On the 12th of April, the first auction of an individual’s personal digital data closed. The winner was The Next Web, an online news provider focusing on tech, business, and cultures. In exchange for his email and chat conversations, his personal calendar, train records, location records, and browsing history, Shawn Buckles, the now-former owner of the personal information, received €350, the equivalent of over $480. Buckles had this to say on his decision. (If you don’t know Dutch, then use the “captions” feature when you watch the video.)
Buckles goes on to state, in a pamphlet available on his website, that the human race gave up privacy because we think it’s “useless” and that in 1954 a cabal of wealthy folk met up to discuss how they would strip us all of our data in order to oppress us. The document he references begins its forward by stating that “This manuscript was delivered to our offices by an unknown person.”
Ah, Internet—is there no conspiracy theorist you will not catapult to the heights of fame?
My issue with Buckles isn’t that he is protesting the widespread use of personal information, but that his outlook on shared information is fatalist in the extreme and, despite this, is hailed by reputable news outlets such as BBC, Wired, and Mashable. I tend to wonder whether Mashable had actually read his website when it stated that Buckles “is in a sense ahead of the pack.” His thoughts are given credence, despite the fact that his argument is full of hyperbole, naiveté, and class rancor, not to mention the fact that his evidence is a document of specious origin.
In Buckles’ worldview, it’s only the elite who lead oppression. In Buckles’ worldview, the police state is completed. I wonder if he has ever stopped to consider the state of Dutch freedoms in comparison with those of North Koreans or Saudi Arabians. We are all, apparently, one step from being engulfed by a Nineteen Eighty-Four-esque apocalypse.
In the end, Buckles sounds like every other Internet protestor: self-important, extremist, inexperienced, suspicious, and, what’s most interesting, uninvolved. If his goal was to get people talking about their rights to their own personal information, he is late to the game—that’s already happening. It’s a rare social media protest that leads to real-world results though, and online communities are easily manipulated into believing damn-near anything (see: the Colding-Jorgensen experiment). Despite any good intentions, Buckles is just the latest proof that slacktivism can make you famous.