The New Wilderness
June 13, 2019 5:47 PM   Subscribe

Maciej Cegłowski on Facebook, Google, and the absence of "ambient privacy": "This requires us to talk about a different kind of privacy, one that we haven’t needed to give a name to before. For the purposes of this essay, I’ll call it ‘ambient privacy’—the understanding that there is value in having our everyday interactions with one another remain outside the reach of monitoring, and that the small details of our daily lives should pass by unremembered. What we do at home, work, church, school, or in our leisure time does not belong in a permanent record. Not every conversation needs to be a deposition."
posted by gwint (51 comments total) 84 users marked this as a favorite
 
“They can no more function without surveillance than Exxon Mobil could function without pumping oil from the ground.”
posted by armoir from antproof case at 6:02 PM on June 13 [5 favorites]


This is a good essay! "Ambient privacy" is a useful term.

One thing I've noticed about myself in the past couple of years - I keep looking around for cameras in places where no cameras are likely to be, and I keep having to fight down the expectation that anything I say or do could be filmed or recorded and resurface to be used against me in a misleading way. This doesn't seem to me to be a paranoid feeling - I don't believe that "they" are watching me, or actually believe that there is a camera in the room where I work, etc etc. It's more that I encounter so much video, audio and reporting of private citizens' private conversations [about trivial topics of no moral/news interest] that I've come to sort of expect it to always be a risk - an unconscious expectation.

When I'm in a cafe or somewhere public, I worry about what I say now in a way that never would have occurred to me six or seven years ago - not because I really, actually expect anyone to record me for mockery or political purposes, but out of that same sense that everyone is always looking for recording opportunities just as a matter of course.

It's not just that Facebook, etc, rely on gathering your data; a lot of their content is basically spying - filming random people to make fun of them, reporting on the private conversations of strangers to your followers, finding some random stupid tweet by a stranger and making sure that the entire world sees it, etc. It's creepy and mean and awful, and it's a part of surveillance culture. It's extremely difficult to get people to be against capitalist surveillance culture because not only does it bring convenience, it creates an endless source of entertaining cruelty. The miserabilism of Eastern European surveillance isn't a patch on what we've got.
posted by Frowner at 6:08 PM on June 13 [62 favorites]


Very soon everyone will be continuously recording everyone else. For some purposes it's already happening; just about half the time I see someone complaining about porch theft on Nextdoor, someone will pop in with a video clip of the person or their car, recorded via their home surveillance systems. See a suspicious teenager? Wait a day or so and three more people will post video of the kid walking down the street, suspicious or not.
posted by aramaic at 6:19 PM on June 13 [6 favorites]


I think about this all the time, how on detective shows they piece things together from everything the person ever wrote and every text message they ever sent. They put people in jail for all kinds of bizarre reasons based on whatever evidence they want and now they have access to all of our thoughts and feelings that we normally share with each other. It'sscary to think about.
posted by bleep at 6:52 PM on June 13 [8 favorites]


My partner (who is a smartphone owner, as I am not) turned to me late at night the other day and whispered that they weren't sure whether we were truly alone, just the two us, anymore, in that intimate context. Then they threw the phone out of the room.

We're rethinking a lot of things, now that we're relocating, including cable vs individual mobile broadband (huawei? or cisco?), whether we should get a couple of dumbphones just for each other, and going back to vintage home appliances which are stupid as inanimate objects should rightly be, etc just to get rid of that feeling of having lost the intimacy in our ten year relationship in the past 6 months or so.

Losing that is not a price I want to pay for the continued profitability of zuck or gates or page or dorsey.
posted by hugbucket at 7:17 PM on June 13 [10 favorites]


Today I received a dumbphone I ordered in the mail and slotting a SIM card into my new/old device felt really, really good. Like a reclamation of private space; a rejection of continued commodification of my thoughts, my relationships, my being. Even before smartphones, I knew myself to have an unhealthy relationship to documentation--notes, letters, certainly and perhaps most of all photographs--that I accepted as quirk. The smartphone age allows that already problematic "quirk" to blossom too easily into obsession: being able to save and access every moment and memory is not good for me. I found that I've been able to use that self-awareness to to resist complete capitulation to Constantly Creating Memory in many ways, but also that seeing others succumb to it was upsetting in a way I needed to more fully remove myself from. So as of today I no longer use a smartphone! I am very excited to start reliving a life that was normal not at all long ago.

