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[liberationtech] Privacy, Moglen, @ioerror, #rp12
markus.sabadello at gmail.com
Fri May 11 18:32:39 PDT 2012
I remember having talked to you at Unlike Us about how maybe the terms
"Client" and "Server" should be
just like according to Marx "Arbeitnehmer" and "Arbeitgeber" are the wrong
I don't know much about political theory, so I won't try to argue on this
basis, but here's a little story:
One month ago I was at the European Identity Conference, a very corporate
kind of event trying to figure out what various identity/cloud topics mean
And guess what, there was a lot of talk about decentralized systems.
One keynote speaker even mentioned that client/server was really just a
nice way of saying slave/master.
I talked a bit about the FreedomBox there, and people were genuinely
At a different conference (Internet Identity Workshop) I explained
FreedomBox to someone from the World Economic Forum (not exactly a
communist organization), and he LOVED it.
my blog posts about the 2 conferences.
So I guess what I am saying is, maybe not all things are as black and white
as they seem..
And maybe a hybrid model involving both centralized and decentralized
components would be better than either one of the two extremes.
Project Danube: http://projectdanube.org
Personal Data Ecosystem Consortium: http://personaldataecosystem.org/
On Wed, May 9, 2012 at 3:12 AM, Yosem Companys <companys at stanford.edu>wrote:
> Privacy, Moglen, @ioerror, #rp12
> I gave a talk with Jacob Applebaum at last week's Re:publica conference in
> It seems it had fallen to us to break a little bad news. Here it is.
> - We are not progressing from a primitive era of centralized social media
> to an emerging era of decentralized social media, the reverse is happening.
> - Surveillance and control of users is not some sort of unintended
> consequence of social media platforms, it is the reason they exist.
> - Privacy is not simply a consumer choice, it is a matter of power and
> Earlier at Re:publica, Eben Moglen, the brilliant and tireless legal
> council of the Free Software Foundation and founder of the FreedomBox
> Foundation, gave a characteristically excellent speech.
> However, in his enthusiasm, he makes makes a claim that seems very wrong.
> Moglen, claims that Facebook's days as a dominant platform are numbered,
> because we will soon have decentralized social platforms, based on projects
> such as FreedomBox, users will operate their own federated platforms and
> form collective social platforms based on their own hardware, retain
> control of their own data, etc.
> I can understand and share Moglen's enthusiasm for such a vision, however
> this is not the observable history of our communications platforms, not the
> obvious direction they seem to be headed, and there is no clear reason to
> believe this will change.
> The trajectory that Moglen is using has centralized social media as the
> starting point and distributed social media as the place we are moving
> toward. But in actual fact, distributed social media is where we started,
> and centralized platforms are where we have arrived.
> The Internet is a distributed social media platform. The classic internet
> platforms that existed before the commercialization of the web provided all
> the features of modern social media monopolies.
> Platforms like Usenet, Email, IRC and Finger allowed us to do everything
> we do now with Facebook and friends. We could post status updates, share
> pictures, send messages, etc. Yet, these platforms have been more or less
> abandoned. So the question we need to address is not so much how we can
> invent a distributed social platform, but how and why we started from a
> fully distributed social platform and replaced it with centralized social
> media monopolies.
> The answer is quite simple. The early internet was not significantly
> capitalist funded, the change in application topology came along with
> commercialization, and it is a consequence of the business models required
> by capitalist investors to capture profit.
> The business model of social media platforms is surveillance and
> behavioral control. The internet's original protocols and architecture made
> surveillance and behavioral control more difficult. Once capital became the
> dominant source of financing it directed investment toward centralized
> platforms, which are better at providing such surveillance and control, the
> original platforms were starved of financing. The centralized platforms
> grew and the decentralized platforms submerged beneath the rising tides of
> the capitalist web.
