The Beast Upon Your Shoulder, The Price Upon Your Head.

Imagine a place that looks pretty much like any other faux-English pub/sports bar on the planet: familiar, unremarkable, safe. It’s only when you eye the menu— “Deviled Lamb Kidneys on Dripping Toast”; “Stilton Cheese Ice Cream”; “Crusty Lard in Mason Jars”; “Jellied Stingray garnished with Nettles”— that you start to wonder if you’ve entered some kind of gustatory Twilight Zone. It’s like they’re daring you to eat this stuff by giving it the most revolting names possible.

Weird thing, though: the worse it sounds, the better it tastes. They once served up a one-off batch of— I kid you not— cinder ice cream. It tasted exactly like the bottom of a fireplace, and somehow it was delicious. It must have been five years ago now, and I still beg them to bring it back every time I climb those stairs.

We call this place “The Queeve” (short for “Queen and Beaver”, its actual name), and it’s a good place to hang out with fellow authors. (At the very least, horror writers can seek inspiration from the menu listings.) Dale Sproule for example, with whom I argued a few weeks back over a pint and a plate of kedgerie. The daily peeve was online privacy: I recited my usual outraged litany of violations committed by corporations and governments alike as they stalked us across the internet. It cut no ice with Dale: “You know, if CSIS is really all that interested in where I buy my underwear or what porn sites I visit, they’re welcome to it.”

Hardly the first time I’d heard that line— it’s one of the most common variants of the “nothing to hide = nothing to fear” fallacy— but it got me thinking. Dale’s no dummy. Neither is ecofantasist extraordinaire Alyx Dellamonica, who responded to an earlier iteration of the same tirade with “Your arguments all make sense, and I know I should care— but I don’t, really.”

That’s okay, guys. Nobody does. All these years post-Snowden, all these endless warnings and reports on slashdot and ars Technica and the EFF website— LG televisions listen to your pillow talk and report it to headquarters, CSIS routinely scrapes Canadians’ social media accounts just for the hell of it, Windows 10 logs your keystrokes— and for the most part, people yawn and shrug and get on with their lives. If LG really wants to know what I say to my boyfriend in front of the TV, they’re welcome to it.

Why is that?

Back at the Queeve, last week’s hang-out was with Karl Schroeder. We bitched about our publisher; we knocked around an actual adaptive function for consciousness (or at least, a potential function, if you tweak it just a hair to the left); and—

“— and Dale, he was just if CSIS is really all that interested they’re welcome to it. But you know, if every time he walked down the street some hulking guy was two steps back, taking notes on everything he did and muttering into a wrist mic, I’m pretty sure it’d creep him out. And people wouldn’t be so copacetic if every time they made a purchase a Man in Black grabbed their wallet and riffled through it to see how much was inside. Or if Sony sent some guy to follow you around in your house with a voice recorder.”

Karl nodded patiently.

“But that’s exactly what happens when you go online, when you boot up your smart TV. It’s the same damn thing but nobody cares because we’re not wired to feel threatened by electrons. You can’t even see electrons, so all you have is this intellectual knowledge. There’s no gut response to online threats. But if every one of those trackers manifested as some dark predatory shape, I bet Dale and Lexus wold be quite so blasé about—”

Blink.

I think it was Karl who suggested building an app at that point. At least, he’d evidently invented something similar in a story he wrote for the Hieroglyph anthology: a VR app called “Fountainview”, which— every time you made a financial transaction— showed where your money was going by drawing an luminous arc from you to whatever entity(s) had lightened your wallet. (I’ve just bought three tickets for The Force Awakens. Oh, my: there goes a bright stream arcing through the air from me to Disney, and another to Cineplex Odeon! Oh, and there’s there’s a little JJ Abrams icon, sipping from Disney’s run-off. See how it works?)

(The biggest stream of all, of course, goes to Engulf and Devour Inc, the company that sells cinema popcorn at $4.80 per kernel.)

