by Mike Meyer
Is there any place for privacy in the new quantum mechanical universe? What are we willing to trade for that privacy? Is it too late to even talk about this?
I cannot even imagine a way to recover what is called personal information privacy. That was obvious to me in the first three years of the web, as it was once called. There was still the potential for privacy in the early years of the internet as that was basically email and remote terminal operation on mainframe systems.
Once any to any information flow was enabled all personal information became available for capture as a structural consequence of the logging required to manage the systems. Working in early internet media for Time Warner, the inventor of infotainment, I was instantly complicit in the capture of data for targeted marketing.
That happened so fast, those of us in it, barely identified the potential before it became a full reality. That was about 1995. Yes, over twenty years ago.
I began telling people then who would ask about using credit cards online, that was an issue in the first days of ecommerce, that encryption could make those reasonably secure at least as much as in your local bar and grill. But the issue was really all of your transactional data that was being captured.
All that people could think about was their credit card even though they never worried about handing that to the random restaurant waiter. But soon the convenience that we were selling took hold. In 2000, after the great internet bust, people were saying that the internet thing was over. Millions were already hooked and that holiday season was biggest ecommerce set of numbers ever.
We now live in a world dominated by Amazon, Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, and every possible online service. There are no hardware companies in this other as secondary product providers. Information is now value and that value is the ability to model every individual in a market.
It took sixteen years and a failed national election in the US for that reality to dawn among a plurality of the population. Within two weeks of that election it was being analyzed and discussed by IT people around the planet. The modeling had been used to manipulate the election in critical state counties, townships, and precincts tipping the electoral votes to Trump and a corrupt Republican Party.
Ballot manipulation was identified but evidence destroyed and suppressed but the primary tool was profiling used to target calls to action. The Russian military connection was obvious and blatant based on confidence in the ignorance of the population. That proved to be fully justified.
That is the value of massive data used to model attitudes and actions. Most people, I think, still don’t realize how accurate and complete this can be. Much of that is the result of political propaganda based on those models. Steady repetition of lies and insinuations from what appear to be personally trusted sources are incredibly effective, particularly on the less critical and aware. And those are the people that you want. Not surprisingly we know that these are the people most likely to be drawn to authoritarian groups.
This will happen again with greater refinement and more care to hide the sources. Can it be prevented or stopped?
I don’t think so. A critical percentage of the US population has been extensively indoctrinated to accept whatever is said from their trusted sources. This was built on the old Republican Party that were traditionally conservative economically. As a trusted voice for rural and suburban small business and community people the potential was there long before there was any means to tap that potential for manipulation.
We are all familiar with Ronald Reagan's presidency being based on the southern strategy to suck up the, previously, Democratic racist and misogynistic populations as that party shifted to a broader civil rights focus. The importance of this for personal privacy in the 21st century was, initially, accidental. The planetary shift to an increasingly global perspective tied to open borders and free flow of goods and services brought wealth to new regions but the American white middle class lost its privileged status.
That middle class broke up into segments based on racism, evolution into the growing urban diversity open to change, and religious or ideological exclusion. Through the late 20th and early 21st century the economic power of inclusion, the creativity of diversity, and the great disruption of information technology was reflected in urban regional growth and rejection of the old bigotry and exclusivity of the old parochialism.
This was clearly tied to the steady improvement in life and well being primarily in democratic socialist nations. The fall of the USSR seemed to justify the US role as a neoliberal alternative to democratic socialist Europe but the subsequent decade revealed that as mostly delusional.
The rapid rise to dominance of non-democratic forms of mixed socialism primarily in China but also Vietnam showed the Russian situation to be a product of Russian authoritarianism that had little to do with socialism or even Marxist communist principles. This long process left, what were traditional liberal economic conservatives, with no functioning policies distinct from the neoliberal, late capitalism other than racism, ethnocentrism and a desire for revenge for lost privileges.
Put more simply the old Republican Party in America and similar conservative parties globally became parties with no clear motivation except bigotry and revenge. The actions that these motivations require are exclusion, repression, and hatred. But these are not permanent human attitudes. They need to be actively nurtured and constantly fertilized with supporting information to reinforce these attitudes.
Information privacy is not important to these people. They seek and are led to imagine conspiracies by all possible ‘others’ around them. By seeking to find out the secret plans of those they fear they want no barriers to their quest for proof of those fears. The classic authoritarian claim that only the bad people need fear having their information seen and the correct people should be proud to show their superiority still works.
