Paul Catalanotto: If they aren’t charging you for the product, then you’re the product

Reading Time: 3 minutes
Catholics have a right to know if their priests are striving to remain faithful to their vows. PHOTO: Unsplash

As the saying goes, “those who live in glass-houses shouldn’t throw rocks.” Likewise, today, we might add to it that those who live in glass-houses shouldn’t cry “spy” when people look into their homes and see a messy house.

That is, glass-house residents have slim to no expectations for privacy, and “Slim” just walked out of the room. Over the past few weeks, the world, particularly its English speaking Catholics, found out exactly how much of a glass-house in which we live regarding our personal data – name, phone number, email, address, location data, etc – and the assumed privacy and anonymity of said data.

The two journalists, canon lawyers by training, who edit and write The Pillar, a Catholic news outlet emphasising long-form journalism, recently used publicly available data to raise awareness about a high-ranking Catholic Monsignor in the United States, who, according to the data and the original source of the data, Grindr – an app popular for hook-ups and sexual encounters in the LGBTQI+ community – suggests sexual misconduct on the part of the Monsignor.

should the Bride of Christ know when her priests refuse to remain faithful to their vows? I think so.

The Pillar purchased the data from a data vendor. That data vendor obtained the information from a marking agency. The marketing agency purchased the data directly from Grindr. Though Grinder promises supposed anonymity to its users, it only promises a limited degree of privacy according to its own terms and conditions.

What Grindr and The Pillar prove is the truth of the adage about free goods: “If they aren’t charging you for the product; you are the product.” In this case, the geo-location data and the app’s unique numerical identifiers of users’ mobile device was for sale.

Additionally, The Pillar raised security issues surrounding location-based hook-up apps, particularly Grindr, which they found to be in use at the Vatican in locations off-limits to tourists and pilgrims.

Critics of The Pillar are suddenly in support of robust privacy laws, while at the same time vilifying the behaviour of The Pillar and accusing them of potential blackmail. However, you can only blackmail someone after they have done something immoral or illegal.

The journalists raise important questions and concerns for the Church. Yet, what is missed is that responsibility is the anchor for privacy before new laws. If you don’t want personal, even anonymous, data out there, be responsible and don’t give companies access to it.
Assuming the analogy that a priest is married to the church, then privacy is only a secondary concern. The real issue is that of infidelity of vows.

In other words, if we learn of a friend who is cheating on his wife, should we tell his wife? Put it differently, does our friend’s wife have a right to know that her spouse is unfaithful? Likewise, should the Bride of Christ know when her priests refuse to remain faithful to their vows? I think so.

In brief, critics of The Pillar are angry because an uncomfortable number of priests have taken residency in a glass-house built by Grindr, and someone is now looking through the glass walls.

Related:

Unleash the power of good: take vows seriously