mfioretti: data ownership* + social networks*

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  1. Popular internet platforms that currently mediate our everyday communications become more and more efficient in managing vast amounts of information, rendering their users more and more addicted and dependent on them. Alternative, more organic options like community networks do exist and they can empower citizens to build their own local networks from the bottom up. This chapter explores such technological options together with the adoption of a healthier internet diet in the context of a wider vision of sustainable living in an energy-limited world.

    The popular Internet platforms that mediate a significant portion of our everyday communications become thus more and more efficient in managing vast amounts of information. In turn, they also become more and more knowledgeable about designing user interaction design techniques that increase addiction, or “stickiness” when described as a performance metric, and dependency. This renders their users more and more addicted and dependent on them, subject to manipulation and exploitation for commercial and political objectives. This could be characterized as the second watershed of the Internet in the context of Illich’s analysis on the lifecycle of tools. As in the case of medicine and education, the Internet at its early stages was extremely useful. It dramatically increased our access to knowledge and to people all over the world. However, to achieve this, it relied on big organizations offering efficient and reliable services. These services now depend more and more on the participation of people and on the exploitation of the corresponding data produced for platforms to survive. This creates a vicious cycle between addictive design practices and unfair competition which breach the principle of net neutrality, and unethical uses of privately owned knowledge on human behavior which are generated through analyses of the data produced from our everyday online activities.

    In addition to the tremendous social, political, and economic implications of centralizing power on the Internet, there are also significant ecological consequences. At first glance, these seem to be positive. The centralization of online platforms has allowed their owners to build huge data centers in cold climates and invest in technologies that keep servers cool with lower energy costs. However, at the same time, the main aim of online platforms is to maximize the total time spent online as much as possible and to maximize the amount of information exchanged, not only between people but also between “things!” Their profitability depends on the processing of huge amounts of information that produces knowledge which can be sold to advertisers and politicians. Like the pharmaceutical companies, they create and maintain a world in which they are very much needed. This also explains why corporations like Facebook, Google, and Microsoft are at the forefront of the efforts to provide “Internet access to all” and why at the same time local communities face so many economic, political, and legal hurdles that encumber them to build, maintain, and control their own infrastructures.

    To achieve a sustainable level of Internet usage, one needs to provide the appropriate tools and processes for local communities to make decisions on the design of their ICT tools, including appropriate alternative and/or complementary design of places, institutions, and rituals that can impose certain constraints and replace online communications when these are not really necessary. To answer this demand, one should first answer a more fundamental question: How much online communication is needed in an energy-restricted world? In the case of food and housing, there are some reasonable basic needs. For example, each person should consume 2000 calories per day or 35 m2 of habitat (see P.M., 2014). But, how many Mbs does someone need to consume to sustain a good quality of life? What would be the analogy for a restricted vegetarian or even vegan Internet diet?
    The answer might differ depending on the services considered (social activities, collaborative work, or media) and the type of access to the network discussed above. For example, is it really necessary to have wireless connectivity “everywhere, anytime” using expensive mobile devices, or is it enough to have old-fashioned Internet cafes and only wired connections at home? Would it make sense to have Internet-free zones in cities? Can we imagine “shared” Internet usage in public spaces—a group of people interacting together in front of a screen and alternating in showing their favorite YouTube videos (a sort of an Internet jukebox)? There is a variety of more or less novel constraints which could be imposed on different dimensions:

    Time and Volume: A communications network owned by a local community, instead of a global or local corporation, could shut down for certain period of time each day if this is what the community decides. Or community members could agree to have certain time quotas for using the network (e.g., not more than 4 hours per day or 150 hours per month). Such constraints would not only reduce energy consumption; they would also enforce a healthier lifestyle and encourage face-to-face interactions.

    Reducing quotas on the speed (bandwidth) and volume (MB) that each person consumes is another way to restrict Internet consumption. Actually people are already used to such limits especially for 3G/4G connectivity. The difference is that a volume constraint does not necessarily translate to time constraints (if someone uses low volume services such as e-mail). So, volume constraints could encourage the use of less voluminous services (e.g., downloading a movie with low instead of High Definition resolution if this is to be watched in a low definition screen anyway) while time constraints might have the opposite effect (people using as much bandwidth as possible in their available time).

    However, to enforce such constraints, both time and volume based, on an individual basis, the network needs to know who is connecting to it and keep track of the overall usage. This raises the question of privacy and identification online and again the trade-off of trusting local vs. global institutions to take this role. Enforcing time or volume constraints for groups of people (e.g., the residents of a cooperative housing complex) is an interesting option to be considered when privacy is considered important.

    Devices: Energy consumption depends on the type of equipment used to access the Internet. For example, if access to the Internet happens only through desktop computers or laptops using ethernet cables instead of mobile smartphones, then the total energy consumed for a given service would be significantly reduced. Usage would also be dramatically affected: On the positive side, many people would spend less time online and use the Internet only for important tasks. On the negative side, others might stay at home more often and sacrifice outdoors activities in favor of Internet communications.
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  2. Movim
    When social network meets IM,
    you can expect some surprises…

    Our main motto? Don't reinvent the wheel. Since the beginning all the Movim communications are made using XMPP.
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  3. non voglio farla lunga, ma in allora, come oggi, io non controllavo affatto il dato e l’informazione personale volontariamente o forzosamente appresa ad ogni mio movimento; ciò che in qualche modo mi salvava nella tribolata adolescenza (non sempre invero) era il controllo della situazione sociale e del contesto.

