small medium large xlarge

Shady Illuminations

Broken by Design

by John Shade

Generic image illustrating the article
  Anthony Bourdain’s habits, the Junior Ganymede Club, and the Lidless Eye all find their way into John’s exploration of privacy.  

Lately I’ve been analyzing the entrails of the blogosphere for intel in the War on Privacy. In this war, acronyms rumble over the horizon one after another like invading tanks, first SOPA, then PIPA, then CISPA, all threatening to “rip apart the fabric of the internet, compromise the planet’s digital security[,] and open the doors for China-class censorship.” And, of course, roll over our privacy like Arthur Dent’s house.

Lately the fighting in this war has taken some interesting turns. Advance troops on a couple of fronts have taken on friendly fire. The CIA is worried that in the pursuit of the War on Terror the governments of the world are getting too sophisticated in their invasion of citizens’ privacy. Yes, the CIA. And in a setback to police privacy, a judge ruled that it actually is legal to shoot the cops, so to speak. This ruling was somewhat balanced by a ruling that police dashcam videos can be kept secret, a decision that, had it come sooner, might have spared us a drunken man singing all of Bohemian Rhapsody on a police dashcam.

Clearly things are getting more complicated for the spies and police, so maybe what we need is an app to help them out. What if we just spy on ourselves and collect the data for them? That would be thoughtful.

Dead Men Are Blabbermouths

And what about when you die? How will you ensure that your heirs or the government or your former employers or, gosh I don’t know, any number of interested parties, can get access to all your emails? Fortunately, there’s an app for that, too. In fact, more than one.

And you want all this. Because what you really, really need is a Jeeves to pick out your socks and handle all the minutia of your daily life so you can focus on the really important things.

“Jeeves lugged my purple socks out of the drawer as if he were a vegetarian fishing a caterpillar out of his salad.” -P. G. Woodhouse

But there’s a cost: personal assistants are personal. So if you want to be Bertie Wooster, you have to put up with Jeeves raining on your inimitable sense of style and walking in on you while you’re playing with the rubber duckie in the bath. And if you steal policemen’s hats or eat seal eyeballs, he’ll put it in that book at the Junior Ganymedes Club.

Thanks for Sharing That

Disgusting stuff Anthony Bordain has eaten: seal eyeballs, sheep testicles, ant eggs, duck embryo, goat head, warthog rectum, a still-beating cobra heart.

I didn’t learn about Anthony Bourdain’s disgusting eating habits from peeking in his kitchen window. He willingly shares this information about himself. Apparently it doesn’t embarrass him. He has a different sense of privacy than I have, because if I ate this stuff I would pay good money to keep it hushed up.

Then again, I read blogs for a living. Much like Anthony Bordain, I also travel the world consuming entrails. And what I read in the blog offal tells me that a lot of people have a real need to violate their own privacy.

But privacy isn't just about being seen, it's about your attention. Today your mental privacy is taking heavy shelling from a constant bombardment of what I suppose we could technically call information. The invasion is dumping on you and taking from you at the same time, and apparently you want it all.

You Are the Product

Publishing is not dying, it's the new software distribution model. Subscriptions, conversions, opt-out, direct withdrawal, the first hit is free: the whole vocabulary of publishing is now the jargon of software sales. In this model, the product is attention. The companies adopting it are selling you. To whom, I’m not sure. Possibly to each other. But their assault on your privacy is driven by a fierce need to know all about you, the better to package you for sale. It’s driven by a terrible hunger for eyeballs.

You know those jokes about the Google Glass project? “The glass is half full because the other half is reserved for ads?” They aren't jokes.

You will give up your privacy because in exchange for your privacy you’ll be offered something that you consider valuable—by companies that deliver services built on data they collect about you.

Broken Windows

I blame windows. Not Windows specifically, but windows generally. Since the early 1980s, user interaction with technology and with the data and connectivity technology provides has been framed in the metaphor of the window. As soon as Tim Berners-Lee gave is the Web, Marc Andreessen and Eric Bina hung a window on it. We’re like Frodo, perpetually exposed to the Lidless Eye. (You’re right; that sounds like something Anthony Bourdain would eat.)

I don’t remember being asked if I wanted windows surrounding me everywhere. And there is now some evidence that these windows may be broken. May in fact, have been designed that way. Broken windows, Lawrence Lessig said, are a form of architecture.

But we may as well accept it. We’ve been naked in front of the window for decades. Google Glass just another pane.

John Shade want you to know that he is a front for a reclusive author of suspicious background named Keyser Soze, which you might keep in mind if you are tempted to send him your feedback or discuss the article in the magazine forum.