Karl had envisioned a great user-friendly visual aid to show exactly who you were supporting with your hard-earned bucks, and how many skips it took to get back to the Koch Brothers. If someone isn’t building something like that in real life, they damn well should be.

Now imagine another app that manifests a dark, threatening figure at your shoulder every time twitter plants a tracking cookie on your laptop, or whenever Google mines your email for lucrative keywords. Imagine some raincoat-wearing perv with binoculars, popping onto your screen whenever the TV relays your living-room conversation upstream to parties unknown. Or a monstrous leech affixing itself to the glass, pulsing and sucking and grotesquely swollen with data, every time you fill out one of those facebook surveys to discover which Disney Princess you are.

The Apparent Online Experience.

The Apparent Online Experience.

The actual online experience, brought to you by Real Life (TM).

The actual online experience, brought to you by Real Life (TM).

Nothing that actually blocks the stream, mind you. Nothing that might disrupt functionality or fuck with any of those peeks and scrapes nobody seems to care about. Just something to show your online environment as it really is, in a way your Pleistocene brain can grasp. Write it first for cell phones, tablets, and laptops. Move on to the Oculus Rift and the HoloLens; have it ready for that imminent point, just a few years down the road, when our realities are all augmented. That’s when it will really hit its stride, gut-reaction wise.

Call it “Realview”. Better yet, call it Real Life. I’ve even got a tag line for you:

Real Life. When facts aren’t enough.

Coders, you have your mission. Get started. I know a couple of people who could really use this.

Just don’t count on ever being able to sell it in the Apple Store.

 

This entry was written by Peter Watts , posted on Wednesday December 16 2015at 02:12 pm , filed under Big Brother, relevant tech . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

43 Responses to “The Beast Upon Your Shoulder, The Price Upon Your Head.”

  1. A part of the conversation you omitted, Peter was me saying that part of the reason I’m not freaked out is that:
    A) the level of competence in even the loftiest spy agencies is probably astonishingly low. Movies have made us expect them to be James Bonds and Jason Bournes, but more of them are probably Maxwell Smarts.
    B) they don’t have the manpower to keep an eye on everybody. Granted, as AIs are increasingly employed it will get scarier. But right now that hulking guy is distracted and more or less benign – trying to look everywhere at once. More of a Paul Blart – Mall Cop than a genuine Big Brother level threat.
    Granted, incompetence can sometimes be scarier than actual competence. But in those cases, they’re not threatening because they are spying on you, they’re scary because they’re doing it badly. Which threatens everyone equally and has very little to do with the actual intel they may have gathered.
    I concede that clowns can be dangerous, especially for someone who likes baiting idiots for sport. And I think more and more people will respond by going off-grid and underground – reactions that are increasingly called for. Since you and I had that discussion, I have seen some disturbing evidence of how much retailers can extrapolate from our weekly buying habits. With computers compiling “lists,” based on such evidence, things could indeed get out of hand pretty quickly. So I AM becoming more concerned, although I’m still a ways from pulling on my tin foil hat and running off to live in the woods.

  2. The chrome plugin Ghostery does something like that – it displays a popup with the names of trackers embedded in websites. Not quite as disquieting as a leech, but probably skinnable to look like one :)

  3. What if it was not a threatening figure but a largely disinterested, bored, average-looking but kind of cute female government employee following you around with a notebook? I suspect the threat level would stay close to baseline.

  4. Privacy Badger is another plugin that’s similar to Ghostery. I run ’em both with minimal impact to my browsing.

    It should be noted that both of these plugins not only show you if the current website is tracking you (via cookies, or whatever), but it allows you to BLOCK those bits of code ever making to your cache.

    At the end of the day, it’s probably like plugging up one leak while three more spring up around you, but hey, it’s something. Come to think of it, this would be an interesting *Queeve* topic for you guys next time. Does the illusion of protection, or perhaps, a barely adequate solution (e.g., a band-aid on a gaping wound) give people enough comfort to justify a feeling of security?

    Discuss.

