One of the big questions of todays world is obviously who the owner of your personal data really is.
Privacy advocates have for a long time been fighting the intrusive data retention laws that has been proposed all over the globe. Information about your connections to the networks are stored and being given out already. The threat that might be the biggest one is however not the one of the governments trying to monitor (since they will ultimately fail at that), but rather that the people we set up as keepers of our data being forced to hand over data.
It was just revealed that Twitter is being bullied into handing over data to the US Government about people involved in/with WikiLeaks of different sorts. The data requested is personal information, such as private messages and IP addresses they have used, and essentially all other data that might be available.
This of course raises a lot of concerns – the US government is forcing a US company to give out personal data about citizens of other nations – for instance Birgitta Jónsdóttir, who also happens to be a member of the Icelandic Parliament. In the non-digital world this would not be acceptable obviously. Even if the conversations Birgitta had is between her and someone on Iceland, it will be handed over if the subpoena is not squashed. The borderless networks are only borderless in use, not in physical locations of the servers containing data.
Facebook has probably received similar threats. We have no idea on what the result of that has been – maybe we will see people being denied Visa into the US in the future for being a member of a Bradley Manning support group on Facebook.
The problem is not that we share our information with eachother – it’s that we don’t own it and manage it ourselves. We entrust companies to do this for us, the same companies that run most of the internet. We’ve gone from a decentralised system with multiple communities to a centralised network with few hubs and major communities that enforce their own social values into our social sphere.
People have been deleted from Facebook for having immoral profile pictures. You are not allowed to mention certain words and URLs on Facebook – not even in our own private messages between friends – making us change our own behaviours.
And control is something that’s everywhere. People host their email with Googles Gmail service, their videos on YouTube. Noone gets paid, besides Google with their stock price going up. We’re even creating the worlds, by far, best translation tool with Google Translate, without getting paid. Instead of this wonderful system being owned by us, the public creators, we’re giving away our input and combined intelligence to a listed company on the US stock exchange.
If you watch the top 100 list of websites in the world you will notice one thing – it’s dominated by a few companies and mostly they are from the US. They do not only control the websites on the list, but also many of them are own and control the servers for many other sites and services. The cloud, a popular term in the current internet sphere, is basically mega server parks where you can rent space for your services. The major players here are Amazon and Google. They are also controlling what you can and can not do on their servers and hence this leads to self censorship in order to not violate terms.
And besides these huge US corporations running most of the services and servers of the network, we are entrusting another US entity to run the heart of the internet – the root servers. This is the system that converts a domain name into an IP address where a service can be reached. It’s supervised by ICANN, an US corporation. And the US department of commerce has a veto on what goes into the root zone file, making them in essence able to control the whole infrastructure of the current internets.
This does not stop on just the web. Apple has introduced the “App Store” concept, where you buy your software (and content) from them directly for your Apple devices. That means that developers of software and content need to abide to their terms of services – hence newspapers started selfcensoring their publications in order to be published on Apple devices. And looking into the future, I would not consider it unlikely that if the new Mac App Store, where you can buy software and content for the Mac computers, would be the only legitimate way to get applications in the future for the Mac users. We are being considered to just consume and not participate. We’re being controlled. Our computers will turn into a consumer application instead of a tool for communication, creation and participation.
And we’re just taking it. We can see how wrong it is, but we’re not doing enough to fight back. It’s time to reclaim the networks. We should pressure legislation to protect the ownership of our personal data, even if hosted by social networks and other services. And we should come up with technical solutions, maybe the like of Diaspora, to physically contain the data in our own spheres, so that it can not legally be given away by the service providers. Because today we’re putting our billions of eggs in the same basket.