Am I Stupid?

This is not a rethorical question. I was forced to ask myself this because of a Tweet by Amit Serper (@0xAmit), which he posted on 15 February 2021. The tweet reads:

I joined a qanon group on telegram. There are 13,000(!!!) People there discussing how they won’t get vaccinated because of the tracking chip in the vaccine. They are discussing it from their phones, which are tracking their locations. Everything is stupid.

Now, let’s get one thing out of the way: I do not for one moment believe that there is tracking in the vaccines. There is not one jot of evidence for this. I also don’t know much about QAnon, but from what I’ve heard, they seem to be a pretty vile bunch. I do not approve of them.

But these two things were not the point of the tweet. Instead, the tweet attacked the people in the Telegram group and called them “stupid” because they were protesting tracking using devices that track them. Note the causal inference: these people are stupid because they protest tracking using devices that track them.

Initially, I agreed with Amit. And it made me feel good about myself. Obviously, these QAnon people are bad people. How nice that they are also idiots! But something didn’t sit right, and after a bit of thinking, I found out what it was. It was the idea that using devices that also track you to protest against more tracking (even if, as in this case, there is no tracking in the vaccines) somehow makes the protesters stupid for not seeing the delicious irony. There are in my opinion at least two things wrong with this point of view.

First, and almost trivially, Amit, I, and tons of other security-conscious people might know that their phones track them, but it’s not exactly advertised, so many people might not. Many people might be aware almost subliminally: if you asked them, they’d say “sure it tracks me” but then it’s forgotten. Many people might be aware that tracking happens, but be unaware of the vast extent to which it happens. I fail to see why that makes them stupid.

Second, let’s say you lived in a society where you were tracked to the moon and back by companies and the government. Assume further that you didn’t like this state of affairs. Luckily your society, even though it tracks you, still allows free speech. Therefore you protest, and publicly. But no matter whether you use a phone or a desktop computer or a smart watch: if you participate in this public debate, you will be tracked. You are not given a choice in the matter, unless you really know what you’re doing, and even then it’s going to be very hard to evade all the tracking that corporations and the government throw at you. Given that you have no choice and will be tracked almost regardless of what you do, why does that make you stupid?

To come back to the title of this post, I don’t like being tracked, but I find it hard to come up with a way to organise an effective protest without using the Internet in some way. And from my Phone too, come to think of it. I can’t do it. And so I’ll be tracked, whether I want to or not. Amit’s tweet thus applies to me as well, because I’d be doing the exact same thing for which he calls people stupid.

So, Amit, please tell me: why am I stupid? And while you’re at it, what should I be doing instead then?

Coda: perhaps, perhaps Amit is saying something else entirely. Perhaps he’s saying that these people are stupid for not protesting the tracking that actually exists, but rather the tracking that doesn’t exist. It’s possible that this subtlety got lost in the 280 character limit of tweets. I asked this question in a reply to that Tweet on the evening (European time) of February 16. I will update this post if I get an answer.