NSA is not the enemy, it is Silicon Valley

Nieuws | de redactie
16 december 2013 | “We are trapped in the vocabulary of Silicon Valley.” Harvard-scholar Evgeny Morozov never shies away from a provocative standpoint. If we really want to talk privacy, we should start with the fundamentals of democracy. “The guys from NSA are not the main evil.”

Morozov was invited to speak in Amsterdam at the Privacy & Identity LAB conference about privacy. After scientific director Ronald Leenes gave a worrying illustration of the current privacy debate in the wake of the Snowden-tapes, it was Morozov providing the audience with a somewhat opposing view. “We want to be tracked. Before talking privacy, we have to find out why we accept to be tracked.”

In illustrating his point Morozov gives the example of the e-reader. “Kindle is offering a cheaper model in exchange for extra advertisements based on what we read. It appeals to customers because it’s cheaper or free.” For many companies data has become a goal in itself, and we are willing to give it to them, Morozov shows.

Omnipresent Google

Most striking examples are Google and Facebook, both being omnipresent in our daily life. “If you are not on Facebook and you don’t own a mobile device, you are likely to be on the NSA list, as you are probably hiding something.” What Morozov wants to say is that we might be worried about privacy issues, but in the meantime we do not analyze the issue on the terms that it deserves.

What happens now, according to Morozov, is that companies address customers in a way it becomes profitable to make use of existing data. “Our data is our asset.” Morozov has been studying the rhetoric with which companies that use of genomic data have addressed customers. This convinced him that we are heading towards a society in which data can, and will be used to ‘nudge’ people towards good behavior. “These applications exist because citizens are stupid.”

According to Morozov we are reaching a situation in which policymakers depend on big data and the use of that data to push citizens towards a desired direction. “But it’s the companies that run the devices. It sounds like they are innovating. Consumers love it, because they have been convinced this will help them.”

Deliberate ‘citizenship’

The ‘Quantified Self-movement’ is one of the most striking examples of this trend. Applications are used that measure how much we exercise, and refrigerators that sensor our food patterns. The fundamental underlying question is, according to Morozov: “What problem do we want to be tackled by the government and what do we want to do ourselves.”

We have to ask ourselves this question before a totally new market of information exchange has been established, which is currently under progress. “We should be actively deliberating citizenship,” Morozov argues thereby criticizing current social movements like the Pirate Party. “The problem with current social movements is that they are already trapped in the vocabulary of Silicon Valley. The guys from NSA, they are not the main evil.”

It is this rhetoric, in which citizens are directed to do the ‘good’ thing within the system, without deliberating other systems. “They say they are just empowering you, but in the meantime, genomic data, social graphs, music data, it’s being presented as being all the same, but it’s not.”

An example of this rhetoric is the use of the word ‘hacking’. Even governments are now organizing so-called hackatons, to get the help of individuals in streamlining and overcoming current problems. Books have been written like ‘Hack your education’. “Everything can be hacked nowadays. It is all about how to better accommodate at the system without thinking about changing the system, while that might be what we should be worried about.”

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