"You're in the penumbra of fear."
January 20, 2015 2:00 PM   Subscribe

Terms of Service is a a graphic novella about privacy and surveillance in the Internet age, by Josh Neufeld and Michael Keller, and presented by Jazeera. It combines elements of oral history, opinion journalism, and diary comics. The comic also advertises Pulp, a free and open-source library for webcomic layouts, maintained by AJAM.
posted by grobstein (12 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
This would work even better wrapped up like a Chick Tract and titled "The Penumbra of Fear"
posted by chavenet at 2:11 PM on January 20, 2015

Wow - I was really impressed with the quality of writing on such a complex issue. Thanks for sharing!
posted by antonymous at 2:55 PM on January 20, 2015

Color me impressed with the writing and the technology.
posted by NoxAeternum at 3:26 PM on January 20, 2015

I tend to avoid reading about data privacy, because it's complicated and alarming. This made it a little more approachable.
posted by bunderful at 4:07 PM on January 20, 2015

Page 39 for the win. That's the kind of story theme I've been hoping to find - social strata, ossified, and people unable to do better than their home environments.
posted by amtho at 4:41 PM on January 20, 2015

Although the ending is depressing. People _are_ opting out. I think a lot of people are waiting and hoping for technology that lets them share and participate in the bounty of the net and the bounty of each other _without_ having to put up with so much personal compromise.
posted by amtho at 4:47 PM on January 20, 2015

There's only so much you can opt out. Your personal information is only as private as the most naive or apathetic person who has it. People run email scrapers, send evites, and otherwise give away others' information all the time without a second thought, and that's not even taking into account all the data that is necessarily public already.

Sure, you can just opt out of a lot of the automated location trackers and stuff for now, but the accepted levels of personal disclosure have been moving further and further out of our hands for a while now. New intrusions always start out optional.

And it is frustrating and depressing, but the data brokers are dependent on people ignoring the issue or throwing up their hands about it. The only way anything is ever going to change is if people begin to really understand the depth and breadth of the privacy invasions and do something about it.
posted by ernielundquist at 4:56 PM on January 20, 2015

Our activities are getting more and more trackable. Even if you quit all the social networks, stop carrying a phone, and pay cash for all transactions, it's only a matter of time before you will be tracked. Soon it will be cheap to hook up facial recognition software to every random surveillance camera. Or you might be recognized by the shape of your body, and how you move. It will become possible to extract speech from noisy crowds, to identify targets by voiceprint, cadence, word choice, and location. To analyze the content of speech. To track your car with roadside cameras, by recognizing it's color and decoding your license plate in real time.
posted by rustcrumb at 5:08 PM on January 20, 2015

The problem with opting out is that you're often removing yourself from an entire communications network. Sure, you want to stop carrying around a tracking device like a cell phone all the time, but then you need to figure out another way to make plans. It's not easy when everyone uses text messages and there's an expectation that you'll be available no matter where you are.
posted by antonymous at 5:28 PM on January 20, 2015

Yes, but if you believe everyone else is in all these networks (they're not), you're more likely to just give up, no matter how angry it makes you. If you know how many people aren't on Facebook, aren't using Android location services, aren't willing to install tracking devices on their car, do delete cookies, and care enough to go to _that much_ inconvenience (it's not a lot of inconvenience, but it's not nothing), then you might be more likely to consider using, supporting, promoting, or even designing and creating alternatives.

Ironically, for people like this, banding together in a web community might prove difficult, so expressing some kind of solidarity when possible seems helpful.
posted by amtho at 7:54 PM on January 20, 2015

Yeah, this is a very difficult problem. It's a lot like air travel's race to the bottom: everyone is being a rational economic actor. Airlines are all shrinking seats and causing more inconvenience at the lowest fare classes (which you can buy your way out of) because, for all that everyone likes a pleasant airline experience and a sufficiently roomy seat and not being gouged for every bag of peanuts, the data has relentlessly shown that the only thing to affect ticket buying with 100% consistency is the baseline ticket price.

And so it is with giving away our private data. The cost of individually opting out of all these shared services, e.g. Facebook as outlined, is drastic compared to the rest of society. If *everyone* were to opt out - say, by backing democratically elected politicians who enacted regulations protecting us - then the individual cost is suddenly negligible.

That's generally a non-starter, as this article's opening pages allude to. Say you live in a neighbourhood where all the nearest grocery stores have loyalty programs without which you're overpaying for groceries. You have your member card, you don't think about it. Politician X gets elected and wants to put in some powerful measures to curb their use of your data. Grocery store chains A, B and C all back a powerful advertising campaign essentially threatening the public with increased food prices if they don't make him back down.

The way politics works nowadays, that is utterly unwinnable and no politician is going to go down that road. And how does politician X even strike a balance between letting companies understand their customers and preventing quasi-mandatory data surrender?

I don't know how we get out of this societal tailspin, but I hope we figure it out soon.
posted by pahalial at 8:29 PM on January 20, 2015 [3 favorites]

Well, not by just throwing our hands up and hoping someone else thinks of something before it's too late. Someone will have to come up with a reasonable next step, after "start vaguely warning people" and before "magic".
posted by amtho at 10:19 AM on January 21, 2015

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