Two reading assignments

I submit to your interest two speeches that challenge acceptance of status quos by which our collective frogs are slowly boiling.

First is Freedom in the Cloud, by , given at the Internet Society in New York on 5 February.

Second  is Making Sense of Privacy and Publicity, by . Given on 13 March at SXSW. One teaser quote:

A teaser quote from Eben:

…in effect, we lost the ability to use either legal regulation or anything about the physical architecture of the network to interfere with the process of falling away from innocence that was now inevitable in the stage I’m talking about, what we might call late Google stage 1.

It is here, of course, that Mr. Zuckerberg enters.

The human race has susceptibility to harm but Mr. Zuckerberg has attained an unenviable record: he has done more harm to the human race than anybody else his age.

Because he harnessed Friday night. That is, everybody needs to get laid and he turned it into a structure for degenerating the integrity of human personality and he has to a remarkable extent succeeded with a very poor deal. Namely, “I will give you free web hosting and some PHP doodads and you get spying for free all the time”. And it works.

A teaser quote from Danah:

It’s easy to think that “public” and “private” are binaries. We certainly build a lot of technology with this assumption. At best, we break out of this with access-control lists where we list specific people who some piece of content should be available to. And at best, we expand our notion of “private” to include everything that is not “public.” But this binary logic isn’t good enough for understanding what people mean when they talk about privacy. What people experience when they talk about privacy is more complicated than what can be instantiated in a byte.

To get at this, let’s talk about how people experience public and private in unmediated situations. Because it’s not so binary there either.

First, think about a conversation that you may have with a close friend. You may think about that conversation as private, but there is nothing stopping your friend from telling someone else what was said, except for your trust in your friend. You actually learned to trust your friend, presumably through experience.

Learning who to trust is actually quite hard. Anyone who has middle school-aged kids knows that there’s inevitably a point in time when someone says something that they shouldn’t have and tears are shed. It’s hard to learn to really know for sure that someone will keep their word. But we don’t choose not to tell people things simply because they could spill the beans. We do our best to assess the situation and act accordingly.

We don’t just hold people accountable for helping us maintain privacy; we also hold the architecture around us accountable. We look around a specific place and decide whether or not we trust the space to allow us to speak freely to the people there.

They’re talking about different things, but they overlap. They both have to do with a loss of control, and both set out agenda for those who care. Curious to know what ya’ll think.

14 comments

  1. Mike Warot’s avatar

    I’d like to add a third area of control we’ve lost over time. We don’t control our own computers. Like the public/private choices, we have a choice to run code on our machine, or not… we are then forced to trust it will have an acceptable outcome.

    Unfortunately, the architecture we’ve all settled for doesn’t permit any finer grain control than that. It’s like handing the car keys to the valet, you trust that their employer has chosen well, as you trust that the programmer has coded well.

    It’s not until we get some finer grain control over our choices that we can really start to trust computers again with the same freedoms we had back in the early days. Back then, the damage was that you’d have to reboot your write protected boot disk, so it wasn’t a big deal. The risks was limited to a minute or so of time if the worst case happened.

    Now if you run the wrong code, you can end up losing money, time and freedom to an untold extent. Do you really have freedom to try things at this point?

  2. Mike Warot’s avatar

    Having now seen the entirety of the video of Eben’s speech, it occurs to me that the stakes of getting security right are even higher.

    He wants us to build a box that can replace the pieces of the silos we currently use. He wants to do this to preserve freedom. I think this is a great idea, but this means we really have to chose the right security model.

    It has to be extremely transparent in it’s choices, and very safe to use in its defaults. Any security breaches will harm adoption of it far out of proportion than the freedoms it brings to the user.

    I will watch to see what develops, and actively try to push to make sure cabsec is a part of the design. It’s only through more fine grained choices about who gets what that this hypothetical box really offers anything new.

  3. Steve Ersinghaus’s avatar

    Moglen’s dis-empowerment thesis is interesting, Doc. But I’m not necessarily buying it in the context of control, unless a fabric like Facebook takes a little better shape as a social network. Mike’s notion of transparency above is an okay idea. We have to go back an consider a broader set of context for the public and the private, as we have very little understanding of these concepts outside our own experience. Just the other day I passed a person screaming on a cell, opening 1/2 of the private to the public sphere, which is the realm of ears in contact with waves. It’s interesting: when people enter a password into twitter, what do they think the password becomes as an object as it is shared?

  4. Tim Cullen’s avatar

    I’d like to build on what Mike said above. For a long time I have thought it weird that the functions that facebook performs can’t really just be distributed so that the intelligence is all at the peers. We’re coming close–the tools are almost all in place for us to form a distributed, loosely coupled alternative:

    Always on internet connections
    (Mostly) always on computers (think home wifi access points–there’s more than enough computing power in those to power a personal facebook stack)
    distributed authentication: openID, OAuth
    Rich (enough) data formats: XML, html 5, etc.
    Intelligent push/polling/pub-sub: Pubsubhubup and RSSCloud
    dynamic DNS resolution

    All that’s really needed is a protocol that glues these all together that arranges the identification, authorization, peering (friending), and publishing mechanisms and formats. And then an easy to install and use implementation.

