::.law + strategy.::.law + governance.::.law + politics.::. ::.you get the jist.::
I was excited when I saw the title of the upcoming talk, co-sponsored by Communitech and CIGI: “Privacy, Access and Corporate Control: The Battle for Canada’s Internet”. The fact that there was also breakfast, and the opportunity to meet people in the community and network was just a wonderful bonus.
As it turned out, I ended up meeting quite a few people at the event, and struck up several interesting conversations–I really enjoyed that opportunity and would definitely attend such events in the future. The talk itself, however, was a little bit of a letdown for me. It may just have been that I was not the target audience.
What I had expected: a discussion and analysis of issues relating to questions around privacy, access and corporate control (e.g. data mining by all the free services like Google and Facebook, who make a business out of information in aggregate and skillfully reaping demographic details on target markets and the like). I expected some discussion of the controversies and problems associated with these issues and a substantive analysis that acknowledged both why we accept these services and what is wrong with doing so.
What I got: an overview of what appears to be a worthy NGO, the Internet Society. The speakers introduced us to the Internet Society’s focus around providing access, education and advocacy, and urged us to join the newly-minted Canadian chapter of the organization. For the moment, it’s free to do so, and I may do just that, once I’ve done some deeper research into the organization. But on the surface, it seems to be just up my alley as an independent body that would seek to raise awareness of issues arising out of the information economy as it is emerging and developing. The aims are all ones that I align with and could get behind.
But I still left the talk unsatisfied. Why? Because they could have (and did) sell me on their organization in the five or ten minute presentation at the beginning of the session. At that point, I had heard enough to pique my interest and persuade me to delve further in order to make an independent decision, having done my own due diligence, on whether or not I wanted to join. Mission accomplished.
But what I hadn’t heard–and didn’t hear before I had to leave for work–was anything substantive around why the problems were problems and how they sought to address them. So, for instance, in the Q&A, the first question posed by an audience member was something to the effect of (I’m paraphrasing): “I have concerns about privacy, but when I try to warn my [younger relative] about such issues around Facebook or Gmail, he just says he has nothing to hide, so he doesn’t care. How do you even respond to that?”
The response was along the lines of: “Yes! This is precisely the problem we’re facing. This is why we have to educate people on these issues and try to get the message out!”
And while I can’t speak for why others do it, despite having some awareness of privacy issues, here is why I make the choice to be data mined:
I’m guessing that most of the other people in that room shared at least a few, similar reasons for justifying their own use of social media.
So back to the man’s question: what DO you say to all of us, who figure we have nothing to hide?
I really wanted to know. Am I missing something? Is the issue just that those who are upset about this place a higher value than I do on the inherent concept of privacy itself? Or are there other implications, which, if I learned about them, would see me signing out of Facebook and beginning an advocacy campaign that would demand changes in all the terms of service for social media sites?
I don’t know how the speakers would have responded to these issues, because unfortunately, these questions were never addressed. And I really wish they had been.
(p.s. if you want something that will really creep you out about our interconnected society, read this. What he talks about isn’t the issue I’m discussing above, which has to do with what I see as a “value for consideration” type proposition between myself and FB or Google et al. He’s talking about the essential nature of our modern lives, whether or not we use such services. What he describes is not quite the big brother posited by Orwell, mainly because all that information isn’t concentrated in the hands of one all-powerful entity (yet). But the scope of it is certainly daunting. On the other hand, it’s not something you can necessarily opt out of in a developed society unless you’re an underground bunker in the woods type).