Some years ago, when Facebook “only” had 356M users, I remember Marc Zuckerberg saying:
“… changing the privacy options of 356M users overnight, that’s not something everybody would do. Well, we decided to do it, and to decide what are the social norms.”
But who decides those social norms?
In my opinion it’s not normal or desirable that we leave those decisions to powerhouses with commercial interests like Facebook, Google, or any other “siren servers” like your health insurance company, your bank, your retailer, or even your government. These norms should be given back to the commons, with equal rights, obligation and benefits for all parties in the data-ecosystem, from providers of services and products, to data-intermediaries, and including the end-users.
“Siren servers” was a term coined by Jaron Lanier in his seminal book “Who owns the Future?” It reminded me of the master-slave relationship spelled out by Doc Searls, the godfather of VRM (Vender Relationship Management). With VRM users get the tools to decide what data they want to share with whom in what particular transaction context. In other words, the opposite of CRM, where the goal of the product/service provider is to collect as much as possible information/data about the customer in order to be able to “shoot” as good as possible products, services, and ads to the “target” “consumer”. This is a language of war. This is a language of slavery.
To put things into perspective, I recommend all of you to watch the fantastic BBC video series “The Century of the Self” by Adam Curtis. It’s four hours of video, but if you only watch episode-1, you will get the hang of it.
It’s the story of the invention of PR, or maybe better “propaganda”, as a set of techniques to appeal to the immediate satisfaction of the conscious and unconscious needs of the “target” audience, who is deemed not smart enough to think for itself, or worse, an attempt to suppress any dissenting voices that may challenge the status quo of those who are in power.
We are not only becoming data slaves of those siren servers, but we are also becoming slaves of their invisible algorithms. That, combined with the recent revelations of mass surveillance by our own governments, leads to a very unhealthy environment with very little privacy and freedom of speech/thought is left, both online and offline.
We are in urgent need of finding a new balance between privacy, transparency, shelter, censorship, propaganda, governance, regulation, oversight, surveillance, co-veillance, sous-veillance, trust and even human intimacy.
To get a good sense of how bad it gets, I strongly recommend Glenn Greenwald’s “No place to hide”, and Cory Doctorow’s “Little Brother”, which was very recently put on the black list of some schools in the US, because the ideas in the book would incentivize young people to revolt and rebel against the power in place, against the accepted social norms.
Or listen to Bruce Schneier in this TEDxCambrigde talk on “Trust in Networks”, where he explains how we have put our trust in “Feudal Lords”, who are betraying our trust for profit. That feudal model is based on power. The feudal lords have created the utopia/illusion of the Internet: that we have given power to the masses and unpowered the governments.
“It does not work this way”, says Schneier, “on the contrary it magnifies power, because there are huge asymmetries in power, disorganizing the initially more agile groundswell movements, and letting the initially slower institutions catch up quickly through sheer computer power and science, and thus fast becoming more effective than the nimble and quick.”
Feudal lords should get responsibilities as well as rights.
There should be limitations on what vendors can do with our data and public scrutiny on the rules by which we are judged by our data.
More Bruce Schneier thinking in this Atlantic piece from Oct 2013:
“Medieval feudalism was a hierarchical political system, with obligations in both directions. Lords offered protection, and vassals offered service. The lord-peasant relationship was similar, with a much greater power differential. It was a response to a dangerous world. Feudal security consolidates power in the hands of the few.”
Or Kevin Kelly in March 2014 in Wired:
“So our central choice now is whether this surveillance is a secret, one-way panopticon — or a mutual, transparent kind of “coveillance” that involves watching the watchers. The first option is hell, the second redeemable.”
“So while a world of total surveillance seems inevitable, we don’t know if such a mode will nurture a strong sense of self, which is the engine of innovation and creativity — and thus all future progress. How would an individual maintain the boundaries of self when their every thought, utterance, and action is captured, archived, analyzed, and eventually anticipated by others?”
I went back to my history books – these days on Wikipedia – and tried to find out what happened in the medieval era when feudal lords misused their power.
What happens then is revolt and rebellion, what happens then is revolution and take back of control.
In 1215, the Barons and the Servants rebelled against King John, and that revolt led to the signature of the Magna Carta, that was the basis of our current democracy.
I used this metaphor in the first version of my talk “The upcoming revolution of the data slaves” at the Nov 2013 Future Trends event in Los Angeles, echoing Bruce Schneier’s call for the need of a new Magna Carta. And in March 2014, nobody less than Tim Berners Lee himself repeated this need for a new on-line Magna Carta.
But what would be the basis and fundamentals of such Magna Carta? To know, we may want to have a look in one of the fundamental changes happening in full sight, but not getting enough attention.
It was technology and trends researcher Michel Zappa, who really got my attention when he published his work on “The Future of Money”. The key insight was that we are at a tipping point in the transition from centralized to decentralized to fully distributed models, architectures, topologies and the associated shifts in power.