    Il controllo sul dato-informazione non l’avevo con il macellaio del paese e non posso pensare di averlo oggi sul web con Google, Facebook e soprattutto con le mille agenzie statuali affette, per svariate e talvolta encomiabili ragioni, da bulimia informativa. Ma in allora avevo contezza e in qualche modo governavo le banali regole tecniche (le vie del paese, gli orari della corriera) e quelle sociali di prossimità del mio territorio.

    Oggi non ci riesco più. E non è solo per la quantità dei dati captati e memorizzati ad ogni passo ma per la totale opacità del contesto e delle regole tecniche e sociali che governano la nostra vita digitale.

    Algoritmi ignoti, insondabili ai loro stessi creatori, ricostruiscono la nostra immagine, creano punteggi e giudicano rilevanze e congruità a nostra totale insaputa. Banche, assicurazioni, imprese di ogni risma e fattezza (a breve l’internet delle cose ci stupirà) ma soprattutto lo Stato, con le sue mille agenzie di verifica e controllo, accedono ad ogni informazione decontestualizzandola, creando relazioni e correlazioni di cui non abbiamo coscienza, ma di cui subiamo quotidianamente le conseguenze.

    Non possiamo impedire tutto questo, il big data e gli open-data salveranno il mondo, d’accordo. Ma possiamo e dobbiamo pretendere di sapere il chi, il come e il quando. Abbiamo bisogno di sapere qual è il contesto, e quali sono le regole; solo così troveremo strategie, non per delinquere o eludere la legge (come sostiene parte della magistratura), ma per esercitare i diritti fondamentali della persona.

    Nel mondo fisico sappiamo quando lo Stato ha il diritto di entrare in casa nostra, o a quali condizioni possa limitare le nostre libertà personali, di movimento, d’espressione; nel mondo digitale non sappiamo, e neppure ci chiediamo, chi, quando e a quali condizioni possa impossessarsi dei nostri dati, dei nostri dispositivi tramite software occulti, della nostra vita. Accettiamo supinamente un’intollerabile opacità.

    Io ho qualcosa da nascondere da quando ho ricordi: sono riservatezze variabili a seconda dell’interlocutore, del tempo, del luogo e del contesto. E non voglio per me e i miei figli una società stupidamente disciplinata da una costante sorveglianza e decerebrata dagli algoritmi. Vorrei una società in cui l’asimmetria dell’informazione sia l’esatto opposto dell’attuale, dove purtroppo il cittadino è totalmente trasparente e lo Stato e le sue regole sono opache e incerte.
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    Carlo Blengino
    Carlo Blengino

    Avvocato penalista, affronta nelle aule giudiziarie il diritto delle nuove tecnologie, le questioni di copyright e di data protection. È fellow del NEXA Center for Internet & Society del Politecnico di Torino. @CBlengio su Twitter
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  4. In their report, the researchers imagine a slow start to the tailspin that eventually leads to the collapse of our current Internet Age. It starts with a disillusionment with Silicon Valley (“When did we stop trying to change the world and instead just make indulgent products for rich 30-year-old singles?”) and subsequent developer exodus to Asia. Europe starts regulating technology even more aggressively, and investors start rolling their eyes at buzzwords like “innovation.” Finally, some outside event—a revolution overseas, a contentious election—shakes up markets, and the collapse begins. Stock prices soon fall by 90 percent.

    Desperate companies will resort, if they can, to selling the detailed data they’ve meticulously collected about their users—whether it’s personally identifiable information, data about preferences, habits, and hobbies, or national-security files. That data, formerly walled-off and spoon-fed only to paying advertisers, would be attractive to both licit and criminal buyers. Easily searchable datasets could generate new innovations and investments—but it would be difficult to know who’s buying up sensitive datasets, and why.

    If contracts and privacy policies prevent a floundering company from selling user data, there’s still another way to profit. Most privacy policies that promise not to sell user data include a caveat in case of bankruptcy or sale.
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  5. Since its inception, email has been the best invention in the information age — right on the level of TCP/IP and HTTP. Why?

    It’s ubiquitous. Every device. Every kind of network. Every system. Every person. Everyone has an email address, and anything can be built to accept email. Because of this, everyone can be represented online via a unique email identity.

    It’s asynchronous. Stream-based collaboration tools are all about communication at the moment. When I sign on to our team portal in the morning, I easily could miss everything posted since last night, focusing on what I can see in the window. IM is even worse, if I’m not signed on at the moment, that message is gone. Email is designed to be asynchronous.

    It’s democratic. Email as a standalone product has no central controlling authority, unlike a Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter. A threat to email and its dependencies would be treated as a direct threat to the Internet itself, and any profiteer wouldn’t dare end it.