> This is nothing new. This was the same business model that capital devised
> for media in general, such as network television. The customer of network
> television is not the viewer, rather the viewer is the product, the
> "audience commodity." The real customer is the advertisers and lobby groups
> that want to control this audience.
> Network Television didn't provide the surveillance part, so advertisers
> needed to employ market research and ratings firms such as Neielson for
> that bit. This was a major advantage of social media, richer data from
> better surveillance allowed for more effective behavioral control than ever
> before possible, using tracking, targeting, machine learning, behavioral
> retargeting, among many techniques made possible by the deep pool of data
> companies like Facebook and Google have available.
> This is not a choice that capitalist made, this is the only way that
> profit-driven organizations can provide a public good like a communication
> platform. Capitalist investors must capture profit or lose their capital.
> If their platforms can not capture profit, they vanish.
> So, if capitalism will not fund free, federated social platforms, what
> will? For Moglen's optimistic trajectory to pan out, this implies that
> funds can come from the public sector, or from volunteers/donators etc? But
> if these sectors where capable of turning the tide on social media
> monopolies, wouldn't they have already done so? After all, the internet
> started out as a decentralized platform, so it's not like they had to play
> catch-up, they had a significant head start. Yet, you could fill many a
> curio case with technologies dreamed up and abandoned because they where
> unable to be sustained without financing.
> Give the continuous march of neoliberal public sector retrenchment, the
> austerity craze and the ever increasing precariousness of most communities,
> it seems unlikely the public or voluntary sectors will be the source of
> such a dramatic turnaround. Given the general tendency of capitalist
> economies toward accumulation and consolidation, such a turnaround seems
> even less likely.
> Thus, there is no real reason to believe Moglen's trajectory will come
> about. The obstacle to decentralized social media is not that it has not
> been invented, but the profit-motive itself. Thus to reverse this
> trajectory back towards decentralization, requires not so much technical
> initiative, but political struggle.
> So long as we maintain the social choice to provision our communication
> systems according to the profit motive, we will only get communications
> platforms that allow for the capture of profit. Free, open systems, that
> neither surveil, nor control, nor exclude, will not be funded, as they do
> not provide the mechanisms required to capture profit.
> Facebook is worth billions precisely because of it's capacity for
> surveillance and control. Same with Google.
> Thus, like the struggle for other public goods, like education, child
> care, and health care, free communication platforms for the masses can only
> come from collective political struggle to achieve such platforms.
> In the meantime, we have many clever and dedicated people contributing to
> inventing alternative platforms, and these platforms can be very important
> and worthwhile for the minority that will ever use them, but we do not have
> the social will nor capacity to bring these platforms to the masses, and
> given the dominance of capital in our society, it's not clear where such
> capacity will come from.
> As surveillance and control is enforced by the powerful interests of
> capital, privacy and autonomy become a question of power and privilege, not
> just consumer choice.
> It's not simply a question of choosing to use certain platforms over
> others, it's not a question of openness and visibility being the new way
> people live in a networked society. Rather it's a fact that our platforms
> are financed for the purpose of watching people and pushing them to behave
> in ways that benefit the operators of the platform and their real
> customers, the advertisers, and the industrial and political lobbies. The
> platform exists to shape society according to the interests of these
> advertisers and lobbies.
> As such, how coercive these platforms are largely depend on the degree to
> which your behaviour is aligned with the platform-operators' profit-driven
> objectives, and thus privacy and autonomy is not just a feature any given
> platforms my or may not offer, but determine the possibility of resistance,
> determine our ability to work against powerful interests' efforts to shape
> society in ways we disagree with. As Jake said at our talk "We can't have
> post-privacy until we are post-privilege"
> Eliminating privilege is a political struggle, not a technical one.
> I'll be at Stammtisch as usual around 9pm, please come by, anybody still
> hanging around after #rp12 is more than welcome to join us. You can find us
> here: http://bit.ly/buchhandlung
> A sharable version of this text can be found here:
> Dmytri Kleiner
> Venture Communist
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