I suppose I mean to say that "ambient privacy" is definitely one of those terms I encounter which puts a feeling I've already had into words I can immediately use.
posted by youarenothere at 7:22 PM on June 13 [9 favorites]


For all the people seeking privacy with a dumbphone:

They used cell tower triangulation (and essentially an early version of a Stingray) to capture Kevin Mitnick on a "dumbphone" in nineteen ninety fucking five. They will still know exactly where the fuck you are, the name you registered the phone with, your cell phone number, your IMEI number, and so on and so forth. Oh, you also lose the security of third party encryption of iMessage or Signal of your text messages. Sure, you may not be giving all your data to Facebook, but Facebook wasn't behind Room 641A, AT&T was.

I think we're past a dumb phone being a useful solution to this, honestly, especially since, say AT&T for instance has shut down and cut out most of the traditional copper wire networks that don't have these sort of surveillance capabilities.
posted by deadaluspark at 7:40 PM on June 13 [49 favorites]


"ambient privacy" is a useful term.

I wish it captured more explicitly the fact that the default ephemerality of our daily lives was in many ways a good thing. The article talks about how recording used to require much more effort and foresight, but didn't dwell on how ephemerality both supposed privacy and a more present existence.

I'm reminded of the scene in Until the End of the World, with people lying almost catatonic, unable to tear themselves away from the recordings of their own dreams.

Sometimes it feels as if we've collectively responded "Sure, it's not a pipe - but what does that matter?"

Though the article talks about the parallels between destruction of ambient privacy and health issues caused by pollution, the path forward to improve the situation seems much less clear for many reasons.

At the very least, we'd have to accept mental and social harm as real in the same way we accept physical harm us real. And moreover, we'd need to agree that the changes brought to our lives and society by pervasive loss of ambient privacy constitute harm, and that the amount of harm can be measured, that the harm we are seeing is significant, and that the purported benefits of the surveillance causing this harm are not worth the damage done.

And even if we agree on this, I fear we are kidding ourselves that we can by any means put this increasingly ubiquitous and cheap technological genie back in the bottle. See "What Technology Wants".
posted by allium cepa at 7:44 PM on June 13 [10 favorites]


One approach to the problem might not lie in attenuating the signal, but instead in raising the noise floor. An aura of ambient network pseudoactivities, all plausible but fictional, would go far in making analysis more expensive and useless. Just figure out how to flood all the sensors around you, and hide in the fog.
posted by jenkinsEar at 8:02 PM on June 13 [8 favorites]


I think part of the problem might be that for the longest time, a phone was a thing you had in your house and it required a Federal Judge to authorize someone else listening in on what you're doing with a phone. But now "phone" doesn't mean that anymore, and even setting aside all the data tracking from apps and stuff, basic location tracking is something that is required for cell connectivity to even function. That this tracking can also be, well, um... tracked... is something mosts people don't think about.

Here's a thing I do, which most people do not do: I don't carry my cell phone with me 24/7. I sometimes leave it at home for an entire weekend. I carry it to work because as a delivery driver I need to have the ability to contact my warehouse about various matters while I am not there. But I did not own a cell phone until 3 years into taking this job (the company provided them for a while), and I've only had a smartphone for a couple of years at this point. And it has basically nothing on it.

My phone is not my friend. (Well, my landline is....) If you leave the tracking and data input device at home, then that's where you appear to be, even if you're out robbing a bank. (Don't rob banks. But especially don't rob them while carrying a cell phone.)

Culturally, we haven't caught up with the idea that being online means being public. Every word I type here, I realize can be seen by anyone in the world. If you search for my real name online you find nothing, because I realized back in the early 90s that anonymity would disappear if I used my real name. I wish we'd had an education campaign for everyone who migrated out of AOL when the Eternal September began, and again for when the iPhone debuted, and again like every year for everyone.

