading your Twitter feed from ten years ago.

Andy Baio@waxpancake

Want to see what your Twitter timeline would've looked like 10 years ago today, if you followed all the same people you do now? https://t.co/41a6iQcYhc

May 24, 2018
And remember that you can reset that to one, three, five, or however many years ago you'd like.

But, even if you don't manage to delete everything, or Archive.org makes a copy of something you'd really rather they didn't, don't forget that we have the right to be forgotten. In some countries anyway.

Of course, the best policy with everything that goes online is to treat it like you're going to church. Put on your best clothes, use your indoor voice, and remember that someone, somewhere, is watching everything you do.

Advice We’re Following:

I talked about comics and cartooning a few weeks ago; since then, I’ve found a new favorite: Poorly Drawn Lines. In particular, this week’s comic (pasted above from Twitter) is the best life advice I’ve ever come across. For whatever your personal version of crab is, I mean.

That’s it. Stay strong, stay healthy. Learn something.