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I think a better title would be ‘“There isn’t time. By 2025 it will all be over. – Eben Moglen’.

I haven’t watched the linked video yet. I saw Moglen speak a couple times at LibrePlanet in Boston. He’s an powerful orator and sadly I believe that his forecast is generally correct.

I’ve seen people criticize his warnings as unrealistic. I disagree… It appears to me that we do actually live in a hard scifi world. Aggregates really are more powerful than individuals. Nothing in physics guarantees us a noble future–we’ll have to make it for ourselves, and that’s simply not the trajectory we are currently on.

The criticism I have for him is that he tends to look at his own pet project, the FreedomBox, as a solution for more than one problem. He’s not wrong, but he’s unnecessarily specific. If you perform s/FreedomBox/FreedomBox-like/g on his speeches, my criticism would evaporate. (It’s supposed to be a badass multipurpose cyberpunk router; it’ll only work if it is widely deployed.)

As for his recommendation to start barricading the doors to our minds, now… Serious question: are you personally doing anything in that direction? I personally am merely bugging my non-techie friends about impending doom (so far, nobody has offered to drop everything!). The ones that agree point out that the same thing has been happening in every sphere except computers since before they were born.


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    Several things are visibly coming to a meaningful political head: encroachment of police powers in the West, surveillance tech, climate change, and ISIS-esque groups.

    I do not expect the status quo to remain stable in the face of these significant challenges.

    It’s pertinent to look at early adoption of police; the fears of those people who argued against police force have come to pass. Same for the anti-federalist in the US.

    Now, the question is: how to execute meaningful political change. It does no good to wave signs and sign petitions. This has been obviously broken since Iraq War protestors failed to do anything but be a sad joke. Those are not effective except as the Crowd which a political broker can refer to as the “or else” in a negotiation with another power broker.

    Power is a zero sum game: what moves can be performed by Joe Random Hacker? :-)

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      I’m not sure that power is strictly or merely a zero sum game.

      Suppose two hackers, one armed with a bow and arrow; they are otherwise equal. If the unarmed hacker gains armor, she’s now safe from arrows, but didn’t gain any ability to harm the other.

      I think that is called a stalemate. It’s neither winning, nor losing. (A marketer might call it ‘balance’ rather than stalemate…)

      This is a good time to mention that I am loathe to see an individual triumph over an aggregate just as much as vice versa. Aggregates tend do some amazing things, and organisms are actually aggregates anyway, just on a different scale.

      To maintain flux, or balance, Joe Hacker should gain some abilities:

      • Send messages to whatever individual he likes, only the intended recipient can read them.
      • Read/watch/consume publicly available information without anyone knowing what he read.

      The first one offers tremendous power and if the other guy has it too, you always have to worry that he’ll suddenly spring a trap on you. Hm… If the other guy is a corporation and you are just a person… I think that’s hardly balance.

      You’d have to ally with other people just to maintain balance. Then what are you?

      This is hard. :) I know there’s a huge body of prior art on the topic… But, I haven’t read any of it.

      To bring it back to the tech thing: the problems individuals are facing over the next decade are not abstract or philosophical.

      There are real organizations today that see tech as a means to profound power over individuals. There are real people today that think owning a bunch of slaves is a great idea and they are trying to do so. There are real developers today who are building the tools to make it possible. There are real companies that are designed as self-optimization engines targeted at profit–the original designers of the engine are long gone. There are real governments that are actually corrupt. There are real people that are vulnerable to manipulation–primarily through addiction and weariness, I’d suppose.

      What is Joe Random Hacker to do?

      …So like, the people that make up these organizations are each physically somewhere, right now. Joe Hacker could go ask them nicely to knock it off? I feel as if this idea has some flaws. Many or all of those flaws disappear if ‘everyone’ asks nicely, but the ability to get everyone to do anything was like the FIRST thing organizations stripped from individuals.

      Is anyone aware of a way to get everyone to do something? It might be important.

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      I am a little confused about what will be over. In ten years, it will literally be illegal to go camping in the woods without checking Facebook? Or what?

      I’m not comfortable with these comparisons to the totalitarian regimes of the 20th century because, yes, you can opt out. You are not packed in a train and sent to the gulag. Are the people who brag about deleting their Facebook account secretly living in fear?

      I am thoroughly disappointed in the trajectory of the web, but I don’t think a magic dark router is going to fix much. I would very much prefer to write my own user agent, so that I can have some control over what happens when I visit a web site, but that has become insanely difficult with the accelerated pace of web evolution.

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        Consider http://graphics.wsj.com/blue-feed-red-feed/ . But with everything, all the time.

        See, it’s not about prohibiting you from going camping, it’s about changing your mind. If the country* that you were raised in had invested significant resources in teaching you that the country is great and all the other countries are bad, you may very well believe it. Likewise if you’d been raised to believe that some category of people within your country are responsible for every problem or discomfort your experience…

        But, those are the old ways of manipulation. Today we face interactive, addictive media. Can you imagine what 1960s China would have been like if Twitter had been around? “Flashmob” takes on new meaning…

        The global communication network is POWER. Imagine 911 emergency services in (a happy) 2025. Grandma falls down, calls 911, and 911 tweets at her neighbors. Help arrives in seconds. …Or, pessimistically, somebody finds your banned books and it only takes seconds for the authorities to tweet #treason 123 Your Street.

