Privacy Evangelism

I believe that privacy, and by extension, information security, is the most valuable part of the internet in 2021 and onward. Most people and companies who use the internet have little to no private ownership of their data. And they typically have tenuous security once they do decide to share data with others. Why? Because unrestricted access to data about you is so valuable to advertisers, that it pays for a massive array of supposedly ‘free’ services. In much of the world, the internet is free or highly subsidized if you limit yourself to using only Facebook. In those same markets, the per gb data broadcast fees are astronomically high outside of that gated ecosystem.

Organizations that sell data can’t simultaneously sell privacy, because it would be a conflict of interest economic interest. Shoshana Zuboff at Harvard compares asking Facebook and Google to offer privacy as analogous as asking Henry Ford to produce cars by hand. Jaron Lanier, explains in the movie “The Social Dilemma (featured on Netflix), that there is only one product advertisers pay for, and that is to change your behaviors. The data about each person is what allows the companies to change our behavior so effectively, and this valuable feedback loop reinvests in the companies’s infrastructure to extend a lack of privacy.

Obviously, many advertising financed or algorithmic inspired changes in behavior are purely good, such as an unknown musician paying to promote her album that will appeal to a new, larger audience. But by extension, this exact same mechanism can have nefarious purposes as well, such as driving division between neighbors, sponsored by geopolitical actors or purposes, according to political analyst Peter Zeihan. Drug dealers and social media companies are the only two industries that refer to their customers as users, and this semantic choice is part of a systematic process to dehumanize the economic relationship.

So, if privacy is so valuable, what am I, Gerald, doing about it? After all, where there is an inflection point, there is massive economic opportunity for those who build a better widget. Well, I have exiting news to share. Yesterday an engineering organization (that for now will remain private) offered me a job, and a blank check on my title. They have been looking for an entrepreneur to help them build their secure, private, internet infrastructure.

Why did I earn this job offer as a somewhat obscure artist and entrepreneur? Because despite my lack of actual cryptography credentials, I have the empathetic experience of running a business, the economic experience of creating a new market, and I’m enough of an engineer to speak about the confluence of cryptography, economics, and humane business models to potential customers of privacy and security. For example, I created a new market in the natural stone industry, despite the industry already existing for thousands of years. Likewise I will create new markets in the privacy world despite an entrenched and powerful infrastructure devoted to monetizing your lack of privacy. As someone born in the early 1980s, I came of age with the internet and so its evolution is part of my own DNA now.

The internet was originally an American military invention driven by the legitimate fear of nuclear war destroying our otherwise top-down military communications. Ultimately the technology made the leap to the private sector, because of the obvious social benefits. And while I was a young boy, my father wrote a book called The Business Internet in 1994, predicting that the internet would eventually become a globally significant set of technologies for commerce.

Therefore the internet is decentralized and functions without a government, and therefore by nature has no privacy or built in security. There is now even a portion of the internet called the dark web that functions completely via p2p nodes without any organizational oversight or individual accountability. This is because the internet is simply a computer system architectural standards that allow computers / or devices to communicate with each other, regardless of geography. It’s architecture won’t or can’t change, but there is an opportunity to build a secure layer for those who do want privacy and security and the same tools we already think of regarding the internet.

Behind each device and data is ultimately a person. If this person wants actual privacy for themselves and their accumulated data, and secure ways to share data with others, they need to think about the internet from the ground up.

If you are like most people I know, you probably have a feeling that you like privacy, and don’t want Facebook spying on you and selling your personal data. Even if you like the idea of Facebook showing you certain target ads, such as for an upcoming musician, you want tight, accountable control. For example, if you go to a pharmacy and buy a pregnancy test, you would likely find it creepy and an invasion of your privacy to start seeing ads for baby clothes when you surfed the web the next day.

Or, maybe you are already a cypherpunk and you love decentralized money like Bitcoin, and the smart contracts that block chains enable. But you also want tight security so that your digital savings aren’t hacked and doesn’t disappear into the literal ether. Unless you are at the top of the engineering food chain, there is a shark looking to eat you for dinner. So how do you swim in this ocean securely, as part of a school of benevolent fish?

The question now, is what technology architecture offers both privacy when you connect on social media, and security when you start exchanging money over decentralized blockchains?

Before I can answer that question, I have a more fundamental question for you to ask yourself. Are you willing to be accountable for your actions?

For example, if you are a contract killer, sell illegal drugs, or want to destabilize a a foreign or your own government for profit, then the architecture I would propose is not going to appeal to you. That is because you would obviously want to hide your identity online, because there are lots of laws about murder, theft, and terrorism.

However, if you are someone who sold Bitcoin for a profit and happily paid your taxes, that means you are fundamentally willing to be accountable for your actions.

It is possible to keep your Bitcoin transactions secure and social media private from advertisers, but a truly secure architecture also means that if you break certain rules specific to those systems, ie tax avoidance, or you try to hire a hit man on Facebook, then you will also be accountable for violating those rules. In fact, the more secure the system architecture, the more likely you will be accountable for bad behavior. The flip side, is that the other people around you will be held to account as well. Is that a deal you would take?

Vice versa, if Facebook breaks your privacy or your Bitcoin exchange gets hacked, you won’t even necessarily know that happened right away. And because those systems Terms of Service never promised you privacy or security, you would have no authority to hold accountable for either breach of trust. So new systems of cryptography applied to the internet will hold both you accountable and your organizations accountable to you.

What is ironic about currently non-private internet architecture today, is that it is so different from probably THE most exciting technology many of us already use regularly. The car! When you drive on public roads, your identity is private until there is a reason for a third party to securely procure your identity. Only very rarely, such as in sparsely populated areas, are there events called a hit and run accident. And even then, usually there are clues that hold the offender to account. For example, when you go through a toll booth, the government gets your identity either from a transponder or a license plate, and you pay the toll that justified building the road. Or if you get in an accident, only then do you exchange your registration or your license plate with the other driver. But for the most part, you drive around with a plate visible to everyone, and there is no breach of your privacy. Cryptography is the science of how these systems operate.

However on the modern internet, the hit and run attacks are widespread. What I will be building and sharing, should the team and the role be a good fit for all parties, will be a set of standards for people who want to be accountable, to do so safely, without fear of hit and run attacks. Wish me luck!

This entry was posted in Technology. Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>