    Oh, and order me a dish of cinder ice cream. Damn, that sounds…intriguing.

  5. I wonder how long humans or proto-humans had been living in groups before the idea of privacy developed? “Hey, don’t come over here right now, I’m ——-ing here!” I bet it was quite a long time, and the idea of privacy is certainly a quite fluid concept depending on the culture and the individual. The web’s been around for two or three decades, hardly long enough the diversity of reactions/responses to it to have evolved to any kind of uniformity. It’ll take a lot more cyber-K-T extinction events — either personal (identity or resource theft) or societal (breaches resulting in massive negative social effects, e.g. bye-bye North American power grid) — before most people start reflexively treating the virtual, electronic world with the fear and respect that they should.

  6. Ghostery (or a clone) is probably one of the best options for the ‘look at who’s looking’ part of this. While the actual aim of the tool is to block trackers, you get a nice big list of names every time you load a page, showing you all the people who would’ve got a peak at you.

    It can be a fun exercise to browse around various sites and see how high you can get the total count of snoopers — what’s the sleasiest site you visit? News sites are some of the worst, in my experience. I eventually found the notification annoying, so turned it off, but it certainly drives home the message you’re aiming at.

    It would probably be possible to replace the list with some kind of sleaze-guy icon (like the reverse of the padlock thing), but then it would have no impact because for most people it would just never go away.

  7. “Nothing was your own except the few cubic centimetres inside your skull.” True in 1948, true in 2015 — NEVER GOING TO CHANGE.

  8. Dale, the problem isn’t so much that the NSA will be peeking into your drawers. Honestly, who cares as long as they don’t share it around? Sure, it’s possible that the U.S. (where I live) will turn into just the right sort of totalitarian state that the government having that information would actually result in harm to me, but among the risks I face at age 50, this is not the one that worries me the most.

    The problem is that every company we interact with these days is collecting a huge store of data about us, and they have lousy security. The NSA pretty clearly has lousy security, ironically. So the problem is that these giant piles of data will get captured by people who will then use it to defraud us and steal from us. This is already happening, and it’s not restricted to small thefts, like the contents of your checking account. People have had houses stolen.

    If you frame this as “the government is peeping,” it really is hard to get excited about it. If you frame it as “the government and every corporation you do business is keeping steaming piles of data about you in places where any reasonably competent crook can steal it,” then it becomes a bit more of a danger, but of course people still generally don’t have a mental model for how this can actually harm them. Give it time.

  9. “Newly installed app Real Life would like permission to decrypt and monitor every network connection made by this device. Allow Y/N?”

    Isn’t this just David Brin’s sousveillance under a different name? You watch me, I watch you watching me?

    I like the idea of dramatic images that pop up when you access particular web sites or even particular URLs. I think it would be possible even for the App Store now that third-party filters for web browsing are allowed. You wouldn’t tell Apple what you were doing, just provide a filter that every so often consults an online server to decide what images should be displayed for given web sites.

    Not so keen on yet another program studying my every financial transaction.

  10. […] Watts: […]

  11. I think the problem is that you can’t force it on them. People might be more scared if they saw the people surveilling them as literal dark shadowy figures stalking every thing they do… but those who do simply won’t install the app, because they don’t want to be scared and they already know, intellectually that they’re being watched, unless they already care about it they’re not likely to install this app, just like they’re not likely to install ghostery (which I have, and doesn’t do much to increase my fear).

    People have to actually see negative things happening to people they know and care about to start getting worried. And even then… for most people, they won’t be able to do anything but get, personally, angry and scared, because the people that have the levers of power don’t scare their concern. You’d need a culture of widespread doxxing based on some of this collected information, which might already be starting, or the next Snowden, instead of warning us about the dangers of privacy violations, simply releasing the most embarrassing information about the people in power who refuse to put checks on it. I know that’s just Brin’s old Sousveillance idea, but I’m talking about it where it rises to the level of terrorism: don’t just watch what they’re doing, find any secret they have that would embarrass them. Don’t stop with them, either, embarrass their families, their mistresses, make them personally invested because they won’t have any peace, someone in their life is always going to be complaining about how much of their private life can be snooped on. I don’t think that’s all that workable, though, since instead of making the data harder to collect, they’ll just try to make it impossible for those not on their team to access without consequences (or just encourage a culture of ‘no shame about anything’, which on some levels might also be a benefit). Both plans may be exactly as technologically unfeasible, but they’ll believe in the second one.