Zappa’s study focused on the impact of this shift on the future of money and the appearance of decentralized currencies like Bitcoin and many other cryptocurrencies. But in my opinion, this shift is not only relevant for virtual currencies, but more importantly leading to a whole new set of technical protocols that enable a fully decentralized sharing of any data between millions – of not trillions – if we think Internet of Things – independent nodes on the grid.
We are evolving towards infrastructure that is owned by the nodes, owned by the commons.
To get a good feel of what’s next, check out the Ethereum Project, with Vitalik Buterin as one of the 20 year old founders. By adding a scripting language on top of the Bitcoin protocol, Ethereum is laying the basis of an lego-brick architecture for financial services based on the shared ledger.
What if we could extend these models to people self-tracking themselves, maintain a ledger and blockchain memory of their life, and letting the next generation issue their own currencies and becoming themselves their “truest source of data”
And once having established this “truest source of data” what mechanisms could we put in place to let the people – the independent nodes – control the sharing of their data, whilst preserving their rights on privacy? And what would privacy mean in such a word?
It depends on whom you ask, because privacy – just like identity – is something highly contextual.
Andrew Keen talks about “the right to have a secret” in Digital Vertigo. John Havens from the Happathon Project talks about “user’s preferences and control of sharing” vs. “looking after the rights of data brokers”
it is not about what we want to hide, but what we want to share
Ann Cavoukian, Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario, explained in her publication “Privacy by design” that privacy is about control, not about keeping secrets. “Privacy does not equal secrecy of personal data, it equates to individual control of one’s data.”
And Cory Doctorow feels that “Privacy doesn’t mean that no one in the world knows about your business. It means that you get to choose who knows about your business.”
I would like to add that “The meaning of the word privacy includes shelter” paraphrasing architect Frank Lloyd Wright “The meaning of the word shelter includes privacy” when reflecting on Philip Johnson’s fully transparent Glass House from 1948.
Just think about this metaphor in the context of today’s mass surveillance revelations and how it would “feel” to live in such hyper-transparent environment.
Like identity, privacy and sharing of data are highly contextual.
Today, people are not really involved in the data collection that is what is wrong. The consent model is broken. We need to re-build trust with our consumers beyond consent at data collection.
I would dare to go further than trust and call for a deep sense of intimacy in our evolution towards a higher ambition for quality in our personal and business relationships. I would like to hope that “Intimacy is the new black”. The data-relationship economy needs to be more human, and needs context of what wealth really means. It is about the deeper self.
Way back, Carl Jung was already making the distinction between the external self and the real self, and how our identity has been instigated by archetypes and mythologies that have formed our species’ mental DNA over many thousands of years. So far, we “only” share some aspects of our external self on Facebook and alike. But don’t touch my archetype, my real self, what really drives me subconsciously, based on this Darwinian evolution of our mental selves.
Jennifer Sertl called this an identity crisis:
“I believe we are all in an identity crisis. A crisis between nature and technology, a crisis between capitalism and collaboration, a crisis between big data and intuition, and finally a crisis between influencer seduction and our own solo voice.”
So where is all this leading us?
Some weeks ago, the moderator of a panel on privacy asked the following question: “How can data be used responsibly and non-intrusively when marketing a product/ Service?” I believe the question is somewhat outdated ;-)
It is not anymore about pushing out and “marketing” (like in propaganda) products and services. I think we are moving from marketing a product/service to users intent-casting their needs. I believe we are evolving towards a new set of Trust Frameworks for peer-to-peer data sharing. I believe that – like already the case in some cryptocurrencies – we will need to provide the users the possibility of a “scaling” their data sharing, controlled and “tuned-on-a-scale” by the user.
In summary, the biggest revolution in my opinion is the advent of peer-to-peer network topologies and business models. We are moving from a centralized to a fully distributed model, with a new type of architecture, a new business model, new governance, and even a new meta-morality, where it is not good enough anymore to do what is legal but to do what is ethically right. We are evolving from a “century of me” towards a “century of we”. (I already reserved the domain http://www.centuryofwe.com and “Century of We” is another upcoming post on this site ;-)
The Century of We
That revolution is coming. In November 2013, my audience was asking “when?” and I answered “in 2014”.
Today, I can be more precise: the privacy revolution starts today on 23 June 2014, when Respect Network will launch globally at the start of their worldwide launch tour in London’s City Hall. It will be my privilege to be one of their guests this evening and one of the keynote speakers at the subsequent event tomorrow 24 June 2014, in my capacity of independent thinker, creator and sensemaker.
The Revolution of the Data Slaves starts today. Join the revolution and co-shape the next Internet with privacy and respect. Own your digital future. Join Respect Network and be one of the first million members to co-own the infrastructure for future privacy.
Take back control.
Disclosure: I decided to put my money where my mouth is, and earlier this year decided to become an (modest) investor in the Series-A funding round of Respect Network.