Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Free is a lie - Aral Balkan at TNW

Take 32 mins and listen to Indie phone's Aral Balkan's talk at the recent TNW conference.

Balkan opens with a simple thought experiment. He's setting up a hypothetical business, Schnail Mail, which will solve the problem of mail delivery by delivering letters and parcels of all shapes and sizes anywhere in the world for free. He asks his audience how many of them would sign up for it. Sounds like an attractive enterprise so many would. In the interests of full disclosure he then explains that by the way Schnail mail will open and forensically examine all letters and parcels to learn about their customers, obviously in the interests only of offering them a better service. How many would now sign up? Not very many though there were still a hard core half a dozen or so. In any case the Schnail Mail business model is the Google, Facebook, [big tech co of choice] "free" service business model.

The business model of "free" is the business model of mass surveillance. We effectively hand over quarries of personal data for these corporations to mine for their own ends. He quotes Eric Schmidt noting Google knows who you are, where you are and what you are thinking; and Facebook knowing people are on the path to a relationship before those people possibly even know it themselves.

He also quotes the Google executive chairman saying:
"If you have something you don't want everyone to know maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place."
That's not the kind of world Balkan wants. Privacy is not about whether you have something to hide. It's about having control of what you want to share and what to keep to yourself. But in the world of "free" mass surveillance you don't have that control. The corporations do and they have acquired that control by deceit because consumers largely have no idea of the information they have surrendered/bartered in exchange for "free" services.  If we make the panopticon the default that leads to a society where anything we want to keep private has an association of guilt attached. Privacy becomes only about hiding bad things. Balkan rejects that notion.

Ordinary consumers currently have no choice - all roads lead to digital feudalism regardless of which corporate walled garden is chosen. Techies say use free and open source alternatives. But ordinary mortals have not got the time, skills or resources to architect or build our own FOSS, experience-led digital privacy assured shells to shield our rich personal data quarries / digital personas, thereby enabling us to participate in the information society without compromising our privacy. So techies, entrepreneurs, the market have to start to provide custom built user friendly privacy enhanced technologies. One such effort is Balkan's indie phone.

The true cost of "free" he says is our privacy, our civil liberties, our human rights.

Good luck to Mr Balkan with his indie phone venture. His success will likely depend on the degree to which he can manage the pathological calculus that is -

Privacy vs Convenience/attraction/gratification/access/community/conformity/convenience
- in addition to the small matter of taking on the power of the mass surveillance addicted market incumbents.

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