Opinion

Paul Smalera

Raiding the future of the Internet

Feb 17, 2012 18:31 UTC

Think right now about your home bookshelf. If yours looks like mine, it contains odds and ends, comic books you’ve saved for years, books mailed to you or bought on a street corner, your own collection of dog-eared titles, some old yearbooks. Now think about the privacy of your own home and the few legal ways in which that privacy can be violated: an emergency response, a crime, a public health crisis. Imagine if once a year you had to open your door to a copyright agent who could scan your library for content that you have not paid for, add up your violations, and send you a bill. Imagine if the agent came by once a week, or even once a day. Imagine that the agent found a picture of the nerdy kid from high school in your yearbook and explained that that kid copyrighted his likeness, so you’ll have to either pay up or destroy his high school photo.

This is the world that content companies want to create. Legislation they have proposed in the U.S. and around the world — SOPA, PIPA and ACTA — would open the Internet’s house to any agent.

Artists and big companies often warn us of the opposite of this problem — the idea that the Internet is a lawless space where content is pirated, stolen and shared recklessly, costing them billions of dollars in lost revenue and shrinking the incentives for artists to produce new works. After all, if they can’t be paid fairly for them, why bother?

But not being able to monetize media doesn’t mean you have to obsessively limit it. As the content companies see it, the bookshelf described above is the data stream heading into your house, and they, specifically those who create music and video, are demanding that governments consent, more or less, to let them tap the wires. SOPA and PIPA are currently on hold, but ACTA, whose provisions are almost as enveloping, is taking root all over Europe, though not without protests.

Amazingly, governments around the world, including the Obama administration, resisted making ACTA’s text public. American politicians said the provisions the U.S. was agreeing to enforce were “national security secrets.” Ironic, then, that the Internet should be open for inspection, but the inspectors’ marching orders shouldn’t.

The piracy of online privacy

Feb 10, 2012 18:28 UTC

Online privacy doesn’t exist. It was lost years ago. And not only was it taken, we’ve all already gotten used to it. Loss of privacy is a fundamental tradeoff at the very core of social networking. Our privacy has been taken in service of the social tools we so crave and suddenly cannot live without. If not for the piracy of privacy, Facebook wouldn’t exist. Nor would Twitter. Nor even would Gmail, Foursquare, Groupon, Zynga, etc.

And yet people keep fretting about losing what’s already gone. This week, like most others of the past decade, has brought fresh new outrages for privacy advocates. Google, which a few weeks ago changed its privacy policy to allow the company to share your personal data across as many as 60 of its products, was again castigated this week for the changes. Except this time, the shouts came in the form of a lawsuit. The Electronic Privacy Information Center sued the FTC to compel it to block Google’s changes, saying they violated a privacy agreement Google signed less than a year ago.

Elsewhere, social photography app Path was caught storing users’ entire iPhone address books on their servers and have issued a red-faced apology. (The lesser-known app Hipster committed the same sin and also offered a mea culpa.) And Facebook’s IPO has brought fresh concerns that Mark Zuckerberg will find creative new ways to leverage user data into ever more desirable revenue-generating products.

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