Ethan McCarty

Digital strategy | Social business | People-centric biznology

>Freedom in the cloud

>Not that you have the time to read a the transcript of an hour-long speech, but last night I read through Eben Moglen’s remarks from his February address to the Internet Society’s NY branch.

He walks through some fundamental decisions about how the web would be built that were made early on in the name of consolidating power rather than sharing it and goes on to demonstrate how the business models (such as Google’s and Facebooks) that resulted and prospered are fundamentally bad for human freedom. Here’s a sample:

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.

That’s the sad part, it works.

How could that have happened?

There was no architectural reason, really. There was no architectural reason really. Facebook is the Web with “I keep all the logs, how do you feel about that?” It’s a terrarium for what it feels like to live in a panopticon built out of web parts.

And it shouldn’t be allowed. It comes to that. It shouldn’t be allowed. That’s a very poor way to deliver those services. They are grossly overpriced at “spying all the time”. They are not technically innovative. They depend upon an architecture subject to misuse and the business model that supports them is misuse. There isn’t any other business model for them. This is bad.

I’m not suggesting it should be illegal. It should be obsolete. We’re technologists, we should fix it.


He makes some points about how Microsoft’s vested interest in the client/server model as opposed to peer-network model laid the groundwork for all this — very interesting to me. It sort of makes me want to just unplug myself from the social web, but I think it’s far too late for that. Even if you don’t tell Google your social security number, he points out, they know it anyway because you are the only one who hasn’t. It’s the mosaic effect for everyone and everything in a panopticon world.

He suggests a technology-based fix at the end that I think is mostly wishful thinking. I don’t Pandora is going back into the box — even if the box runs open source software and has pretty good security. The potential for freedom in the cloud is not going to come down to a technical fix — it’s going to have to get a whole lot worse before people get wise about managing their identity and privacy on the web. The market desire is so strong for php baubles and free web hosting that there’s gotta be some real pain before anything changes…and it will change when there’s a product that meets the needs of the collective lizard brain recoiling from it.

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