Paranoia?

I have just read an article by Cory Doctorow about the privacy concerns of teenagers and the savvy ways they are learning to maintain their privacy on the internet. I know Cory, and respect the depth of his knowledge and insight into the consequences of our online lives. I also know how to set up a VPN and to use a Tor browser but do I really want to?

At risk of appearing naive, what are we all so afraid of? Who are we afraid of? Future employers, the government, sexual predators? What sort of world will we end up with if we stay afraid? Isn’t it better to be brave and say what we think, open up to connections, and face up to the challenges that doing so represents? If our institutions are broken we need to fix them rather than hide from them. If we don’t trust corporations we should regulate their activities – or stop using their products. Is hiding really the answer?

Next week I am giving a talk in Woodbridge School in Suffolk. I was asked to do it to counterbalance parental and school attitudes driven by media fuelled fear of the internet. I am going to be touching on the issues mentioned in this post. Should be fun!

3 thoughts on “Paranoia?

  1. "If our institutions are broken we need to fix them rather than hide from them". That’s it – that says it all really. Well said that man!

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  2. Unfortunately I think you have misunderstood Cory’s message and are mixing up two issues. On the one hand you have parental concern/hysteria about what kids will do online and on the other basic privacy rights that are being eroded by governments, telecommunications companies, and digital service providers.

    For the former I have no doubt that you have already read Danah Boyd’s excellent book, "It’s Complicated" (http://www.danah.org/itscomplicated/). The key takeaway from it is that it is all about trust, parents trusting kids and kids trusting parents and Internet technology is just one manifestation of that issue. That is a message I am sure resonates with you.

    But the second issue, which is also about trust, is the one that Cory is dealing with in his letter; namely the breakdown of trust between citizens and the both the state and the corporate world. Your "what do we have to hide" stance is genuinely naive. Read Moxie Marlinspike’s "We Should All Have Something to Hide" (http://www.thoughtcrime.org/blog/we-should-all-have-something-to-hide/). He does a better job than I can of explaining why we all need the freedom to have heretical conversations without fearing that they will be used against us at some point in the future. The simple fear of that chills free speech.

    Also, Cory is not arguing against regulation. Governments need oversight and large corporations need regulation. However, the problem is bigger than that and the way we use technology can be part of the answer too. Encrypting Internet traffic is not hiding, it is rather taking temptation away from those who might give in to the urge to invade our privacy.

    The way to think about privacy is as an ecosystemic problem. Think of the environmental movement in the 1970s. It needed good government regulation but it also needed concerned citizens acting to separate their refuse, start local recycling campaigns, etc. Cory’s message is that young people can and should be part of this important reform.

    Generally I enjoy and find myself in sync with what you write and that is partly what pushed me to comment as this particular post hit a jarring wrong note me.

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    1. Hi Steve

      thanks for this comment. I don’t think we disagree as much as my post, or your comment, might suggest. There has been a great conversation on Facebook after my equivalent post there (yes I am aware of the irony of that taking place in a closed, corporate platform but that’s where the energy is at the moment). If you have time you can find it here:

      https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=10151798126384567&id=503164566

      In that comment thread I said:

      "I am more concerned about influencing the consequences of loss of privacy than the prevention of it. I want to be allowed to think what I think, whether or not I choose to share it, and keeping it secret seems less ideal than fighting for the right to think it at all."

      Which to me seems to chime with your point:

      "we all need the freedom to have heretical conversations without fearing that they will be used against us at some point in the future. The simple fear of that chills free speech"

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