We live in a data-driven world. From our shopping habits and online reading to where we drive and our political leanings, data is being collected on us all the time, and many of us are just starting to realize that truth. We saw recently how Facebook’s data was used by Cambridge Analytica to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. We also saw California law enforcement officials use DNA samples from family tree databases to solve the 30-year-old Golden State murder case.
A few days ago my best friend and I were talking about a restaurant on the phone, and as soon as he got off the call, an ad appeared in his Instagram timeline advertising that very restaurant. Needless to say, it was a tad creepy. Whether or not our phones are actually listening to us, we do know that our devices are designed and allowed to record massive amounts of data, often without our understanding or knowledge.
We know our data-rich world comes with many benefits, too. Waze gets us to our destination using the quickest route. Netflix finds the perfect show for us that we’ve never heard of before. But with these data-mining benefits also come dangers.
Privacy Is a Lie
Our God is sovereign over all creation. Nothing escapes his reach or evades his watchful eye. He knows the number of hairs on our head (Matt. 10:30) and our passing thought. We cannot hide anything from him, nor should we want to. We should want to be fully known and fully loved. Being fully known and not loved is one of the scariest things we can experience, and being fully loved without being fully known is a sham.
Being fully known and not loved is one of the scariest things we can experience, and being fully loved without being fully known is a sham.
This rings especially true in a world obsessed with data and privacy. In many cases, we are known by thousands of companies and marketers but not loved. There is always a bottom line or quota to be met. For all the promises companies make about seeking our good and benefiting our lives, those promises will always come second to profit.
Christians need to know that nothing we have ever thought or done will escape our God. But while God knows everything about us, he still loves us. God doesn’t seek to know us in order to meet a bottom line. He seeks to know us because of his great love, shown to us in the person and work of his own Son. You cannot hide anything from him, and that is for your good.
You Are the Product
From Twitter and Facebook to our digital assistants and music services, we live in the world of low-cost tools that benefit our lives. But these free or cheap services are indeed too good to be true. Our payment is ourselves. We are the product.
Have you stopped to consider what those terms and conditions say? The ones we quickly scroll through? Unless you have a law degree, you likely won’t understand them. I often scroll as quickly as possible to the bottom or simply click the “agree” button, wanting to move on with my new device or service. But one of the biggest stories of the last year has been the extent to which we willingly sign away privacy as payment for these services.
These free or cheap services are indeed too good to be true. Our payment is ourselves. We are the product.
Data is being collected on us all of the time. Our viewing history, likes, clicks, and even the time we spend looking at something is being recorded for various purposes. On the heels of the Facebook data issues surrounding the 2016 presidential election, a gentleman wrote a Twitter thread explaining that Google has been collecting around five gigabytes of data per user, using this to curate everything from your search results to the online ads you see. This feels like the tip of the iceberg in terms of what we know and don’t know about how our data is being used.
From the failed #DeleteFacebook movement to lawmakers pushing for new privacy regulations on tech giants, we have been reactive to privacy issues rather than proactive. As Christians, we must engage these issues with proactive discernment and wisdom.
Proverbs 1:20 tells us, “Wisdom cries aloud in the street, in the markets she raises her voice.” Believers must wisely consider the implications of data mining and other issues of digital privacy.
First, we have to remember we live in a fallen world. Promises and agreements will be broken. No company in the world can completely protect your data. What you do online will find you out, because complete privacy is a total lie. Whether from a data leak or hacking, your information is never completely safe. We should assume everything is public and seek to be above reproach in all things, especially our online behavior.
We should assume everything is public and seek to be above reproach in all things, especially our online behavior.
Second, we should be mindful of how we might be misusing technology. Technology is a tool God has given us to create and use for his glory and the good of society around us. But often we are more controlled by our technology than we control it. We passively embrace new trends or apps without seeing how they might pull us away from glorifying God to glorifying ourselves. Instead of seeking the good of those around us, we can be tempted to seek our own good and live in a curated, algorithm-built world tailored perfectly to us. These technologies are often driven by the data we unknowingly give away.
As Christians, we are responsible for every thought, deed, and click. Nothing has ever escapes the knowledge—or presence—of God. But in this increasingly connected and data-saturated world, it seems nothing will escape those around us either. We must be good stewards of our digital privacy, not because we have something to hide but because prudence demands caution, given the unknowns of who might have access to our data and how it might be used without our knowledge.
It is good and healthy for us to invite others into our lives for the sake of accountability and community. But is it wise to hand over deeply personal details of our lives to companies and marketers only interested in the bottom line?
- The Surprising Sin-Killing Power of God’s Presence (Ryan Lister)