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PORTSIDE  November 2012, Week 3

PORTSIDE November 2012, Week 3

Subject:

New Privacy Arguments are Needed

From:

Portside Moderator <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

[log in to unmask]

Date:

Sun, 18 Nov 2012 21:58:47 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (135 lines)

New Privacy Arguments are Needed
by Jamie McClelland
Published by Portside
November 18, 2012

Another decent article on online privacy was published
by the NYT this morning.
https://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/18/technology/your-online-attention-bought-in-an-instant-by-advertisers.html 
The article documents the collection and centralized
aggregation of consumer data online. It ends with a
strong message about consumers becoming the "product" -
which echoes what Noam Chomsky and Ben Bagdikian have
been saying for decades.

The problem with this critique is that it doesn't go far
enough. Chomsky and Bagdikian didn't say "readers" are
the product and that's bad because nobody wants to be a
product. They critiqued the model because it produces
terrible journalism and democracy suffers as a result.

Similarly, the online trading of audiences and the
invasion of our privacy that results has more important
implications than "don't be a sucker" which seems to be
the gist of the privacy argument these days. Honestly, I
don't stay awake at night worrying that Nike knows I'm
looking for a pair of sneakers, or even that they know
my income.

I do stay awake at night worrying that people are
tagging my photo on Facebook, which could allow the New
York Police Dept to submit a photo of protesters to
Facebook and get a list of names and addresses of the
people in the photo. Or it could allow the police to
track my movements via existing networks of surveillance
cameras by matching my image to my name. Would that
require a search warrant? How would that impact my trust
in my government to know that my movements are being
tracked? Or worse, to know they might be tracked but
I'll never know if the are or aren't?

Many governments (including the US) have sordid
histories of infiltrating political organizations and
intentionally sowing dissent. Having access to
activists' purchasing habits provides a treasure trove
of material for this purpose that previously was labor
intensive for cops to collect. It also provides leverage
during interrogation, a time of heightened emotional
vulnerability where the mere mention of a private detail
of ones life can have a powerful impact. How can we
prevent law enforcement from having access to these
details of our lives?

And then there's the dragnet. A central database of
consumer habits provides a tantalizing collection of
information that could be searched for people who fit a
profile of a crime. Is solving the crime at hand worth
the invasion of privacy that results from people being
investigating only based on their consumer habits? How
would we measure the impact an investigation like this
would have on our confidence in democracy and
government?

The corporate advertisers promoting this kind of data
collection argue that these problems are the price of
progress. However, the ideology behind these technology
developments is capitalism, not some intrinsic aspect of
the Internet or network communications. Historically,
the Internet has developed based on a drive toward de-
centralization. Email and web sites, the bedrock of
Internet activity, are based on these principles: anyone
can add their own email server or web server and
everyone can seamlessly access it. In contrast, the
logic of capitalism as it relates to the Internet, is
one of centralization and aggregating data. Facebook and
Google want you to use their platforms for all your
online activities so they have as complete a picture as
possible of what you like and do. As the New York Times
article describes, companies like Rubicon want to track
all your movements and aggregate that data for profit.

We have a choice. We can carefully evaluate our use of
corporate services and consider the implications it has
not only on our lives but on society as a whole. And, we
can choose to use and support services that promote open
standards and interoperability that will respect our
personal privacy values.

Want a practical example? Friendica is software designed
to allow you to post status alerts, photos, videos and
other information about yourself in a way similar to
Facebook. http://friendica.com/ However, it has one big
difference: you can host your account on any server
running the software anywhere in the world. You can
still "friend" people on different servers, but we don't
have to all trust the same organization to host it.
Furthermore, Friendica allows you to post once and
automatically cross-post to your Twitter, Facebook or
other similar services. Sound good? You are welcome to
try out an account on the May First/People Link install:
https://friends.mayfirst.org/.

Jamie McClelland is the director of May First/People
Link. Prior to working at May First, Jamie worked at
Libraries for the Future network administrator, national
Youth ACCESS coordinator, and Information and Technology
Policy Specialist. Jamie was formerly on the Board of
Directors of Paper Tiger TV where he was an active
producer and activist between 1994 and 2004. Previously,
Jamie worked as a video instructor for Sidewalks of New
York, teaching basic production skills to homeless
youth. He also worked as a community organizer for the
Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now
(ACORN) and was an active member of ACT UP New Orleans.

[moderator note: Portside is hosted by May First/People
Link.]

___________________________________________

Portside aims to provide material of interest to people
on the left that will help them to interpret the world
and to change it.

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