Science, Tech & Politics

Surveillance vs. Privacy

Markets +/vs. Marketing





  1. Paul Bouzide’s avatar

    Well Doc that Morozov article in TR was wonderfully thought provoking and provocative to many different entrenched points of view on the subject.

    I’d be very interested in your thoughts on this pull quote:

    “This is where Simitis expressed a truly revolutionary insight that is lost in contemporary privacy debates: no progress can be achieved, he said, as long as privacy protection is “more or less equated with an individual’s right to decide when and which data are to be accessible.” The trap that many well-meaning privacy advocates fall into is thinking that if only they could provide the individual with more control over his or her data—through stronger laws or a robust property regime—then the invisible barbed wire would become visible and fray. It won’t—not if that data is eventually returned to the very institutions that are erecting the wire around us.”

    Of course it is by definition a semi-decontextualized pull quote, but it would seem to pose some challenge to the VRM mission.

    But the article goes on to describe some promise in the purely commerce-driven “electronic butler” approach, but illustrates the lack of agency and unawareness of negative downstream effects (e.g. the insurance marketplace example of choosing not to track and provide fitness information taken as prima facie evidence of being a risk) that could come with it.

    And so the article closes advocating a balanced legal, commercial and political (including subversion/civil disobedience) approach. Balance is good, of course. And I think I find the idea of the “electronic provocateur” that reveals hidden agendas to be an interesting one.

    But isn’t anonymity also part of the solution? It’s less of a privacy violation when the PII can’t be tied to an actual individual. Why not electronic “Swiss Bank Accounts” for contract fulfillment for all of us to sever the tie between personal identity and the rest of the PII needed to expedite commerce (as well as technocratic policy).

  2. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Thanks, Paul.

    First, we haven’t seen anything yet that provides fully private communications on the Net. But, we will. It’s early. I should add that it won’t happen at the level of the Web, where nearly all that Evgeny and the “well meaning privacy advocates” he talks about can imagine are centralized services. (Google, FB, the feds, etc.) This makes sense because it’s all we’ve experienced.

    Second, I’m not crazy about the “electronic butler” either, mostly because I want to see full agency at the individual level, and we don’t have that yet. The tendency is to say “we need help from X” rather than “let’s find better ways of helping ourselves.”

    Third, I think self-tracking is fine, as along as we’re doing our own tracking. Right now almost all the self-tracking systems are centralized in some way, however, and that’s the trap Evgeny is talking about, I believe.

    Fourth, I agree that we need to undermine, circumvent, replace, obsolete and otherwise thwart all these surveillance systems. The “provocateur” approach is one way. I imagine there will be many others.

    Fifth, agree that anonymity is part of the solution. Any solution that doesn’t support anonymity, or that assures it only with a back door or whatever, won’t cut it. We need full agency.

    I know a number of companies and independent developers working on “Swiss bank accounts” or structures like them. Wishing them the best, too.

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