SMASH YOUR COMPUTER (and GCHQ/Smartphones, Romeo spies redux, Snowden’s new job)

“Letting Google organize all of the world’s information makes as much sense as letting Halliburton organize all of the world’s oil.”

Evgeny Morozov has an insightful (and long as hell) article in the English language section of the FAZ (the NYT of Germany’s “capital city of crime”).

He basically observes what I’ve pointed out before. That, built in to computers on a very basic level, is this irrational, paranoid, twist-you-mentally gotta-collect-it-all logic whose fundamental non-humanism may be the reason for the absurdly weird interactions you sometimes get with the black T-shirt brigade at hacker conferences. (Well, he doesn’t mention the interactions.)

Wonderful case in point: self-driving cars sound neat in principle, until you realize that any practical implementation would be a “shrine to surveillance — on wheels!” I would add, also so full of security holes make-it-look-like-an-accident assassination-by-hacking would become commonplace.

Things he gets wrong: the idea that instead of corporations, major services should be run by governments (i.e as public services). Somebody has not been reading the NSA news, eh?

Also, that advertising is the main driver of this is not correct. Advertising exacerbates the problem and the data mining that’s done in the name of serving still-worthless “targeted ads” is abhorrent… but even in areas with very strong anti-advertiser data protection laws, mass surveillance and gotta-collect-it-all startups are still the norm.

(Cryptome is currently hosting the EU report to the effect that “four out of five Euro spies agree: mass spying is great!” and see [2] for the other.)

Putting the web officially in public control would do nothing, and —
as we saw with one of the Snowden stories — spam makes the spies lives’ harder. (The rest of us just use Adblock Edge. Self-responsibility FTW, sadly not an attitude very popular with the mass-media left.)

Ultimately, the root cause lies not with capitalism but with mindset… this is something Snowden understood implicitly and Nadim Kobessi has pointed out repeatedly in his talks. Mass surveillance cannot be solved with an app, or even releasing Suite A.

What has to change is how people treat their personal data, and by extension how they design systems that work with others’ data.

No more “gotta collect it all.” No more “store it all in one massive database in one centralized server farm in the biggest espiocracy history has ever known.” Resistance to surveillance begins in the minds of the public… or at least that part of the public whose spare mental capacity isn’t totally occupied by conditioned responses and “panem et Kardashian.”

This is, to me, the most brilliant part of the Snowden leaks. They are not one thing that we can mentally bandaid over and forget about because they’re unpleasant. They will keep coming, itching at our minds, poking us and poking us like an irritating little sister until we finally pay attention. And then there will be more Snowdens, more leaks in different areas, poking at the people who by sheer virtue of human human nature saw everything so far as “someone else’s problem.”

(A powerful phenomena, as Douglas Adams observed.)

From a psychological perspective, it’s also worth noting that ANYONE is vulnerable to datagobbler-itis. All power corrupts, and knowledge is supposedly power. So perhaps what’s really at work is the concentration of information getting people punch-drunk like a software pirate with a 20TB array and a gigabit pipe, pulling down millions of dollars’ worth of CAD software he doesn’t know how to use.

It’s one thing to talk about software — there’s not exactly any money lost, since he never was going to buy it anyway — but personal information is a different matter. And even hackers fall victim to that, too.


More on GCHQ & Smartphones… almost missed this one. Two years ago GCHQ was working on “repurposing every mobile phone in the world into a bugging device, merely on the basis of the phone number.”

And, further analysis indicates GCHQ was aiming to compromise the Global Roaming Exchange (GRX) providers that carry the world’s GPRS (smartphone mobile data, sort of) connections. There are only a few dozen GRX providers in the world, so it’s not that hard.

Speaking of Romeo spies and honey traps: a new study shows that while in love, people are less able to discriminate irrelevant from relevant information, and less able to focus. (Markus Wolf’s innovation* with the Romeo spies was going for a long-term relationship. Now think of what it would take on a personal and emotional level to actually do that.)

* Though it’s possible the West was using these tactics as a matter of course before, we never hear about the West. Agee, a former CIA man who defected to the press, observed that the West was far more aggressive in its espionage than the East!

Snowden’s new job is as a sysadmin, not a tech support drone.–Russian-lawyer.html

“Earlier this year, a tiny scratch appeared on the rhetorical Teflon of Silicon Valley. The Snowden affair helped – but so did other events. The world seems to have finally realized that “disruption” – the favorite word of the digital elites –describes a rather ugly, painful phenomenon.[…]

Wouldn’t it be nice if one day, told that Google’s mission is to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful,” we would finally read between the lines and discover its true meaning: “to monetize all of the world’s information and make it universally inaccessible and profitable”? With this act of subversive interpretation, we might eventually hit upon the greatest emancipatory insight of all: Letting Google organize all of the world’s information makes as much sense as letting Halliburton organize all of the world’s oil.[…]

When food activists go after Big Food and accuse those companies of adding too much salt and fat to their snacks to make us crave even more of them, no one dares accuse these activists of being anti-science. Yet, a critique of Facebook or Twitter along similar lines – for example, that they have designed their services to play up our anxieties and force us to perpetually click the “refresh” button to get the latest update – almost immediately brings accusations of technophobia and Luddism.[…]

, whenever you hear someone say “this law is bad because it will break the Internet” or “this new gadget is good because that’s what technology wants,” you know that you have left the realm of the political – where arguments are usually framed around the common good – and have entered the realm of bad metaphysics. In that realm, what you are being asked to defend is the well-being of phantom digital gods that function as convenient stand-ins for corporate interests. […]

We are promised more freedom, more openness, more mobility; we are told we can roam wherever and whenever we want. But the kind of emancipation that we actually get is fake emancipation; it’s the emancipation of a just-released criminal wearing an ankle bracelet.

Yes, a self-driving car could make our commute less dreadful. But a self-driving car operated by Google would not just be a self-driving car: it would be a shrine to surveillance – on wheels![…]

Take Coursera, a company that was started by a senior Google engineer and that has quickly become one of the leaders in the field. It now uses biometrics — facial recognition and typing speed analysis – to verify student identity. (This comes in handy when they issue diplomas!) How did we go from universities with open-door policies to universities that check their students with biometrics? As Gilles Deleuze put in a 1990 conversation with Tony Negri, “compared with the approaching forms of ceaseless control in open sites, we may come to see the harshest confinement as part of a wonderful happy past.” This connection between the seeming openness of our technological infrastructures and the intensifying degree of control remains poorly understood.[…]

The data-centric model of Silicon Valley capitalism seeks to convert every aspect of our everyday existence – what used to be our only respite from the vagaries of work and the anxieties of the marketplace – into a productive asset. This is done not just by blurring the distinction between work and nonwork but also by making us tacitly accept the idea that our reputation is a work-in-progress – something that we could and should be honing 24/7. […]

The trouble with Silicon Valley is not just that it enables the NSA –it also encourages, even emboldens them. It inspires the NSA to keep searching for connections in a world of meaningless links, to record every click, to ensure that no interaction goes unnoticed, undocumented and unanalyzed. Like Silicon Valley, NSA assumes that everything is interconnected: if we can’t yet link two pieces of data, it’s because we haven’t looked deep enough – or we need a third piece of data, to be collected in the future, to make sense of it all.”

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