I need to write a little piece on freedom. Recent affairs regarding surveillance carried out by a huge democracy and self proclaimed defender of freedom has made me think. No new splendid thoughts - just a reminder of some important things.
In a distant past the Internet was a place where anyone could share information using open standards. The infrastructure of the internet creates a place where information is published and interchanged at will but controlled by the user. Lets call this the personal internet. As the personal internet grew and proved useful for the masses so did the business value of having a corporate presence on the internet. This shift started to happen about 15 years ago and is probably not complete yet. Lets call this the corporate internet.
The corporate internet is made up of many different business interests. There are old companies that increasingly do their business using the web. Different industries have reached different levels of maturity. Some industries have embraced the net fully and do most of their business netwise while other industries are more physical in nature and so will only use the web for parts of their business anyway. Then there are new companies that have as their sole business idea to do things on the web. Some of them has grown rather big and are now full blown multinational corporations with all that comes with it.
It is likely that data communications always has been monitored by government agencies but the shift towards the corporate internet surely has made it harder to control for the individual. We all give away much of our data and our interactions to big players like facebook, apple and google. And these companies do not use open standards for these interchanges. If you want to communicate with a facebook user you are doomed to be a facebook user yourself. Far from the open and highly distributed mechanisms of email for example. (Or news if anyone remembers?) And most of us just don’t care at all. Convenience makes it so easy compared to freer alternatives.
(Sidenote: yes I am aware that facebook uses open standards like HTTP and HTML to communicate with its users. The point here is that they are not using an open standard for the communication between users.)
In comes surveillance. As soon as we give away the infrastructure of our interactions to business interests we also give away the control over access to those interactions. Suddenly it is someone else’s corporate decision whether to give away my information to a government agency or not. In the old world it used to be a court order that could enforce surveillance. Sure - the web of open standards can also easily be compromised by whomever wants to listen in. Me for one don’t care much about that since nothing I write is sensitive in any way. It is a matter of principles. I shouldn’t be afraid to say anything anywhere on the internet. The authorities should not listen in. It reduces my freedom.
All in all - we really need to abandon social networks and internet companies that are not using open standards for communication. We should be able to use whatever software we like to interact with each other. The corporate internet needs to be controlled by the standards of the personal internet. Don’t let them reduce our freedom. Start today by looking at this list of alternative solutions and start using the thing that hurts the least.
(And yes - I am a pharisee writing this on my Apple computer. And I will probably post it on one or several proprietary social networks. Sorry about that…)
Those great photos are in the open domain under nice licenses for non-commercial use. The chess board photo is by Daniele Nicolucci and the surveillance one is by nolifebeforecoffee. Flickr users that use flattr gets one from me whenever I favorite a photo.