I got my Ma Bell "official telephone user" wallet card back in second grade (1975-76) because we did a day-long unit on How To Use A Telephone in school. We have zero equivalent today. We need something similar for now, only much more extensive.
posted by hippybear at 8:27 PM on June 13 [7 favorites]


Dumbphones can't be hacked by all and sundry with a free download and they're not really making malware to target S30 mOS anymore
posted by hugbucket at 8:33 PM on June 13 [1 favorite]


None of these harms could have been fixed by telling people to vote with their wallet, or carefully review the environmental policies of every company they gave their business to, or to stop using the technologies in question. It took coordinated, and sometimes highly technical, regulation across jurisdictional boundaries to fix them. In some cases, like the ban on commercial refrigerants that depleted the ozone layer, that regulation required a worldwide consensus.
posted by rodlymight at 8:39 PM on June 13 [7 favorites]


They're not making new malware to target the S30 maybe.
posted by wotsac at 8:48 PM on June 13 [8 favorites]


None of these harms could have been fixed by telling people to vote with their wallet, or carefully review the environmental policies of every company they gave their business to, or to stop using the technologies in question. It took coordinated, and sometimes highly technical, regulation across jurisdictional boundaries to fix them. In some cases, like the ban on commercial refrigerants that depleted the ozone layer, that regulation required a worldwide consensus.

Right, it took strong global/international governmental action to BAN CFCs worldwide. It's probably the only time we've had a global consensus about anything. But the result was governments ordering stuff not to be used anymore.

I doubt there's a global consensus about to even be thought about when it comes to resolving the personal privacy problem when it comes to carrying a smartphone. Or even a single national consensus.

Bur if that's what it takes, let's start working toward it.
posted by hippybear at 8:54 PM on June 13 [2 favorites]


Would that malware even work on the sender's devices?
posted by hugbucket at 8:55 PM on June 13


I doubt there's a global consensus about to even be thought about when it comes to resolving the personal privacy problem when it comes to carrying a smartphone. Or even a single national consensus.
Aurora is a mobile operating system currently developed by Russian Open Mobile Platform, based in Moscow. It is based on the Sailfish operating system, designed by Finnish technology company Jolla, which featured a batch of Russians in the development team. Quite a few top coders at Google and Apple also come from the former USSR – exponents of a brilliant scientific academy tradition.

In 2014, Russian entrepreneur Grigory Berezkin started co-owning Jolla, and from 2016 his Mobile Platform company started developing a Russian version of the operating system. In 2018, Rostelecom, a state company, bought a 75% share in Open Mobile Platform.

Ahead of the St Petersburg International Economic Forum last week, Huawei chairman Guo Ping discussed the possibility of adopting Aurora with Russian minister of digital development and communications, Konstantin Noskov. According to Guo, “China is already testing devices with the Aurora pre-installed.”

In Moscow, before moving to St Petersburg, Presidents Putin and Xi Jinping discussed multiple possible deals; and these include Huawei-Aurora, as well as where to locate some of Huawei’s production lines in Russia.
posted by hugbucket at 8:59 PM on June 13 [1 favorite]


I've started to think of tech companies like Facebook and Google as totalitarian. Much like totalitarian regimes they aspire to control as many aspects of our lives as possible, from communication to commerce to community organization. There are vast differences but also some similarities - or at least some common philosophies and manifestations - in their objectives, their methods and the impact they have on individuals and societies.
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 9:11 PM on June 13 [23 favorites]


hugabucket: I read the article, but don't see how it mentions solving problems like personal tracking and unwilling, unknown data surrender. It claims to be hacker proof, but there's a wide range of what that can mean, and I doubt it means "we can't track your phone's movements around" or "we won't let you install this trojan horse program". Unless it's going for even stricter security than Apple's walled garden App store, which itself has not proven to be perfect.

I do find it interesting that Huawei had an OS sitting there ready to push forward. But then, China has always been more about long term planning and strategizing than about quarterly profit reports.
posted by hippybear at 9:39 PM on June 13 [4 favorites]


If it's funded by Rostelecom, with interest from Huawei/China, then I can absolutely guarantee it is not hacker-proof. Quite the contrary, it will be wide open to the, err, "right kind" of hacker.

