Freedom, Independence and Data

JeffersonDependence begets subservience and venality, suffocates the germ of virtue, and prepares fit tools for the designs of ambition. — Thomas Jefferson


Near the start of his Institutional Corruption talk the other day, Larry Lessig sourced the quote above, from Thomas Jefferson. Larry was making a point: that the Framers were interested in personal independence, and not just that of a former colony. The Framers operated, however, in advance of the Industrial Revolution, which was won by Industry and lost by the rest of us — or at least by some of the roles we play in the marketplace.

Such as our roles as customers. While being customers gives us choices among products and services, many of the companies behind those products and services make us dependent on them, in ways we would not prefer if we had a choice. For a measure of how little choice we have, ask yourself how many times you’ve clicked “accept” to “Terms of Service” that typically give all advantages to the seller. Or look the number of cookies stored in your browser.

Well, the tide is turning. We’re finally starting to see a few tools that give users control over how data is collected and used. We’re working on some of those in the VRM community. And they’re a subject of discussion at


at 9:30am on Tuesday, at Harvard Law School, starting with the panel in the title graphic above. You can register here. Even if you show up only for the panel, it’ll help us know how many will be there.

There’s lots more about it at Civilizing the Personal Data Frontier, over at the ProjectVRM blog. Hope to see you there.

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  1. Russell Nelson’s avatar

    Argh! I would have loved to be there, but I’ll be in Beacon, NY pulling this:
    out of the Hudson before our permit expires.

  2. Mike Warot’s avatar

    Doc, I have an idea which might fit into VRM view of the world, it’s still vague and needs a bit of refinement, but the basic idea is to build an agent to handle downloads for us, and provide the appropriate tokens of information (contact info, etc) in trade, if desired by whomever is the provider of the download. This would make it possible to avoid the clumsy oft repeated download basket system each and every web site with lots of files has to deal with, and would also allow some filtering, security checks, social ratings, etc.. of each and every download.

    I’ve written it up on my blog as well, but those are more variations of this vague not quite crystallized idea.


  3. Doc Searls’s avatar

    We’ll miss you, Russ. But feel free to weigh in any way (and any time) you can.

    Mike, if you can join via the IRC and #vrm) and let us know the addresses of any work you’re doing along these lines. Glad to have it.

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