(mis)adventures in software development...

23 February 2015

Who cares about data retention anyway?

Category Technology

There’s a whole world of apathy out there…

The Australian people are being sleep walked into a system the Attorney-General cannot even articulate.”

Police insider speaking to ABC Radio

Over the weekend I caught up with a couple friends I hadn’t seen for a while. Friends outside of the IT industry.

At one point, when the conversation turned towards politics, I asked if they had heard about the government’s proposed mandatory data retention plan. Neither had.

Don’t get him started,” said my girlfriend, as I launched into a variation of a rant she’d probably heard before.

I’m not sure if I should give her points for putting up with my political/geeky rants, or question our relationship given her disturbing lack of feels about privacy and democratic freedoms? (Maybe she’s an ASIO spy?!)

These two friends were reasonably active on Facebook (not so much Twitter), and lately the only thing I’ve been doing on Facebook (and Twitter) is sharing articles about data retention (I am really fun on social media).

Which raises the question of whether these (supposed) friends were ignoring my Facebook posts from lack of interest, or if Facebook’s algorithm didn’t bother showing my activity in their feeds?

It would not surprise me if it was the former. Not everyone amongst my friends and family shares my zeal for technology and politics issues. Actually, few do, even those more technically inclined.

My brother, for one, is usually quite blunt about his lack of interest in most things I deem worthy of sharing on Facebook. We might share DNA, but he shares little of my computer geek interests. He has no qualms about telling me that even though he sees most of my status updates in his Facebook feed, he ignores almost all of them because they are of no interest to him. And because any articles I share usually require too much reading.

Surrounded by such indifference, I have resigned myself to the fact that I am merely shouting into the void on social media (and this blog).

Still, while not necessarily surprising, it’s still somewhat disconcerting that others can be so oblivious to an issue that has had reasonable media coverage, and quite a lot of traction on social media.

But by its personalised nature, everyone’s experience on social media will reflect their interests. Especially in the echo chamber of Twitter.

While my Twitter feed is a constant stream of anti-data-retention vitriol, that’s unlikely to be everyone else’s experience.

Even amongst “friends” on Facebook, an item shared is not necessarily an item that anyone else payed any attention to whatsoever. Especially if it was about something as “niche” as data retention.

While I, and many others, obviously have some strong opinions about data retention and privacy issues, and have expended considerable effort trying to spread the word online, that doesn’t mean it has grabbed the attention of the masses.

Things are very different in the real world, outside of Twitter and the IT industry and geeky social circles. Sometimes social media makes it easy to forget that.

I’d bet most people are largely indifferent to the issue of mandatory data retention.

Out in the suburban mainstream, many people haven’t heard of data retention. And even if they have, they don’t really care. It doesn’t seem like something that should matter to them, with their McMansions and their weekend sportsball. Even though it does.

Which once again confirms my belief that social media might have its uses, but it’s not a particularly effective tool for activism. Few people have changed their minds because of a pithy tweet or dank meme. Social media tends towards preaching to the converted. Communicating to the apathetic masses through social media doesn’t work for seemingly dry tech issues like data retention, even though the privacy implications are wide ranging and will affect everyone using the internet.

In my previous post I pondered politicians not taking social media criticism seriously. This is another reason why they won’t. I suspect they realise the repercussions of social media are relatively benign. At most, a social media backlash might get generate a few fleeting minutes of coverage within the 24 hour news cycle, in between the real money shots of news — celebrity gossip and sport.

This is why, despite all the angry tweets about data retention, despite the shared links to articles pointing out the flaws in the concept, our politicians will ultimately get their way. Our politicians will succeed at undermining our democracy and eroding our privacy.

Because most people just don’t care.

And those that do are just shouting into the void.