    I think you’d have more luck with a wide variety of countermeasures. In Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge, they had something called the Friends of Privacy, that did things like put false information about people out there, so it was just a tiny bit harder for people searching for the real information to know what to trust. That might not be very feasible, but, how about apps that swap tracking cookies with other random users? Captcha’s that, instead of identifying scanned text or improve machine picture recognition, require you to google something embarrassing for somebody else? None of them, and maybe not even all of them together, will do much to stem the problem, but… reality never promised fair fights. Sometimes, your worldview just loses, and all you can hope to do is claw and fight to the bitter, inevitable end.

    Well, that ended a bit more depressing than I’d intended when I started typing. But it does make me smile that two of my favorite SF authors occasionally get together to talk SF. And I do really like the Fountain app idea, which taps into a different type of brainspace and might well take off.

  12. speaking of surveillance, counter-surveillance:

    https://youtu.be/JyTb5mJOYLo

    IMSI Catcher Counter-Surveillance
    Freddy Martinez

    … In the talk we will describe practical (cheap / off the shelf) solutions that we have actually used in various scenarios …

  13. Edward Snowden: “Arguing that you don’t care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say”.

  14. Dale Sproule: A) the

    Dale Sproule:

    A) the level of competence in even the loftiest spy agencies is probably astonishingly low. Movies have made us expect them to be James Bonds and Jason Bournes, but more of them are probably Maxwell Smarts.

    B) they don’t have the manpower to keep an eye on everybody. Granted, as AIs are increasingly employed it will get scarier. But right now that hulking guy is distracted and more or less benign – trying to look everywhere at once. More of a Paul Blart – Mall Cop than a genuine Big Brother level threat.
    Granted, incompetence can sometimes be scarier than actual competence.

    Yes. Incompetence should scare you more, especially combined with a very real financial incentive. Maybe take it a step further than Peter bitching about governments AND corporations and start thinking of it as it is. One entity with one goal: Scooping as much of your stuff as it possibly can and giving it to those who own the growing snowball rolling down the mountain. It’s a job. As elite Jay Gould once boasted, “I can pay half the working class to murder the other half.”

    Really, we should be thinking along the lines of East Germany. They didn’t care that if people were loyal to the State; they abducted them and tortured them until they confesses to things they didn’t do. Kissing ass doesn’t work. They have to keep busy in order to continue to be powerful, untouchable. That’s all the incentive they need.

    And do not underestimate the size of the beast. Really, having interacted with many of the people they may very well have done training on for the past decades, the number is not likely small.

    —–

    Re: Nothing to hide, Snowden’s comment, “Saying I don’t need privacy because I have nothing to hide is like saying I don’t need free speech because I have nothing to say.” You may not miss it now because you aren’t using it. 1,000 reasons that this can and very likely will change.

    Finally, really, I see every indication that even “grass roots” orgs are targeted {duckduckgo recent revelations that Koch has its own spying section for use against individual activists and eco-orgs} as well as people whose ideas would have wound up in a pile of burning books, if you catch my meaning. Alan Moore for example.

    Hate to use this analogy because it sounds a bit misogynist to me, but whereas surveillance can be thought of as voyeurism/peeping in the window, it’s the eventual use of the info collected that resembles rape. To repurpose you based on things as innocuous as underwear choices, what bands you listen to.

    We are reasonable people. Do not assume that our covertard opponents are as well. Cuz let me tell you… {insert unbelieivable and long story here 😉 }.