...the same kind that accidentally reroutes a huge chunk of European telecom through China for a few hours. Oops, sorry, BGP is just too complicated for us, honest it was a mistake all of the times we did that. It will also be a mistake when we do it again. Terribly sorry.
posted by aramaic at 9:48 PM on June 13 [11 favorites]


The problem is that BGP really is that complicated. Seemingly simple configurations will appear to work correctly until something unexpected happens and then all of a sudden your route filters are passing shit they shouldn't.

It's possible that the continuing failure to fix the tools is the result of pressure from organizations interested in surveillance. It's also possible that the tools are written mostly by volunteers because the large companies who run most of the relevant systems are short sighted money grubbers and refuse to develop better solutions and, crucially, make them public or assist in improving existing tools to make them less brittle and easily misconfigured.
posted by wierdo at 10:10 PM on June 13 [1 favorite]


BGP is, absolutely, ludicrously stupid. At the State level, however, it becomes a matter of how stupid your techs are. Given how often these things seem to route through China or Russia (and not anyone else), a more than average skepticism is called for.
posted by aramaic at 11:09 PM on June 13 [3 favorites]


One can argue that ambient privacy is a relic of an older world, just like the ability to see the stars in the night sky was a pleasant but inessential feature of the world before electricity.

O, how much we've lost, to see the stars as inessential.
posted by chavenet at 1:09 AM on June 14 [35 favorites]


I was thinking that the age of mass algorithmic surveillance, whilst in some ways novel, has brought back a pre-Enlightenment mode of thinking. In the Middle Ages, Europeans believed that God and His recording angels were watching their every action, building up a huge log which they will be confronted with at the Final Judgment. With modern surveillance capitalism, God is Google/Facebook, Experian and various adtech companies, the angels are daemons (of the UNIX variety), and the Final Judgment is a rolling, ongoing one, with salvation and damnation manifesting itself in credit scores, consumer demographics and occasionally interest from law enforcement.
posted by acb at 1:11 AM on June 14 [12 favorites]


hugabucket: I read the article, but don't see how it mentions solving problems like personal tracking and unwilling, unknown data surrender.

Well, I didn't post it from that perspective, so much as Russia and China don't want Silicon Valley technology as their only option. If there is going to be surveillance it might as well be our own rather than that orangefaced moron's.

I know a couple of the guys involved with Jolla and Sailfish, on the Finnish side, and from what I'm hearing, its not only Russia and China waking up to wanting to control their own data but other countries as well. And its a nation state data privacy issue rather than worrying about individual citizen privacy per se. Sort of like the EU's GDPR - privacy controls at the bloc level.
posted by hugbucket at 1:59 AM on June 14


Sad to say, but nobody trusts anything out of America these days, whether its just a tweet overturning months of hard work negotiating treaties and agreements, or whether its tech giants promising to be good.
posted by hugbucket at 2:01 AM on June 14 [9 favorites]


Right now the companies who are the problem are trying to pitch themselves as the solution. Zuckerberg stands up in public and says words to the effect of 'We're so happy that governments are now going to stop us doing things that we have never been prepared to stop doing ourselves.'
posted by Cardinal Fang at 4:27 AM on June 14


we should get a couple of dumbphones just for each other, and going back to vintage home appliances which are stupid as inanimate objects should rightly be

The Butlerian Jihad is here if you want it.
posted by Meatbomb at 4:35 AM on June 14 [12 favorites]




Great piece, thanks for sharing. Ephemeral moments are underrated.
posted by sallybrown at 5:52 AM on June 14 [1 favorite]


At some point I think I just accepted that any attempt at maintaining my own personal privacy is a sort of self-directed security theatre. I find it more pleasant this way.
posted by ToddBurson at 6:09 AM on June 14 [1 favorite]


I guess the converse of ambient privacy is compulsory hypervigilance?

That feels right. I mean that’s the least of what Zuckerberg and his ilk have done to us, but it feels correct.
posted by schadenfrau at 6:25 AM on June 14 [1 favorite]


Always a huge fan of Maciej's stuff. Like seriously, he's probably up there on my list of people I'd like to be at a dinner with.

