- Business needs and user expectations collide for privacy-focused company DuckDuckGo
- For Big Tech, success is closely linked to the development of techniques aimed at covering up privacy – legally and in its interface designs.
- Meanwhile, Big Tech is waging a parallel battle over users’ right to repair their devices.
Privacy is a powerful marketing tool, but it leaves any company touting its privacy credentials vulnerable if the company appears to be failing to deliver on its promises. A privacy researcher has accused DuckDuckGo’s mobile browser allows Microsoft trackers for its LinkedIn and Bing products on non-Microsoft sites. DuckDuckGo CEO Gabriel Weinberg’s efforts to defend and clarify highlights the increased complexity of tracking user behavior across websites and how difficult it is for a company to offer the privacy online without compromising certain aspects to generate revenue. There is a deeper take on the ZeroHedge controversy. [Editor’s note: DuckDuckGo is a donor to The Markup.]
But this “manipulation” is perhaps seen in another way: as an inevitable innovation in an industry that competes for users’ attention and data. Indeed, the industry dependent on personal data is an industry that has so far been viewed and regulated not through a political lens but through a capitalist lens, where it is seen “not only as a productive source of innovation, but as a reliable regulator of the market”. participants too: a self-correcting ecosystem that can be trusted to contain the worst excesses of its participants,” in the words of Jamie Susskind, a London-based lawyer and author of a forthcoming book on the regulation of digital technologies. “In this context, we can, albeit dimly, see the political battle lines that are currently being drawn for this century,” Susskind concludes. Efforts in the United States to find statutory solutions continue in the meantime: a new House bill wants to create a Big Tech regulatory agency.
This data privacy debate has a parallel in a debate about our devices. The question revolves around this: when will users really own our devices, so that we can, for example, repair or tinker with them ourselves? Apple has long fought right to repair legislation and is kicking and screaming where those fights have failed. Here’s what that looks like in practice: ship a 79-pound iPhone repair kit to fix a 1.1-ounce battery, charge the same price for a new battery that replacement and installation would cost at an Apple store , and charge a $1,200 credit card to hold for the toolkit.
That’s not the main issue, however, says iFixit CEO Kyle Wiens: While it provides tools and manuals, Apple’s strategy is to tie specific parts to a specific phone. So replacing a screen, for example, might mean that the device wouldn’t work as well as it did with the original screen. These “cryptographic locks” are further explained by Lee Vinsel, a Virginia Tech professor and co-founder of The Maintainers, a research network focused on maintenance and repair issues.
Other big tech companies are doing better: Microsoft, under pressure from shareholders, is exploring right-to-repair measures and found that repairability offers greater environmental benefits. Google has promised more ways to fix its Pixel phone, although there are critics that it hasn’t gone far enough. And it’s not like some companies: Valve has made parts for its Steam Deck portable gaming computer available to third parties to help them repair and even upgrade the device. But so far, such examples are rare and more commonly found on the fringes.
Jeremy Wagstaff, a former Reuters technology reporter and Wall Street Journal columnist, now works as a writer and consultant. Past customers have included Microsoft, Google, Cisco, Samsung and Facebook. He currently has no Fortune 500 clients or financial interests in them.