In order to participate as fully functioning members of society, we are asked to sign away our right to privacy. "What choice is there?" Peer-to-peer encrypted networking is the alternative, corporate revenue models be damned. Interaction between two individuals, whether we are talking about chatting online or social networking, may be modeled as interaction between individuals, not as an interaction facilitated, monitored, and scripted by an unwanted third party.
With the development of any new communications technologies, we should expect to see both utopian and distopian voices. And yet, there is reason for true concern. We see increasingly centralized control of social and economic activities, and students of history tell us to be wary. Putting aside refrigerators which monitor your eating habits (currently under development) or the possibility of receiving marketing calls from someone that sounds like your mom (thank you Siri for recording our vocal patterns), we might expect to see:
- Ubiquitous tracking and surveillance. Where do you shop, where do you sleep, what caught your attention, do you like blonds or brunettes, who are your friend's friends? In the future, third parties will track your position, listen in on conversations, track your eye movement, measure your physiological indicators, analyze vulnerabilities, develop predictive behavior models. And to some extent, we can already see this today.
- Tailoring of data, content, and contacts to the individual user. It is not a question of whether or not data will be carefully filtered and culled, but which company is going to do it for you. Isn't this what Google does? The future of the Internet is Match.com. Who do they recommend that you meet? What books should you read? What information is relevant? Whose views are represented?
- Centralized control of all monetary transactions. Credit card are the online currency, tracked and subject to third-party approval.
The historical and anthropological record unequivocally shows that people use new technologies to promote their self-interests. Although new technologies need not limit human freedom - after all, technologies can only be understood in their socio-cultural context - the outlook is not good. At the end of the day, it is a question of what kind of world do we want to build? It is through peer-to-peer technologies and end-to-end encryption that we may protect basic human rights, and begin to build a framework for social and economic interaction, in an increasingly digital world.
We don't need middle men to monitor our activities, to tell us what to buy, or to mediate our interactions. But this is what cloud and client server models offer. It is a variation on the old mainframe model. Administrators maintain centralized control. Users are given dumb terminals. In the future, students will ask their teachers why anyone ever thought we could build democracy on top of a totalitarian model.