The Nerve of the Developers of Audacity

So a few days ago, the new owners of open-source audio editor Audacity pushed out a new privacy policy, and according to this policy, the app became permitted to collect enough data about users that people under 13 years old would no longer be legally able to use the app in the US.

This caused an uproar as you might expect, and Muse Group, Audacity’s new owner, is trying to walk it back.

“We believe concerns are due largely to unclear phrasing in the Privacy Policy, which we are now in the process of rectifying,” said Daniel Ray of Muse Group.

Why do tech companies have to be so predictable? Every time they get called out on doing something shitty, they never apologize for doing the shitty thing, they always apologize for how they communicated it, subtly implying that its customers’ opinions aren’t valued feedback from valuable stakeholders, but instead are just a reaction to be managed and herded. It’s a mentality that subtly robs people of their humanity.

And to really add insult to the dystopian injury here, look no further than some of the takes from people trying to downplay this: mocking people for what they considered an uproar, and the general sentiment that we need not panic because this is “pretty standard modern application telemetry” (source).

Maybe, and I’m just thinking out loud here, maybe the problem isn’t that FOSS enthusiasts are freaking out over standard practice, but that we’ve come to accept some relatively invasive surveillance as standard practice in the software we use and rely on every day?

My audio editor shouldn’t need to know my IP address to function normally.

There are lots of tools in place in most every app nowadays serving a variety of functions like this. Some are simple things like libraries to support easy automatic updating, and some tools will send up stuff like crash data to developers so that they can learn about bugs and fix them without even needing to interact with users. That’s potentially useful! But it’s very telling that when you actually tell users what you’re collecting about them, they are “freaking out”. Maybe if users are that uneasy about the level of surveillance they are living with, “this is standard telemetry!” isn’t the great defense you think it is.

Purveyors of surveillance capitalism love to lull themselves into these delusions that the surveillance is super common and that consumers are a-ok with it because they know that in exchange they get some free products on the web or sometimes interesting offers or even just relevant recommendations. Except when users are actually being told about the surveillance side of the deal, they aren’t that cool with it. In the case of iOS users who recently started getting the option to ask apps not to track them, most have opted out, and it’s causing changes in advertising spend between iOS and Android.

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