After reading the above-linked piece, I read the piece just before on his site: What I Learned Trying to Secure Congressional Campaigns - highly entertaining and informative insider look at campaign security.
posted by peacheater at 6:40 AM on June 14 [4 favorites]


I guess the converse of ambient privacy is compulsory hypervigilance?

For me as a woman - the feeling of having to be camera ready at any moment, like we are all little celebrities. If anyone has ever studied the effect on the psyche of being a celebrity, always on display (beyond the usual feeling of being on display as a woman...), that might be helpful in the decades to come. I can’t imagine how this will shape girls growing up today.
posted by sallybrown at 6:57 AM on June 14 [3 favorites]


This is why I will never put one of those speaker things in my house. I don't need some always-listening AI in my house.
posted by Automocar at 7:00 AM on June 14 [4 favorites]


deadaluspark re: dumbphones and privacy:

Oh yes, I am well aware of the ways in which I am still being tracked, but I do consider downgrading to a dumbphone to be only one of many ways in which I am trying to move away from standard, contemporary technology use (I also try to leave my phone at home as much as possible, hippybear!) and to know that less of my life is being sucked up by apps gives some small peace of mind. Moreover, and in relation to the article at hand, it removes my own propensity to remove myself from the moment in order to document it. In any case, I don't have a goal of being completely removed from the borg--I mean, I want it in the abstract but recognize how difficult and limiting it would be in my current life--but I do find comfort in cedeing a little less to Zuck and Co every day.
posted by youarenothere at 7:02 AM on June 14 [2 favorites]


For me as a woman - the feeling of having to be camera ready at any moment, like we are all little celebrities. If anyone has ever studied the effect on the psyche of being a celebrity, always on display (beyond the usual feeling of being on display as a woman...), that might be helpful in the decades to come. I can’t imagine how this will shape girls growing up today.

Visibly queer person here! I know that people have taken pictures of me, presumably to hate-post. Not only does this make me constantly hypervigilant but it extends the awfulness of any encounter - it's not just a drive-by comment that dopplers away into nothing, it's a drive-by comment and the knowledge that somewhere my photo is on the internet with slurs under it, being looked at by whoever looks at hate-posts of queer people. This is also, in a small way, scary - it makes me feel like I am individually a potential target to a bunch of strangers rather than just being a potential target to the people who literally chance to pass me on the street.

Hypervigilance is something that I struggle with anyway because of various Bad Things From The Past and the omnipresence of cameras plus a culture of "maybe if I take this picture and make fun of it I'll go viral" makes it a lot worse.

I was looking at the following-only twitter feed that I keep. Just in what showed up this morning, and just posted by left-leaning people, there were two separate "let's say mean things about this person/image/clip for no reason except appearance" threads. Gratuitously spying on people who are not doing anything morally wrong purely in order to mock their appearance/food/clothes/manner of movement is something that even my relatively carefully selected twitterers do, and it really gets me down. I'm definitely going to be very careful to avoid clicking any internet content of this sort going forward, but I can't purge it totally from my field of view without totally shutting down social media. I mean, serious scholars and writers do this!

~~
This absolutely changes how people think - not only in the sense of "I can't be a private person unless I make great effort; the great eye of the cruel public or the state can be turned on me at any time" but also in the sense of "I should constantly be watching others to see if they do something stupid or ridiculous so that I can share it for status". It creates not only fear but a hostile and opportunistic way of managing even the most casual and anonymous interaction.

Come welcome bombs and fall on Slough, etc etc.
posted by Frowner at 7:14 AM on June 14 [17 favorites]


I'm okay with Google knowing stuff about me so it's products work better and remain free to me.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:33 AM on June 14


there were two separate "let's say mean things about this person/image/clip for no reason except appearance" threads. Gratuitously spying on people who are not doing anything morally wrong purely in order to mock their appearance/food/clothes/manner of movement is something that even my relatively carefully selected twitterers do, and it really gets me down.

Same. Even the supposedly positive things like “pictures of cute guys reading books on the subway” are so not cool to me.

