Tag: EFF (page 1 of 4)

Hamiltonians and Jeffersonians

Cory Doctorow quite rightly calls out that Big Tech’s “too big to fail” status has created “oligopolistic power” which limits our choice over how we’re connected to the people we want to interact with.

I like his reference of Frank Pasquale’s two approaches to regulation. I guess I’m a Jeffersonian, too…

Every community has implicit and explicit rules about what kinds of speech are acceptable, and metes out punishments to people who violate those rules, ranging from banishment to shaming to compelling the speaker to silence. You’re not allowed to get into a shouting match at a funeral, you’re not allowed to use slurs when addressing your university professor, you’re not allowed to explicitly describe your sex-life to your work colleagues. Your family may prohibit swear-words at Christmas dinner or arguments about homework at the breakfast table.

One of the things that defines a community are its speech norms. In the online world, moderators enforce those “house rules” by labeling or deleting rule-breaking speech, and by cautioning or removing users.

Doing this job well is hard even when the moderator is close to the community and understands its rules. It’s much harder when the moderator is a low-waged employee following company policy at a frenzied pace. Then it’s impossible to do well and consistently.

[…]

It’s not that we value the glorious free speech of our harassers, nor that we want our views “fact-checked” or de-monetized by unaccountable third parties, nor that we want copyright filters banishing the videos we love, nor that we want juvenile sensationalism rammed into our eyeballs or controversial opinions buried at the bottom of an impossibly deep algorithmically sorted pile.

We tolerate all of that because the platforms have taken hostages: the people we love, the communities we care about, and the customers we rely upon. Breaking up with the platform means breaking up with those people.

It doesn’t have to be this way. The internet was designed on protocols, not platforms: the principle of running lots of different, interconnected services, each with its own “house rules” based on its own norms and goals. These services could connect to one another, but they could also block one another, allowing communities to isolate themselves from adversaries who wished to harm or disrupt their fellowship.

[…]

Frank Pasquale’s Tech Platforms and the Knowledge Problem poses two different approaches to tech regulation: “Hamiltonians” and “Jeffersonians” (the paper was published in 2018, and these were extremely zeitgeisty labels!).

Hamiltonians favor “improving the regulation of leading firms rather than breaking them up,” while Jeffersonians argue that the “very concentration (of power, patents, and profits) in megafirms” is itself a problem, making them both unaccountable and dangerous.

That’s where we land. We think that technology users shouldn’t have to wait for Big Tech platform owners to have a moment of enlightenment that leads to its moral reform, and we understand that the road to external regulation is long and rocky, thanks to the oligopolistic power of cash-swollen, too-big-to-fail tech giants.

Source: To Make Social Media Work Better, Make It Fail Better | Electronic Frontier Foundation

Switching from Telegram to Signal

Like many people in a relationship, I have a persistent backchannel with my wife. I have never used WhatsApp, and so we ended up using Telegram. After reading this article from the EFF, an organisation I donate to on a monthly basis, we’ve switched to Signal.

My wife’s family moved to Signal after one of the privacy debacles around data sharing between WhatsApp and Facebook. Many people I know have switched from Telegram to Matrix for group chat.

So the only people left on Telegram that I contact regularly are my parents, my sister, and a few random people I probably haven’t messaged for a while…

If you do not have [Telegram’s] secret chat turned on, your chat communications can be exposed or seen just like channels and groups. If you do turn on secret chat, then Telegram cannot see the contents of your communication, but they still have access to metadata about the communications, including who you talked to and when you talked to them. It may be possible to draw very specific conclusions about what you are doing based only on the metadata about your conversation.

Source: Telegram Harm Reduction for Users in Russia and Ukraine | Electronic Frontier Foundation

What kind of world do we want? (or, why regulation matters)

I saw a thread on Mastodon recently, which included this image:

Three images with the title 'Space required to Transport 48 People'. Each image is the same, with cars backed up down a road. The caption for each image is 'Car', 'Electric Car' and 'Autonomous Car', respectively.

Someone else replied with a meme showing a series of images with the phrase “They feed us poison / so we buy their ‘cures’ / while they ban our medicine”. The poison in this case being cars burning fossil fuels, the cures being electric and/or autonomous cars, and the medicine public transport.

There’s similar kind of thinking in the world of tech, with at least one interviewee in the documentary The Social Dilemma saying that people should be paid for their data. I’ve always been uneasy about this, so it’s good to see the EFF come out strongly against it:

Let’s be clear: getting paid for your data—probably no more than a handful of dollars at most—isn’t going to fix what’s wrong with privacy today. Yes, a data dividend may sound at first blush like a way to get some extra money and stick it to tech companies. But that line of thinking is misguided, and falls apart quickly when applied to the reality of privacy today. In truth, the data dividend scheme hurts consumers, benefits companies, and frames privacy as a commodity rather than a right.

EFF strongly opposes data dividends and policies that lay the groundwork for people to think of the monetary value of their data rather than view it as a fundamental right. You wouldn’t place a price tag on your freedom to speak. We shouldn’t place one on our privacy, either.

Hayley Tsukayama, Why Getting Paid for Your Data Is a Bad Deal (EFF)

As the EFF points out, who would get to set the price of that data, anyway? Also, individual data is useful to companies, but so is data in aggregate. Is that covered by such plans?

Facebook makes around $7 per user, per quarter. Even if they gave you all of that, is that a fair exchange?

Those small checks in exchange for intimate details about you are not a fairer trade than we have now. The companies would still have nearly unlimited power to do what they want with your data. That would be a bargain for the companies, who could then wipe their hands of concerns about privacy. But it would leave users in the lurch.

All that adds up to a stark conclusion: if where we’ve been is any indication of where we’re going, there won’t be much benefit from a data dividend. What we really need is stronger privacy laws to protect how businesses process our data—which we can, and should do, as a separate and more protective measure.

Hayley Tsukayama, Why Getting Paid for Your Data Is a Bad Deal (EFF)

As the rest of the article goes on to explain, we’re already in a world of ‘pay for privacy’ which is exacerbating the gulf between the haves and the have-nots. We need regulation and legislation to curb this before it gallops away from us.