    It’s open. While spam filters keep out the garbage, and do an increasingly good job, it’s still the most reliable way to reach out to someone, especially a new contact.

    It’s dirt cheap. Sending an email costs nothing. Sending lots of email, you’re paying an email marketing company fractions of a penny per contact to ensure deliverability. How much would it cost to engage purely via LinkedIn InMails, or how limited would you be if you could only communicate via Facebook Messenger?

    It (can be) forever. I’m not sure I ever sent any messages on Friendster, but what happened when they shut down?
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  6. the social Web: a glorious dystopia where everybody works for likes — as in, “for free” — while a handful of tech tycoons profit.

    Never has this been clearer than in the past month, as Reddit — a private company that recently accepted $50 million in venture funding — quelled an uprising among the volunteers who actually run the site: its moderators.

    What will happen to the Internet if Reddit shuts down? »

    But insomuch as Reddit relies on digital work to run its business, it is not alone. In fact, that’s basically the elevator pitch of every major Internet institution, from Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to Wikipedia. Even when these sites don’t openly rely on “consumers” to create the content that keeps venture capital, ad revenue or donations pouring in, they’re mining them for other sorts of resources that can be monetized.

    Can something truly be called exploitative, or even labor, if the exploited parties enjoy it? That’s a difficult question and one that theorists haven’t conclusively answered yet.

    And still, there’s plenty to suggest that different sorts of labor arrangements would be really good for users and the sites they work on. When people aren’t paid for their work, for instance, the only people who can contribute are the ones who (a) have money from other sources or (b) are overwhelmingly compelled by motivations like power, popularity or revenge. (The writer and tech theorist David Banks has implied this is one of the reasons that Reddit skews so heavily young and male.)
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  7. Under every information architecture there hides a power structure.

    what emerges from the view that David proposed to us a decade ago now in The Power of Networks?

    This view quickly makes it clear that in distributed networks, the non-existence of central nodes not only makes it possible to have a network that is much more robust, but hierarchies also disappear, autonomy is favored and the control over others becomes impossible.

    As a result, the nature of distributed networks is completely different from that of decentralized ones. A distributed network is not a more decentralized network. This is why it’s very important to answer the question of whether GNU social has a distributed or decentralized structure.

    This conversation and especially the message belowput us on the track of a broader and more appropriate answer.

    All microblogging and social networking sites are using selectively flawed ideas and should be transformed. Nobody needs ‘microblogging,’ they want socialization.

    The desire to socialize and connect with each other shows the fact that all these systems and sites are not social networks in themselves, but tools that, like instant messaging and mail services, are used by social networks, which is to say, networks of people.

    So we see that GNU social is a free tool for interconnection and communication used by different social networks. What functions will it offer, and what we will exchange through GNU social? That depends on what the social networks that use it want.
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  8. If your profile were linked to a domain name that you own, then if your existing hosting company ever deleted your profile (or threatened to), you could simply move your profile to a new hosting company, the same way that any person or company can currently switch their domain name between hosting providers. This, obviously, would instantly render moot any one company's policies about "real names" (or porn, for that matter) -- all you have to do is find at least one company, anywhere in the world, whose policies are permissive enough to host your profile, and that should be possible for all but the most extreme or illegal content.
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  9. Your personal information and content is yours, not ours. We do not spy on you, track your data, or share your information.

    MeWe lets you share anything– photos, videos, voice messages, editable documents, mail, chat, and more. Capture your entire world or just a moment in time.
    Next Generation

    Our unique permission controls let you decide who can see your content, preventing creepy strangers and 'friends of friends' from peeking. You can even make yourself invisible to other members if you want.

    MeWe delivers awesome features so you can stay connected to your friends, family, and world. Communicate 1:1 and in private groups. You even get your own personal cloud storage with breakthrough content controls for saving content you've already shared.
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  10. già oggi tutti dispongono di almeno una o più caselle e-mail (per lavoro, personale, hobby, famiglia) il cui contenuto è spesso lasciato all’interno dei “capienti” server del provider prescelto; molti di noi hanno svariati profili sui social network, altri ancora conservano le proprie fotografie in servizi di conservazione on-line.

    Ma che fine faranno tutti questi dati, conservati on line, quando l’individuo che ne è “proprietario”, o che ne è l’autore, non ci sarà più? Chi, ed in che modo, potrà accedervi?
    Si tratta di un problema noto da tempo (e conosciuto anche come “eredità digitale” – digital inheritance), ma di cui si parla ancora troppo poco, sia in Italia che nel Mondo.

    Il notariato italiano, da sempre attento alle problematiche inerenti i propri settori di attività, si occupa di tale problematica fin dal 2007 e continua a farlo nonostante l’assenza di una normativa nazionale (ed internazionale) in materia.
    Le difficoltà però rimangono, e sono legate soprattutto al fatto che la maggior parte dei servizi on line è regolamentata da ordinamenti diversi da quello italiano. Pensare quindi di far valere in USA o in Cina i diritti che la legge italiana riserva agli eredi di un cittadino italiano non è affatto semplice, né economico. Ma vi è di più.
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