I wonder if we’ll see a change in privacy law to reflect that going out in public these days is consent to being seen by the people physically around you, but not necessarily consent to being seen by thousands of people on Twitter.
posted by sallybrown at 7:35 AM on June 14 [1 favorite]


I wonder if we’ll see a change in privacy law to reflect that going out in public these days is consent to being seen by the people physically around you, but not necessarily consent to being seen by thousands of people on Twitter.

I'm not sure if a legal solution is going to fix this; France has had a similar principle, droit d'image, for some time, and it mostly seems to restrict professional photographers, but it's not really enforceable to go through social media and figure out whether each person in each picture consented to each time it was posted on social media. The result is that it curtails street photography (which is good or bad depending on how you feel about that) but does little to combat the panopticon of social media.
posted by thegears at 7:46 AM on June 14 [3 favorites]


The problem is not just being seen by thousands of internet users around the world, including bored teenage griefers, trolls, creeps, Nazis and miscellaneous jerks. A more insidious problem is the fact that trackers are gathering vast amounts of fine-grained longitudinal data about us, from our emails, web browsing, mobile app use, health trackers, facial-recognition cameras, MAC-address loggers and such. They collect this from millions of people, and applying vast amounts of computer power, can perform statistical analyses on this data to infer things about individuals that they might not even know themselves. Of course, this data is monetised and weaponised against the individuals: to target them with advertising they're most vulnerable to, to differentially price services to them at the highest price that someone in their current position (which includes everything from socioeconomic status and political leanings to whether they appear to be depressed or in a new relationship) would be willing to pay, and otherwise to micromanage the informational environment around them like a high-tech cattle pen.
posted by acb at 7:54 AM on June 14 [1 favorite]


So, we just had a thread about an activist group that used data harvested from social media platforms and other databases to out thousands of cops as racists. Not saying these cops aren't racist, but it's striking, to me, that nobody expressed any outrage about that use of surveillance tech.
posted by spudsilo at 8:31 AM on June 14 [3 favorites]


Not saying these cops aren't racist, but it's striking, to me, that nobody expressed any outrage about that use of surveillance tech.

Police are public employees who literally have the power of life or death over the rest of us. Their situation is just a little bit different from those of us who are not invested with such power (unless you're a fan of strawmen, of course).
posted by longdaysjourney at 8:47 AM on June 14 [7 favorites]



So, we just had a thread about an activist group that used data harvested from social media platforms and other databases to out thousands of cops as racists. Not saying these cops aren't racist, but it's striking, to me, that nobody expressed any outrage about that use of surveillance tech.


For me that's a huge tension that I can't resolve - how is it possible to have a world where racist cops can be outed, white women who make phony 911 calls can be held to account, etc and still have a world where we are not all always potentially being filmed and recorded?

I mean, there are obvious gains to having access to the data, just as there are gains to being able to film white women calling the cops on little girls selling bottled water. Is there some possibility of amplifying the gains and reducing the losses, and how can that work?

I think the rhetorical temptation is always to say either [Coke or Pepsi] that all violations of privacy are bad even if it turns out that all the cops are racists or that we should all just learn to be totally cool with constant surveillance because occasionally the good guys use it for good and that it's selfish and privileged to worry about being filmed/recorded.

I'd like to try to figure out some strategies for a world where we can get rid of racist cops and at least minimize the negatives.
posted by Frowner at 8:47 AM on June 14 [2 favorites]


I think there's a LOT of tensions inherent in this loss of ambient privacy: I read this article and immediately thought of a recent dispute between friends where part of what happened was sharing of screenshots of personal conversations. Some of that was "am I off base in my reaction?" and some of it was "look at this wild nonsense" and either way it changes what it means to be and have friends, when it's not just repeating through the garble of human memory and recollection but literally "see this conversation I had with this other person." I don't know if it's a good thing or a bad thing, but boy, it's A THING.
posted by epersonae at 8:58 AM on June 14 [2 favorites]


I kinda like the imagined near future (post-cloudburst) via Brian K. Vaughan, Marcos Martin and Muntsa Vicente ("The Private Eye"): http://panelsyndicate.com/comics/tpeye