Concurrent with this collapse of traditional western conservatism triggered by planetary economic and cultural change, the information technology revolution made vast quantities of information not only available but useable for modeling. This began the great paradigmatic shift in social structure and economics that is now destroying the old structures of the modern age.
We have collision, collapse, and transformation on multiple levels while the human population is in organizational change. To tease the growing tangle a part we need to look at the changing role of information in human society. It is the control of our information that we are struggling with but that depends on how we define and view the value of that information.
Material goods no longer represent value at the most fundamental level. Through most of our history access to and ownership of material goods was wealth. The creation of money allowed goods to be transferred abstractly. The rise of capitalism made the sourcing and production of goods the basic form of value.
At each stage of economic evolution it becomes apparent that the current symbol of value actually has value only in motion. This is a profound lesson from the rise of capitalism. Hoarding does not produce more value. Investing that hoard in the discovery, delivery, production, or invention of things or services creates new value.
This is basic economic history and was most clearly defined in the late 18th century by David Ricardo and hist Labor Theory of Value although it took to the 20th century for this to be really developed. But then everything began to change. Information is now value but we are still in transition with the speed of transition becoming a factor in layering old and new definitions on top of each other.
In terms of information security and protection we are still seeing information in its previous form. While material goods and related services represented by money was the fundamental value in society, information needed to be rigidly protected. The sources and means of doing things were to be hoarded because value came form the movement (sale) of goods and services.
This is the essence of the 20th or James Bond century. Intelligence, i.e. political power, was about hiding information on one hand and stealing it on the other. Information was bought and sold as a commodity or hidden as national treasure. The very use of the word ‘intelligence’ tagged the secret power of information. The rise of the internet made the unlimited storage and movement of information possible. Just as the early capitalist ventures from Europe to Southeast Asia for spices and the Americas for silver converted money into free flowing value, the tremendous resources focused on information as power turned information into the base human value.
The early internet ideal of free and open information was the logical reaction to this change. That ideal has been under massive attack for twenty years by the forces of the old materialist order in an effort to maintain capitalism and full materialism. That order required that information be kept secret and under the control of the ruling elite. In fact control of secret information defines the modern concept of the nation state. Warfare became information protection and theft by openly violent means.
If you stop and think about all that has been said here, it may begin to come together to define the problems what we are facing with information and what we do with it.
To lay this out explicitly is to list opposing definitions and their resultant attitudes and actions. This is heavily influenced by our planetary reality that includes rapidly failing economic systems that have become distorted by an array of changes leading to new conditions. This includes population, communication, education, the climate crisis, and the related political crisis that have been produced by different era’s power structures in conflict.
Obviously this is complex.Maybe more complex than our species can handle but let’s hope not.
To now tease apart the threads of our tangle, information is now value and as is the nature of value it can only grow if it is in motion. So information needs to flow to grow and evolve. As we now know, evolution is a natural order in out universe. This is in direct conflict with the old order that sees information as a commodity and change as anathema. The old order, historically, can’t imagine a new order and will fight to the death to prevent change. But because information is, already, our base value it is passed around and used. This is natural and healthy.
I am suggesting that social forces of paradigmatic change are turning our information into a liquid value but how do we use it? We should now consider all information and our own information as what it is, the fundamental value symbol of our civilization. We all generate information. We all find new information. All of the information that we have, are, and will produce is our individual asset base. It is not a commodity and cannot, in that sense, be alienated from us.
Each person born has an unknown but massive net present and net future value because we create information by living. That makes all of us wealthy in the way the old materialist and capitalist system made those with inherited wealth able to live on their ‘assets’. But we must be recognized as the owners of our asset base. All actions using those assets should accrue equivalent value to us in the gain from its use.
At the same time the struggle to maintain materialism, hidden information, and capitalist systems is a struggle against change that has already happened. That represents a last ditch effort to hold the old system and, may, in some places, the US is an example, turn into a classic scorched earth policy within a war of self destruction. The force of history, i.e. change, always wins.
We are already seeing the logical evolution of this fundamental change in value and it also is shifting us away from the old, late stage capitalist materialism that has destroyed our climate and maybe most of life on this planet.
It now looks to me that the movements toward a fully decentralized cultural architecture as in flash democracy, cryptocurrencies, collaborative groups, urban government within a planetary alliance for climate and resource management, creation of an extensive new ‘commons’ with expanded rights, and Universal Basic Income or Equity are all part of this new paradigm.
At the same time the, obviously, warped reappearance of racism, nationalism, fascist feudalism, and predatory capitalism are the death throes of the old order. Sadly we could all be killed in the fallout from these death throes but that is up to us to prevent.