  15. I wonder if it’s related to the acceptable risk factor in playgrounds? Where they found that the more safety factors they built into playgrounds, the more kids would misuse the equipment, as if they had a baseline risk level they were going to take regardless of the circumstances? And so it was possible that the only way to actually increase safety was to make things look more dangerous than they were.

    In this circumstance, flipped to: the more people know about privacy and security, the more likely they to assume incompetence/doesn’t matter/you just gotta live, such that the net privacy risk people are willing to dare remains more or less level. and so.

  16. I find it ironic that this page uses Google Analytics.

  17. Ross Presser:
    “Nothing was your own except the few cubic centimetres inside your skull.” True in 1948, true in 2015 — NEVER GOING TO CHANGE.

    Oh, it certainly is going to change. Just not for the better.

  18. Finally, really, I see every indication that even “grass roots” orgs are targeted {duckduckgo recent revelations that Koch has its own spying section for use against individual activists and eco-orgs} as well as people whose ideas would have wound up in a pile of burning books, if you catch my meaning.

    Agreed. The private uses of big data are potentially far more dangerous than the government uses of big data. As long as we don’t go full totalitarian I’m a lot more worried about what big business knows about me.

  19. I often think of Henry Ford’s infamous statement about not trusting the government due to its treatment of Native Americans. The problem: said treatment was done primarily on behalf of men like him.

    Back when elected officials needed more public support they at least pretended that government and business were opponents at times. The Great Depression left an impression. Monopolies were broken down. Now, they get deferred prosecution agreements. And for those who missed it, Koch and the Obama administration are working on “criminal justice reform” that is actually a Trojan horse that will make it more difficult to prosecute elites in the future.

    Now that opposition, such as it ever was, is gone. They are one big hungry kraken with the separation only appearing when we are looking at tentacles, not where they connect.

  20. If some guy with a clipboard started to follow me around, I’d be worried the first day. A little less worried the next, and soon he would fade into the background and be ignored as part of life if he didn’t do anything to me.
    So far, no one I know had been harmed by cyber privacy issues. I’ve gotten a dozen notices about my credit card information being stolen by hackers but the only time I’ve been affected is when my credit card was physically stolen and used by someone. I know there’s a lot that business/government/criminals can do with data, but until they actually do something its hard to be worried.

  21. Dale Sproule: A part of the conversation you omitted, Peter was me saying that part of the reason I’m not freaked out is that:
    A) the level of competence in even the loftiest spy agencies is probably astonishingly low.

    Yeah, which is why some brown 12-year-old down in Texas was kidnapped by authorities and held for three days without even informing his parents, because some local schoolyard bully thought it would be a laugh to tell the teachers the kid had brought a bomb to class. Even worse, the 12-year-old is still under house arrest, even though it’s been established that no bomb existed.

    And that’s just meatspace abuse. Give those shitstains access to the NSA database and— as you say later in your comment— Maxwell Smart gives you plenty reason to worry.

    Also, it doesn’t matter a good goddamn whether the powers that be are capable of keeping an eye on everyone at the moment; they’re still collecting all that data anyway, and those archives will be just as accessible on that day in the not-too-distant future when algos can track everything. You may want to rethink that living-in-the-woods option.

  22. Don Reba:
    What if it was not a threatening figure but a largely disinterested, bored, average-looking but kind of cute female government employee following you around with a notebook? I suspect the threat level would stay close to baseline.

    Yup. Which is why you want a more ominous avatar than that; our Pleistocene guts are any more wired to fear cute people with clipboards than tracking cookies.

    ken: Privacy Badger is another plugin that’s similar to Ghostery. I run ‘em both with minimal impact to my browsing.

    I’ve been using Privacy Badger for some time now. I like it! Have not yet tried Ghostery.

    The fear is that someone markets a Privacy-Badger-like app which is actually something designed to spy on you while pretending to protect you. Fortunately there are still a lot of folks who raise the alarm about those kind of things. Never take a product at its word.