        Gah, I’m thinking of this in 2016 terms… Lemme try again…

        Imagine that the vast majority of people interact with the world primarily through a information network which is not designed with their best interest in mind. A world where subway cars full of strangers starting to chuckle simultaneously is commonplace. A world where every experience is a shared experience. (There’s nothing strange today about the audience in a movie theater starting to chuckle simultaneously…) If I ran a mad, sensory world like that… I’d find it easy to crush enemies (or people that like to camp, or competitors). After identifying a target, I’d simply scan/paste bits and pieces of their appearance and mannerisms onto the villains in every procedurally generated movie (or Vine) that is playing at the moment. I’d use a script. And another script to set the tone of comment feeds towards vigilantism… Or hell, simply generate video of the target eating a baby.

        And that’s why https://www.usenix.org/sites/default/files/code_of_ethics_diploma_english.pdf . Great power demands great responsibility. But, Facebook hasn’t signed that. The government of Paraguay** hasn’t signed that. “Anonymous” (read: TLAs) haven’t signed that.

        Gawd, think gov’t* controlled snapchat***. This is why Moglen uses the word ‘hive’. Even if you can opt out of that, if most people opt in, you’re going to be lonely!

        Anyway, this rant is long and probably doesn’t fit the culture on this site. Cheers.

        * Or corporation.

        ** Name drawn from hat.

        *** You know it’s a multimedia word game where you ‘win’ by maintaining a stream-of-consciousness flow with a group of people, right?

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          I bet facebook (or MTV) would love to correlate heart rate with items in your feed.

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            Thanks for some more examples, but how will moglen save us? If somebody tweets #treason street, will Tor prevent that from being read? Will Diaspora prevent it from circulating?

            Or, ok, my face shows up on the baby eater. How do I prevent that? I can recognize that this is bad, and it makes a kind of compelling case that privacy is important, but am I supposed to wear a mask? The solutions, as I understand them, don’t seem to really address the problem.

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              I agree. I don’t know.

              Wait, is the proposal that we brace for the storm, rather than prevent it? What does the word barricade mean in his speech?

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                I’ve made this point before, but yeah, I think we should prepare for the future instead of running from it. Look at how we react to privacy breaches like netflix history or the okcupid profiles. “Somebody might find out you’re gay!” I think it’s unfortunate that this attitude reinforces the notion that there is something shameful about being gay, that it needs to be hidden. I have very little faith that even onion routed darknet torrents will prevent your movie preferences from leaking out. We should recognize that in the future, people will know who’s gay, so we should work to make a society where that’s ok. (This has been a long running debate, pre internet even, and I certainly don’t think it’s anybody’s business, but the inevitable future is coming.)

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                  I mean, I would love to live in that world and we should work towards it. In the world we’re in right now, something like 20% of homeless teenagers are so because of their sexuality (I didn’t read this report too thoroughly but it seems to have data on that). I think it is important to recognize that real harm results from this sort of disclosure and that a lot of people’s survival depends on fighting the tide of information leakage. I don’t claim to be able to predict the future, but I’m not going to give up on privacy in the present.

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                    I also don’t really see that going away in the near future. It impacts hiring as well. Companies can discriminate in hiring based on things that aren’t specifically banned, and increasingly do search the internet for such information. One hope is that if there’s widespread information leakage, companies will have more trouble doing it because they’ll end up disqualifying everyone. But I think that’ll only make it difficult to discriminate based on stigmatized characteristics that are shared by many people; e.g. it might be hard to refuse to hire people who have a compromising drunk college photo on the internet, because too large a proportion of your potential hires do. But there are plenty of stigmatized things that only a small proportion of the population would fit into, and there’s no real reason, imo, to think that companies will stop discriminating based on those.

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                      Sure, but it’s important to identify why they’re homeless. Because they checked the wrong box on their facebook profile? I think there’s a disconnect between what’s really happening and the technological scapegoats we blame. How many of those teenagers would still be welcome at home if they had used Diaspora via Tor?

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                        Sometimes. Getting outed by technology is a real thing, and over-enthusiastic social platforms are one of the common mechanisms. Another common one is “my parents found my account that I thought was anonymous”, and you’re right that technology is mostly not to blame there… Sometimes that discovery happens, not by accident, but because of spyware, and technology is to blame for that in a different way.

                        I agree that onion routing is irrelevant to any of those threat models. I’m not saying I find this article to be nuanced or well-written, because it’s not; it’s incendiary. I wish there were more people writing about this stuff from the perspective of how we can address it practically, and fewer predicting the apocalypse.

                        Edit: I’m sure, on a reread, that you were trying to say “because parents can be bigoted in ways that hurt their own children, and society has no protection against this and would often consider it acceptable anyway”. I think that kind of social change can happen, maybe, but it will necessarily be much, much slower than the loss of privacy that exacerbates the need for it. In my previous remark, I was trying to say that we need to pursue both issues at once.

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                          For many people, including myself, privacy violations are inconvenient. For others, they are unsafe. But we rarely distinguish. “People can die. Also, I dislike ads.” I’m mostly worried about the failure modes. What happens to me when Twitter finds out I like Veronica Mars is not what happens when Twitter finds out Alexandra’s birth certificate says Alexander.

                          We tell Alexandra to use these tools and follow those protocols, but then when they fail, we say nothing’s perfect. I don’t know if that’s helpful. But I benefit from not being in such situations; it’s easier to be objective to a fault. As always, I appreciate your viewpoint.

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                            Yeah, there is a distinction and it’s an important one. Your perspective here was also one I needed a reminder of, and thank you.

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                      We should recognize that in the future, people will know who’s gay, so we should work to make a society where that’s ok.

                      I agree with this so much.

                      I like the Law of Cardamom—partly because it is even less wordy than the MIT and BSD licences, and can easily be memorised—but not sure how robust it would be in practice…