Technology is not Freedom

“Copyright bots” are a new “innovation” in data-analytics. The reliability of the data recognition(the content signature) by these distributed platforms, however, is still quite faulty. Wired recently published some of the embarrassing false positives generating by these platform censors which resulted in termination outages on high-profile content providers. Content that has recently been blocked included Michelle Obama’s speech on Youtube, NASA’s broadcast of the Curiosity Rover on Youtube and the Hugo Awards on UStream.

The more interesting point of the story was buried a bit: all major content platform providers are embedding these spy platforms into their infrastructure. This is not an actual legal requirement but it is following a law of political economy.

I browsed over to the website of one of the major players in this field. The tagline of the website reads: “Powering the Internet Video Economy.” The home page splash presentation trumpets the company’s partnership with Hollywood, Professional Sports, and China. I looked at its application platform, a platform, of course that’s patent pending(patenting the enforcement of patents and copyrights). The jargon reads “Rights Management, Content Filtering and Monetization, Business Analytics, Automatic Content Recognition, Search Recommendations.” In plain terms this means they are spying on you to both restrict access to unauthorized access to content and to monetize your viewing habits for “authorized content.” Frankly, why wouldn’t a censoring platform with access to your viewing habits take advantage of it to monetize your preferences to “legitimate” content providers. Its called Capitalism, right?

Content Identification and Data Signature Analysis is an “industry” in its infancy. There is plenty of innovation to be had in the pursuit of economic rents in this sector of political economy. But I would cite as an easy example of how technological innovation is not necessarily going to improve your life and make you more free. In fact, as in this case, its likely to make you substantially less free. This was a point I tried to make in my recent two-part “Internet Freedom” posts. And as I noted, the business of data analytics was at the heart of Peter Thiel’s recent critique of Google CEO Eric Schmidt.

Fine, you say. Just don’t watch your content online. No one is forcing you to log on to Google to watch content. But it won’t end there. Currently, all major online content providers are busy integrating content spyware into their infrastructure and platforms. But the same law of political economy driving this will steer a “spy regulatory platform” to the network provider layer, too.

Although it is not a major news or blogosphere focus, the “cybersecurity” executive order publicly contemplated by Barack Obama is quietly moving through The Firm’s channels for executive implementation. A legislative reinforcement will follow eventually. The law of political economy–rent-seeking– predicts the legislative addendum/follow-up to a CEO decree because of competing players(rent-seeking agency) fighting over the specific compliance (rules) regime of the contest.

The broad structure of the contest is defined by the top-level rule:

immunity from liability with respect to network traffic in exchange for compliance

Obama’s CEO Executive Decree will “legally” establish the broad stroke of the top level rule. Namely:

(i) the rule that network providers are, Ab initio, liable for the content payload of traffic over their network infrastructure(more specifically, liable for not filtering/blocking/counteracting “illegal/bad” traffic)

(ii) ex tempore immunity from all liability by following/implementing the rules of the compliance regime

The political economic competition in any “CyberSecurity Act” will be over the compliance rules for ex tempore immunity. Of course, any such “Bill” will be presented as ostensibly resolving the regulatory and legal burdens of network providers interfacing/info sharing with the extensive federal agency framework regarding “cyber attacks.” Every critical piece of infrastructure is plugged into the “public network” so we need a uniform, efficient regulatory framework to deal with the realities of the 21st century. It will even be presented with a “libertarian spin,” a pro-business slant, “reducing the regulatory burdens” on business.

Of course, the current reality of the 21st century is that the primary government agency responsible for coordinating cyber attacks is the United States government. The only agency actually capable of crippling the public network is the United States government.

The other pertinent reality of the 21st century is the inevitability of cloud computing. By “cloud computing,” I mean every computer resource imaginable delivered as a service. These resources include software, storage, platform, infrastructure, security and data. All tied together by a stack of interoperable APIs. It is in this environment where the contest over data analytics will play out. And you really can’t defect from this. More precisely, I would equate any attempt at defection as a “retreat to the woods.” Sans going “Jeremiah Johnson,” you will not be able to escape the data analytics of the cloud.

The ubiquity of cloud computing is inevitable because the internet is a small network. The cloud is much more efficient. A “free market” over a small network almost certainly delivers a cloud computing platform. Simply because that’s where the economic rents are. However, the data-analytics regime over the cloud is going to follow the structure of the rent-seeking contest. According to contest structure I outlined above, the contest will follow a rent-seeking compliance of the panopticon.

Obey the panopticon or starve. That’s not freedom…

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