First Monday recently published an issue on social media monopolies. These lines from the introduction by Korinna Patelis and Pavlos Hatzopolous are particularly provocative:
A large part of existing critical thinking on social media has been obsessed with the concept of privacy. . . . Reading through a number of volumes and texts dedicated to the problematic of privacy in social networking one gets the feeling that if the so called “privacy issues” were resolved social media would be radically democratized. Instead of adopting a static view of the concept . . . of “privacy”, critical thinking needs to investigate how the private/public dichotomy is potentially reconfigured in social media networking, and [the] new forms of collectivity that can emerge . . . .
I can even see a way in which privacy rights do not merely displace, but actively work against, egalitarian objectives. Stipulate a population with Group A, which is relatively prosperous and has the time and money to hire agents to use notice-and-consent privacy provisions to its advantage (i.e., figuring out exactly how to disclose information to put its members in the best light possible). Meanwhile, most of Group B is too busy working several jobs to use contracts, law, or agents to its advantage in that way. We should not be surprised if Group A leverages its mastery of privacy law to enhance its position relative to Group B.
Better regulation would restrict use of data, rather than “empower” users (with vastly different levels of power) to restrict collection of data. As data scientist Cathy O’Neil observes:
Michael Carrier’s recent op-ed on patent trolls had many valuable points, but this one in particular grabbed my attention:
Much troll activity today is hidden beneath a labyrinth of shell companies. Acacia’s subsidiaries control 250 patent portfolios. Intellectual Ventures has used at least 1276 shell companies to purchase and hold patents. Given this, how could potential targets engage in licensing negotiations or evaluate patent portfolios? The agencies must be able to shine sunlight on this subterranean network, obtaining complete information from patent acquisitions, among other conduct, to determine competitive effects.
I’m going to guess that, if someone tried to expose (or require disclosure) of the port-trollios, the firms would respond “our combination of patents is itself valuable IP–a trade secret!” They may follow Silicon Valley giants’ pattern of trade secret expansionism. Are we ready for the term “trade [secret] troll?”
I do think that the letter Mike noted below was insensitive about the politicized prosecution of Aaron Swartz. But I think it should provoke a broader conversation about the proper allocation of revenues between Silicon Valley and “content providers.” I’ve tried to start that conversation about entertainment and drugs. It’s going to be more relevant for higher education soon, too.
I found this article on MOOC over-enthusiasm well worth reading:
Friedman continued his great quest to unmake the system of higher education that has existed since the Middle Ages, to render the university as merely an information delivery system brought to you by Harvard-via-Google. Two days in Cambridge assured him that the wave of the future was for students to acquire the basic information “at their own pace” online, freeing up the classroom for “lab experiments,” “questions and answers,” and the general “honing” of competency. . . .
I won’t dwell . . . on the irony of putting the large, 14,000 student lecture at the heart of this educational model. I won’t spend too much time saying, of course, that a university is not like an automobile manufacturer in a thousand ways, ranging from its nonprofit status to the absence of a consumable product. I won’t retreat, simply, into the rarefied notion that higher learning is an aspiration of civil society, that it improves the “we,” and that it is not aimed at training the workforce of the 21st century. I won’t link to the billions of intelligent thoughtful posts about the MOOC revolution, about what it augers for all of us. And I won’t wonder why Friedman is a big believer in the “flat” digital world, except for when his writing requires him to take an “in person” plush holiday to Palo Alto or New England.
The praeteritio alone is better than my own verbose response.
Those near NYC this Saturday might consider visiting the “Theorizing the Web” conference. Provocative presentation titles include:
The Automation of Compliance: Techno-Legal Regulation in the U.S. Trucking Industry
What We Talk About When We Talk Data: Metrics, Mobilization, and Materiality in Performing Health Online
Crowdsourcing Assassination 2.0
Identity Prosumption and the Quantified Self Movement
Beyond Bridges, Speed-Bumps, And Hotel Keys: A New Design Paradigm for Control Technologies
There is no difference between the “real” and the “virtual”: a brief phenomenology of digital revolution
I am also really looking forward to seeing Rob Horning and Daniel Kreiss present. Having just enjoyed the WIPIP at Seton Hall organized by my colleague Gaia Bernstein, I can say that there really is an embarrassment of riches in internet thought in the NY area these two weeks.
X-Posted: Concurring Opinions.