    Dan Reid: I wonder how long humans or proto-humans had been living in groups before the idea of privacy developed? “Hey, don’t come over here right now, I’m ——-ing here!” I bet it was quite a long time, and the idea of privacy is certainly a quite fluid concept depending on the culture and the individual.

    This is something I actually poked around with a little back when I was preparing for that keynote address I gave to the privacy people last year. It’s often claimed that the whole concept of “privacy” is a cultural blip, starting in the Victorian era and already fading, and that we as a species aren’t wired for it. Such sentiments tend to track back to “You already have zero privacy. Get over it” types who have a vested interest in pushing that narrative. There were, however, flaps on tents, doors on houses, and curtains over windows for thousands of years before then, in environments where weather isn’t really an issue. I remain unconvinced of the Ellison platform.

    Ross Presser: “Nothing was your own except the few cubic centimetres inside your skull.” True in 1948, true in 2015 — NEVER GOING TO CHANGE.

    I dunno. I’m not gonna wager that it’ll be true in 2045. I’ve seen too much recent progress on the whole voxel-reading front.

    Still, there are plenty of more imminent things to worry about.

  23. Hugh: Isn’t this just David Brin’s sousveillance under a different name? You watch me, I watch you watching me?

    My guess is that Dr. Brin wouldn’t think much of this just on philosophical grounds. It’s a limited app we’re postulating here after all, designed not to “watch the guys watching us” so much as to just impress upon us, on a gut level, the inherent danger in being watched to motivate us to take steps to protect our privacy. Brin doesn’t think much of privacy protection advocates; he tends to describe them as ineffectual people “whining don’t look at me!“. (In fact, judging by the frequency with which the dude uses the term, “whining” seems to be the favored vocalization mode of privacy advocates everywhere.)

    Peter D: I think the problem is that you can’t force it on them. … People have to actually see negative things happening to people they know and care about to start getting worried. … I think you’d have more luck with a wide variety of countermeasures.

    Yeah, these are good points. I’m reluctant to advocate wide-scale indiscriminate doxxing, just as I’d be reluctant to advocate mass-scale death and destruction just to highlight the dangers of climate change— yet you’re right in that it’ll probably take something that extreme to make most people give a shit. I guess the iconography is a weak attempt to invoke that kind of primal gut fear without actually tearing your throat out. Like those cats who freak out at the sign of zucchinis because they look like snakes.

    In any event, adopting a range of countermeasures is the whole point. This app would simply inspire people to do that, assuming it even worked.

    Sheila: speaking of surveillance, counter-surveillance:
    https://youtu.be/JyTb5mJOYLo

    This guy’s pretty cool. His delivery could use some work…

    Jesus:
    Edward Snowden: “Arguing that you don’t care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say”.

    That’s perfect.

    cphlebas: I wonder if it’s related to the acceptable risk factor in playgrounds? Where they found that the more safety factors they built into playgrounds, the more kids would misuse the equipment, as if they had a baseline risk level they were going to take regardless of the circumstances? And so it was possible that the only way to actually increase safety was to make things look more dangerous than they were.

    That’s cool, and analogous, just transposed a bit to the right: in this case you’d be endeavoring to scale up to actual risk level instead of higher-than-actual.

    The Whole Real Life thing is an emotionally-manipulative logic-bypass, admittedly, no different than using picture of cute seal pups or crying out “Think of the children!” to short-circuit rational debate. Still, those strategies work— and I’d argue that scary avatars are probably more accurate representations of risk than a simple cookie-counter anyway.

    Albert:
    I find it ironic that this page uses Google Analytics.

    Touché. In my defense, though, my imagination is sufficiently paranoid that I’m already seeing dark sinister shapes everywhere even without the Real Life app.

  24. bookworm1398:
    If some guy with a clipboard started to follow me around, I’d be worried the first day. A little less worried the next, and soon he would fade into the background and be ignored as part of life if he didn’t do anything to me…. until they actually do something its hard to be worried.

    Yeah, that’s basically the point Peter D was making, and it’s a good one. