Fri 14 Oct 2016

Socialize the data centres

John Richmond Public Seen by 436

Are folks familiar with internet democracy guru Evgeny Morozov and his article "Socialize the Data Centers" in New Left Review? Seems to me we are trying something like this .

I have reached out to him on twitter (where else)

Select quotes to sum up relevant parts of the article:
Basically, now that everything is in one way or another mediated by Silicon Valley—all these smart beds and smart cars and smart everything—it’s possible to capture and monetize every moment we spend awake (and, it seems, also asleep). So we are all invited to become data entrepreneurs curating our data portfolios. Analytically, of course, this ‘datafication’ of everything is an extension of the much broader phenomenon of the financialization of everyday life. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out why this is happening and how it can be stopped and it became obvious to me that the answers to these questions had far more to do with politics than with technology.
The fact that Google monitors my Web searches, my email, my location, makes its predictions in each of these categories much more accurate than if it were to monitor only one of them. If you take this logic to its ultimate conclusion, it becomes clear you don’t want two hundred different providers of information services—you want just one, because the scale-effects make things much easier for users. The big question, of course, is whether that player has to be a private capitalist corporation, or some federated, publicly-run set of services that could reach a data-sharing agreement free of monitoring by intelligence agencies.

Public transportation would probably work much better if we could coordinate it based on everybody’s location, with some kind of predictive analytic of where you need to pick people up, as opposed to the present rigid systems, with trains that sometimes don’t carry any passengers. That would not just cut costs, but could help to engineer a more environment-friendly infrastructure. I wouldn’t want to oblige everyone to wear an electronic bracelet. But I am not against monitoring devices as such, though perhaps they should operate at country level—they needn’t be global. If you’re trying to figure out how a non-neoliberal regime can function in the twenty-first century and still be constructive towards both environment and technology, you have to tackle these kinds of questions. There’s no avoiding them. You will need some kind of basic planning and thinking about an overall informational infrastructure for our communal living, rather than just a clutch of services any company can provide
At a national level, we need governments that do not deliver the neoliberal gospel. At this point, it would take a very brave one to say, we just don’t think private companies should run these things. We also need governments that would take a bet and say: we believe in the privacy of individuals, so we are not going to subject everything they do to monitoring, and we’ll have a strong legal system to back up all requests for data. But this is where it gets tricky, because you could end up with so much legalism corroding the infrastructure that it becomes counterproductive. The question is how can we build a system that will actually favour citizens, and perhaps even favour some kind of competition in its search engines. It’s primarily from data and not their algorithms that powerful companies currently derive their advantages, and the only way to curb that power is to take the data completely out of the market realm, so that no company can own them. Data would accrue to citizens, and could be shared at various social levels. Companies wanting to use them would have to pay some kind of licensing fee, and only be able to access attributes of the information, not the entirety of it.

Unless we figure out a legal-social regime that will allow this stock of data to grow without it ending up in the corporate silos of Google or Facebook, we won’t get very far. But once we have it, there could be all sorts of social experimentation. With enough data you could start planning beyond the horizon of the individual consumer—at the level of communities, neighbourhoods, cities. That’s the only way to prevent centralization. Unless we change the legal status of data, we’re not going to get very far.
I’m not saying that the system should be run by the state. But you would have at least to pass some sort of legislation to change the status of data, and you would need the state to enforce it. Certainly, the less the state is involved otherwise, the better. I’m not saying that there should be a Stasi-like operation soaking up everyone’s data. The radical left notion of the commons probably has something to contribute here. There are ways you can spell out a structure for this data storage, data ownership, data sharing, that will not just default to a centrally planned and run repository. When it’s owned by citizens, it doesn’t necessarily have to be run by the state.


Alanna Irving Mon 17 Oct 2016

@johnrichmond can you tell us a bit about what you find most compelling in the article?


Amelia Rose Khan Wed 19 Oct 2016

This article is super long which means most people will not read this. If the highlights were given that would help people who want to read this in-depth.


Tom Ladendorf Fri 21 Oct 2016

I took the liberty of adding what I thought were the most directly relevant bits from this long, long interview. The author seems to be more focused on the (international) legal status of data than on how the platforms themselves are constituted. It does, however, seem important to him that platforms are "owned by citizens."

I'm interested in this topic but this article is probably a bit too long and tough to be an effective conversation starter for this group. That said, this is a good prompt for us to be thinking carefully about how we approach data.


John Richmond Sat 22 Oct 2016

Thanks for this. I've always loved this articme since it came out - I think it is helpful to see the big picture. I've been too busy with work to joon the converstion but did reach out a few times to the author with no luck so far.


Rob Lucas Tue 25 Oct 2016

Just joined this group and stumbled upon this thread. Coincidentally, I interviewed Morozov and edited that piece. Very glad to see it taken up here! Is there a specific idea you'd like to approach him with?


Alanna Irving Sun 30 Oct 2016

@johnrichmond is there a specific action out of this info that you're proposing? How would we apply this to #buytwitter?