Category Archives: Capitalism

Ambient Privacy?

photo of surprised child

This new Orwellian phrase is being used without irony by tech writers. Privacy, by itself, isn’t coherent to those who want to embrace “ambient privacy.” Matthew Green recommends we all read this. Its author compares the privacy problem to those facing environmentalists decades ago. One upshot of the analogy is a confirmation that individual action to promote and to protect privacy is futile.

None of these harms could have been fixed by telling people to vote with their wallet, or carefully review the environmental policies of every company they gave their business to, or to stop using the technologies in question. It took coordinated, and sometimes highly technical, regulation across jurisdictional boundaries to fix them.


What to Expect on the Interwebs

According to Mary Meeker:

The internet will become more of a cesspool.

You Can’t Fix Privacy

In the same way that fixing the oceans is not possible via individual consumer choices, e.g., choosing the “sustainable” fish at the supermarket, the problems of privacy are as large as capitalism, meaning a solution would require forces far beyond an individual’s choices. Joanna Stern gives some of the details surrounding the difficulties a person will encounter while trying to achieve technological privacy. Again, it’s about money and how your data can be converted into profit.

Screenshot of Wall Street Journal Video about Privacy

And Then There’s Posthumous Privacy

photo of James Ensor's "Skeletons Warming Themselves"You could make these things up, but who would believe it? Elaine Kasket (was she destined to deal with the dead?) discusses the internet traffic of the dead in the latest Times Literary Supplement:

Social media companies are profit-making machines that connect living individuals, sell them things, and monetize their data. They are not charities, public health organizations, non-profit cemeteries or professional grief counsellors. In life we deliver an enormous amount of personal data into their hands, not realizing that at the point of original sign-up we are also appointing them to manage our data after we die as they see fit, a role for which they would seem to lack appropriate qualifications. Sir Tim Berners-Lee, aghast at what has been wrought with his creation, pleads that we urgently need to decentralize the World Wide Web and regain control of our personal information. The fact that big tech’s ownership of this information – which might include some of our most precious memories – continues unabated after we’re dead seems as powerful a reason as any to agree with him.

Recently Facebook has leavened its paternalism with autonomy, by granting heightened powers to “legacy contacts”. This unshoulders much of their own burden to deal with special requests, which is probably a relief because they have a lot of dead people and untold numbers of mourners to consider. If Facebook’s fortunes persist, they may find themselves hosting nearly 5 billion dead profiles by the end of the century.

What if We Call Privacy “Shelter”?

photo of see-through bathroom

It’s difficult to understand why more people haven’t left Facebook, especially when you read items like the one below. As Edward Snowden said: “Arguing that you don’t care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say.”

screenshot of privacy quotation from Twitter



Quotation of the Day

The Sydney Morning Herald has an article that attempts to explain why we are awash in blowhards, lies, deceptions, incompetence, and corruption.

It’s vital to remember that in most instances of what looks like bone-headed idiocy, poor or deceptive conduct or even, self-deception, someone somewhere is actually making money.

graphic of narcissism for beginners

A Procedural Virus Brings Higher Education Low

As a former administrator at several institutions of higher education, I experienced the reluctance of other administrators to do the human thing. When a crisis hits, administrators are taught to stop and call the lawyers. Doing the legal thing is not always the human thing, nor the right thing. It is the thing that will most likely save your job, and it allows the administrator to pass off a sticky situation to someone else.

image of Brueghel's Village Lawyer

The Village Lawyer by Pieter Brueghel the Younger

Thus, it isn’t surprising to read what happened at the University of Maryland. The people in charge of the university “follow policies,” “consult” with experts, hire people to confirm the viewpoint they will use as protection. “Following policies and procedures” is a euphemism, in many instances, for covering one’s tracks. University presidents and boards hate bad publicity. They can afford luxurious rugs under which they can sweep mountains. Remember that, if you plan on sending your children to a college or university. There’s a reason the university lawyers are hired by the president, and usually have offices in the same building (usually one of the best, well-maintained, and non-moldy buildings on campus) as the top officials at the institution. The lawyers learn quickly what the president and the board members want, and, if they plan to keep their jobs, they advise accordingly. A lawyer’s self-interest will frequently factor into the decision. The lawyers craft those policies and procedures designed to limit the university’s liability.

The details in the University of Maryland case are exemplary of the reactionary behaviors anyone in the U.S. could expect from most administrators.

[T]he university waited 18 days to tell the community after learning the virus was present on campus. Officials discussed — but decided against — notifying students with compromised immune systems and residents living in Elkton Hall, according to records reviewed by “The Washington Post.”

As the days passed, more and more students fell ill.

Many parents and students have denounced the administration’s handling of the viral outbreak and the mold infestation, complaining its actions endangered thousands of students, faculty and staff on campus. In the end, more than 40 students were sickened with adenovirus, and 15 of them treated at hospitals, according to the university.

Here’s the response from the people in charge.

[U]niversity officials defended their actions, saying they hired a remediation company to remove the mold in September and provided guidance to students on how to prevent the spread of viruses. They said they went beyond what was legally required to address the adenovirus outbreak and public health officials advised that it was not necessary to inform the public about the virus. In April, the college hired two outside doctors to review the school’s response. They found the university followed policies and procedures.

One problem with this response is that it looks like no one followed up on the “remediation” company to test whether the mold problem improved, because there’s no federal or state law, i.e., policy or procedure, dictating that companies produce evidence that the problem has been fixed, or at least improved. What parents and students think would be logical steps toward a solution are sidestepped and justified under the umbrella that someone did what the law requires. In other words, in higher education the lowest level solution is the one most frequently chosen, lowest in terms of finances, time, and thoughtfulness.