We are at a crossroads where we’ll need to decide if the Internet is written in pencil or ink.
There has – quite rightfully – been a lot of discussion recently around the question of how our data is collected, shared, and used. Who owns data, and what do those ownership rights actually entail? The new GDPR regulations are a brave attempt to start framing some of these issues in legislation, and the landmark “Right to be Forgotten” case which Google has just lost raises the question of how to balance an individual’s right to privacy with the public’s right to know about their activities, where it might – rightfully – inform and impact their decision on whether or not to engage with said individual.
As a technology journalist I am of course deeply interested in these questions, but don’t pretend to have all the answers – I honestly don’t think anyone does at this stage.
As an individual, however, I often think about how the activities I engage in through various platforms are always going to be available for anybody to find and use. I therefore make it a policy that whenever I post something, it is essentially public, no matter what the settings might be telling you. Cambridge Analytica has taught us that.
How do we balance an individual’s right to privacy with the public’s right to know about their activities, where it might rightfully inform and impact their decision on whether or not to engage with them?
And while it might well be possible to ask search engines to remove some results, I am dubious about both the effectiveness and the moral justification for those actions. I enjoy the fact that politicians’ old tweets come back to haunt them when they blatantly contradict themselves, and although it might not change the mind of a Trump supporter to see the lies in black and white, the truth, as Fox Mulder would say, is still out there. If we give that up, then we are well and truly in a 1984 scenario of daily news editing.
One recent thing that brought all those issues home for me was a sad and personal story which I’ve decided to share, as I believe it falls under the category of “people’s right to know.”
I am the mother of three furry ginger babies, which is to say I have a small pack of red Staffordshire Bull Terrier cuties. Watson, Missy (short for Mrs Hudson) and Holmes. Collectively they’re known as the Red-Headed League, and if you fail to see the Conan-Doyle references by now, I give up.
Watson and Missy bred, as our intention was to keep one of the puppies from the litter (Holmes) and after exhaustive vetting we found what I thought were wonderful homes for all the remaining pups, 3 girls and one other boy.
That boy – named Mycroft Conan Fudge in his KC registration – went to a person called Nickola Engel, who has a business as a dog behaviourist and trainer called Trainer McPhee.
You can read the full story about what happened to the puppy known as Fudge here. I also wrote a separate article clarifying what I know about the Staffordshire Bull Terrier breed, my experience of training them, and countering the ill-informed misconception that people like Nickola Engel advocate that a firm stance and discipline equals cruelty.
I of course got a lot of trolling from people who clearly didn’t bother to read it, saying that I advocated “beating dogs into submission” and I just have to laugh. If they’d ever been to my house they could see how collectively soft and sociable our human/doggy pack is, but I also know that this is only possible because they are well trained, and because we have conditioned them out of their natural instinct, which comes from being a fighting dog breed, to bully other dogs.
To sum it up, however, this so-called dog trainer couldn’t cope with the puppy, and had him put down at the age of five months. Below, in her own words, is what happened. She posted this on her own website, but since removed it, as she’s removed all the lovely videos of Fudge playing happily with her son from her Trainer Mcphee and Children and Dogs Safety Facebook pages and requested that the Medium post where I made it available be removed, which they complied with. However, given the fact that Nickola Engel claims on her website that she is able to help owners with precisely the behavioural issues for which she saw fit to kill this puppy, I believe that this information is in the public interest. Whether or not someone chooses to entrust her with their puppy after reading the facts of my story is entirely up to them, but at least they will have those facts at their disposal, which is more than I had when I was doing my background research on the prospective owners.
This is the video I was sent by Nickola Engel – Trainer McPhee as definitive proof of his hopeless aggressive tendencies. While this sort of behaviour is certainly undesirable, it is something that all staffy puppies I have ever come across have exhibited to some degree, it’s the sort of pushy bullying play which their fighting dog breeding makes them prone to. The video below shows how the young pups were always scrapping with each other in a similar way. As they get older, you discourage that sort of behaviour consistently to counter their natural tendencies, and now none of my dogs do this any more. If left unchecked, however, then it will indeed escalate, as it has in in Fudge’s case due to lack of proper training.
If you have been moved by this story, and whatever your opinion about dog training methods may be, if you love animals and feel compassionate towards them (and their humans) I would urge you to support the wonderful work that charities such as StreetVet and NISBTR.
Alice Bonasio is a VR Consultant and Tech Trends’ Editor in Chief. She also regularly writes for Fast Company, Ars Technica, Quartz, Wired and others. Connect with her on LinkedIn and follow @alicebonasio and @techtrends_tech on Twitter.