Also the payment model! Any kid who grew up in the 80s/90s and paid those newsstand prices for their comics knows that pain.
posted by elkevelvet at 9:15 AM on June 14


Eleven years ago, Clay Shirky was thinking along similar lines about stating the problem itself, although he didn't have much of a solution proposal.
We are moving from an evolved system to an engineered system. We have pushed formal and explicit statements about privacy into our lives for the first time. Prior to the current era, the principal guarantor of privacy wasn’t law or regulation, and it wasn’t hardware or software. It was inconvenience. It was a hassle to spy on people. We lived most of our lives not in the bubble of privacy or the glare of publicness, we had what we called back in the day our “personal life.” That is a phrase almost no one uses anymore, except to refer to technology. We have a lot of personal technology. We don’t have so much personal life. In personal life, we can walk down the street talking with a friend and someone could be listening to you, but they are not. It is not like every word you say is being recorded for posterity. But now it is like that, a lot like that ... This inconvenience and hassle, an inefficiency to information flow, wasn’t a bug, it was a principal feature. As long as we have a world of completely explicit privacy preferences it isn’t going to be a good fit for the way we live our lives. This is a question of filtering, not managing information. How do we want to design the filters so that privacy works the way we need it to work?
I've admired pretty much all of Cegłowski's writing that I've actually seen, but I really think he's wrong here:
While people argue over the balance to strike between environmental preservation and economic activity, no one now denies that this tradeoff exists—that some technologies and ways of earning money must remain off limits because they are simply too harmful.
I'm coming around to the idea that there are powerful actors in society who enjoy and prefer doing harm to the world and the most downtrodden people in it.

Oh, sure, nobody wants to poison the whole planet. But if I can earn a dollar while poisoning some regions? Regions the affluent may escape but which the poor may not? Sure. They're undeserving poor. Useless eaters. Maybe the poison will motivate them to become less poor. They should be thanking us for this character-building opportunity, really. Hey, can I make another dollar if I make twice as much poison?

I don't think this is just a flaw with the wilderness analogy, I think quite a lot of the public has already bought into the whole surveillance-keeps-you-safe idea. I've had on-line arguments with people (mothers with small kids, even) who feel that if you're out in public, you're fair game to be photographed, surveilled, recorded, etc., that if you'd prefer not to be exposed to such things, you should stay home at all times. And of course there's always a chorus of "nothing to fear if you've got nothing to hide" in these discussions. They imagine the records of all our movements will be weapons they can wield against less fortunate people in case of a conflict. They're probably right.
posted by Western Infidels at 10:14 AM on June 14 [9 favorites]


It's one thing to trade your privacy for free stuff. It's something altogether to allow a company to gather data about everyone it comes in contact with. It doesn't matter if I have nothing to hide (which is, of course, ridiculous anyway - everyone has a need for privacy at some level); there are a lot of people who have compelling reasons to need and deserve privacy, and if I give mine up without a fight, it endangers them.
posted by zenzenobia at 3:03 PM on June 14 [1 favorite]


> I was thinking that the age of mass algorithmic surveillance, whilst in some ways novel, has brought back a pre-Enlightenment mode of thinking. In the Middle Ages, Europeans believed that God and His recording angels were watching their every action, building up a huge log which they will be confronted with at the Final Judgment. With modern surveillance capitalism, God is Google/Facebook, Experian and various adtech companies, the angels are daemons (of the UNIX variety), and the Final Judgment is a rolling, ongoing one, with salvation and damnation manifesting itself in credit scores, consumer demographics and occasionally interest from law enforcement.

Under Watchful Eyes: The medieval origins of mass surveillance.
posted by homunculus at 1:44 PM on June 15 [1 favorite]


Speaking of surveillance capitalism, here's an excellent ongoing Twitter thread (unroll) on surveillance capitalism by Abeba Birhane.
posted by homunculus at 1:54 PM on June 15 [1 favorite]


Speaking of surveillance capitalism, Facebook just announced they're creating their own money.
posted by hippybear at 1:24 AM on June 19


The thread about that is here if you hadn't seen it already.
posted by hippybear at 1:25 AM on June 19 [1 favorite]


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