A victory for users or legitimising digital enslavement!

Posted on December 18, 2013


There is no question the surveillance revelations from the Snowden affair has transformed views of privacy online and challenged the future freedoms of the Internet. Tim Berners-Lee and Oxfam call on nations such as the UK to practice what they preach on internet freedom’.

In the face of acquisitions of data compromises it has sent the Internet Corporatocracy, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo, AOL, LinkedIn and their pernicious ilk, scrabbling around for a response and seeking legitimacy. NSA Prism program taps in to user data of Apple, Google and others.

They have strived for this in two ways:

  1. By association with more credible and trustworthy household names such as Microsoft in the submission of an open letter to the US Government following the old adage, attack is the best form of defence. So they go on the offensive.
  2. By hiding behind demands for structured controls that they feel secure they can manipulate with their multi-million dollar lobbying engines once they have left the headlines.

Their challenge being how to criticise their national government agency surveillance practices when these are all but the self-same practices they have profiteered from and have built their business on? The self-same data harvesting and compromising of privacy that they now so ardently dam. It is perhaps the brashest and most arrogant show of hypocrisy of their saprophytic existences. If seen for what it really is it is also potentially their biggest gamble.

If I were Microsoft I would review the company closely that I was keeping in this joining of forces. Commendable but sadly I fear Microsoft are putting at risk their tentative position of THE Trusted Partner in Digital life. As the undertow of the demands also play to the hidden agendas of the Internet Corporotocracy.

Before we go any further on this, it is not just these big players in the online world who have been and are being compromised, be that collaboratively or subversively. Private enterprise has not been exempt from the spying eyes and systems of the NSA. The sad reality is that private enterprise is even more at risk, with even the largest Enterprises falling short of the online security capabilities of the cloud specialist organisations, meaning they represent a very soft target for government spying. IT Security Breaches Strike 93% of Large Companies’.
Most worrying of all the financial sector being top targets as well! So don’t think as a business you are safe, you will have been the easiest of pickings, and will continue to be, for government surveillance.

The collective IT Group announced in their open letter five basic principles calling on the US to stop surveillance, these principles included:

  1. Limiting Governments’ Authority to Collect Users’ Information
  2. Oversight and Accountability
  3. Transparency About Government Demands
  4. Respecting the Free Flow of Information
  5. Avoiding Conflicts Among Governments

Source: Global Government Surveillance Reform’ website.

On blind trust and face value the populous is accepting this open letter as a demonstration by these companies of their support for privacy and their right to an un-monitored existence online. The reality is however much darker and more invidious.

If we look at these 5 principles in their ‘generic’ sense you can start to see how they peal back that fig leaf of blind trust:

1. Limiting Collection of Users’ Information

Make it a unilateral condition across both Public AND Private sectors If it is good enough for the government then why not the private sector?

My assumption is though that the Internet Corporatocracy have no desire to be subjected to the same controls. This would blow a hole through the business models of the Google, Facebook and Twitters of this world. They are actually championing screwing the nut on the principle conduit of their fortunes!

The reality though is this is exactly the controls that should be in place across all forums. Outside of legitimate regulatory requirements for the retention of user data ie: financial transactions amongst a limited list of others, users data SHOULD NOT be retained.

2. Oversight and Accountability

I cover this in some detail in my earlier blog ‘Social Media Corporatocracy – Self-Regulate or Be Damned’.

At least the Public sector has some degree of oversight and accountability in that we can vote them out of office and change our government. Or at least that is the principle of our Democracy, the reality I guess is actually somewhat different.

The Internet Corporatocracy are a feral bunch, a law unto themselves and the last thing they want is to have to be Accountable or subject to Oversight. Hiding behind industry standards that they manipulate for their own ends that give the semblance of credibility, are a smokescreen. Just look at how Google lie about their compliance to the European Union (EU) Model Contract Clauses. (See the Guidance and use document). A set of legal clauses that are meant to help and simplify compliance to data protection across the service sector in the EU. The fact being they MUST be included verbatim (without change) in any contracts by service companies if they are offering compliance. Google play with the wording, an act that changes in a subtle way their enforcement and in fact invalidate them entirely. This is just one example of how our trust is abused and another that shows just how proactive Google is at compromising users privacy see ‘Google removed a ‘vital’ privacy feature in Android and the EFF is pissed’.

3. Transparency About Demands

If there was one thing that needs to be addressed here is the verbose Terms and Conditions of use that users are bludgeoned with when signing up to online services. 99% of the time users in blind faith and trust (again) hand over more than I believe they would do if the realities and full implications of their exposures to the third party was made clear in plain English – Read ‘Click Through to Hell’.

This is after all the bastion behind which the Internet Corporatocracy hide in their abuse of personal data. The argument being that they have permission, and contractual rights to use as they see fit individuals data because said individuals have accepted the terms and conditions of use.

Google and Facebook represent he most ardent abusers, as they manipulate and collapse their privacy usage statements into unilateral conditions of use across their own internal business divisions in clear breach of EU and other regional legislation with little recourse offered back to users. A quote that sums up the attitudes of Google, Facebook, Twitter et al:

“Facebook’s vision of its member base is a bunch of people naked,

exposed and targeted at will by anyone who wants to do so. ”

Jeffrey Chester, Centre for Digital Democracy

4. Respecting the Free Flow of Information

This is a genius change of conditional inflection in the 5 principles. Playing the good guy demanding restriction on use and data collection to suddenly becoming advocates imploring openness.

An openness that protects their pernicious business models and practices of harvesting data and insights into people’s lives. See my blog over 3 years ago on this titled ‘Digital Enslavement’.

5. Avoiding Conflicts

This is always going to be a challenge. What individuals are prepared to do for ‘Free’ use of software is at odds with what they are actually giving up.

In the regulatory arena conflicts abound as the online and offline worlds collide and legislation conflicts giving wriggle room for abuse in the confusion. ‘Data Retention Directive CLASHES with EU citizens’ privacy rights’.

As you can read these 5 principles are yet more facets in the stealth game for control being played by Google, Facebook, Twitter etc as they defend their Billion Dollar valuations. The most troublesome of hidden agendas that will see individuals compromised forever if not addressed.

My question is of Government is in support of Microsoft’s Satya Nadella who has gone on record saying ‘the surveillance system has to be reformed’. The Government must take the initiative in this, and do so on equal terms with private enterprise, level the playing field. The underlying tenant being – what applies to Government MUST also be applicable to the private sector. This positioning would put some valuable clear air between Microsoft and the Google, Facebook and Twitters of this world.

This has the potential of being a most liberating action online that could ignite a whole new chapter in the relationship between individuals and online business, with respect for individual privacy and data at the core of a value proposition for the real data owners – the users. All but for the most bedazzled online liberals and social media lovies who aspire to a ‘nothing to hide / nothing to worry about’ attitude to data sharing, like lemmings will continue to muddy the water with their heads in the virtual clouds!