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[liberationtech] Privacy, Moglen, @ioerror, #rp12

Markus Sabadello markus.sabadello at
Fri May 11 18:32:39 PDT 2012

Hello Dmitry,

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
way round.

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
for business.
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.
See here<>and
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:
Personal Data Ecosystem Consortium:

On Wed, May 9, 2012 at 3:12 AM, Yosem Companys <companys at>wrote:

> Privacy, Moglen, @ioerror, #rp12
> I gave a talk with Jacob Applebaum at last week's Re:publica conference in
> Berlin.
> 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
> privilege.
> 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"
> http://www.****ioerror-rp12/<>
> 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:
> A sharable version of this text can be found here:
> --
> Dmytri Kleiner
> Venture Communist
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