    Not that any of it is trivial, but most of the building blocks are there. I’d love to never have to use facebook/twitter/flickr ever again, but yet be able to publish and connect as easily as I do with them today.

  5. Gil Reich’s avatar

    “Mr. Zuckerberg … has done more harm to the human race than anybody else his age.” Really? More than rapists, serial murderers, drunk drivers, suicide bombers, etc.? I don’t use Facebook to get laid, I use it to find old friends and keep in touch with new ones. Maybe I should be thankful that Moglen is trying to save us all from a threat that people like me are too stupid even to fear. It’s a good discussion to have, and I’m glad your site provides thoughts on it. My views on the issue are here http://managinggreatness.com/2010/01/15/on-the-internet-everyone-knows-youre-a-dog/. But the level of hyperbole Moglen reaches IMO makes rational discussion more difficult.

  6. Dave Taht’s avatar

    I twigged to what eben is talking about years ago. For the past three years I’ve been working on solving the software problems involved, and I do hope that the wall-wart boxes like the sheevaplug start moving the social networking away from the center and more towards the edges, and inside your home, where it belongs.

    Some of my work on this is published, the tag for it is:

    http://the-edge.blogspot.com/search/label/pocobelle

    But it’s a lonely process, there’s no room for VCs, or IPOS, or governments, and than means that privacy advocates progress slowly, and sometimes get subverted by the cloud, as that last entry in that series indicates.

    People will hopefully grow to hate the cloud, but the only way, technically, to make it feasible – and to spread the Net to the remaining 5/6s of humanity is wide-spread adoption of IPv6, and that too, is progressing slowly.

    Hopefully speeches such as Eben’s will serve as a wakeup call.

  7. Dave Taht’s avatar

    Correction to the last paragraph:

    People will hopefully grow to hate the cloud, but the only way, technically, to make *escaping it* feasible – and to spread the Net to the remaining 5/6s of humanity is wide-spread adoption of IPv6, and that too, is progressing slowly.

  8. Mike Warot’s avatar

    Causing a generation to stop building their own sites, and to use his bits of php magic, thus consolidating all of the logs into one easy to censor place is a bit of magic the NSA and CIA must just love to bits.

    It’s possible that Moglen is actually right on this count, but I’d say he was just being dramatic to get the audience’s attention.

  9. Jacek’s avatar

    Very interesting speeches. First what came to my mind was example of flood. Flood sometimes, somewhere is happened. Water level is high, houses, roads, bridges close to the river are destroyed. People are loosing many things, sometimes their life. After such disaster there is always a lot of complains: we do not spend enough for anti flood infrastructure, local government is not aware, insurance offerings are not suitable, warning system does not work well. Sometimes I heard scientist who stated that river is flowing all the time, day and night, for million years and probably does not care about humans, their investments, local governments, etc. He said, that only effective way to be safe against flood is to not build anything in areas where probability of flood is high. When somebody decides to live close potentially dangerous water should learn from Dutch people. Holland for many years was country of very good farmers. Small country, each piece of land were priceless. Instead of conquering other countries Dutch people decided to get some land from the sea. They started to build sophisticated anti flood infrastructure and maintenance of it become important part of their life and hard work. They decided to live with this risk and accepted it.

    From this perspective the most interesting quotation from speeches is following:

    “Fundamentally, privacy is about having control over how information flows. It’s about being able to understand the social setting in order to behave appropriately. To do so, people must trust their interpretation of the context, including the people in the room and the architecture that defines the setting. When they feel as though control has been taken away from them or when they lack the control they need to do the right thing, they scream privacy foul.”

    Is information flow control reality or rather it is our based of good feeling perception? Maybe instead of declaration “privacy is dead” it is better to realize how our perception of privacy is changing because of Internet?

  10. Stephen Hamilton’s avatar

    It is incredibly difficult, perhaps even impossible, accurately state how history will portray events as they’re still unfolding.

    I haven’t had time yet to read any more than the teasers included above, but I already often remark, with an increasing degree of seriousness, that Facebook is the devil.

  11. Brett Glass’s avatar

    Eben Moglen likes to demonize things — hence his involvement with the FSF, which demonizes (of all things!) programmers who profit from doing good and innovative work. His speech is full of venom and spite. Boyd, on the other hand, has some interesting ideas regarding expectations of privacy.

  12. Stephen Hamilton’s avatar

    I’ve finally read both…pretty intriguing stuff. I wish I was more technically able to help with Eben’s vision, but I’m at least thinking about them, and will be talking about them too. I guess that is important too.

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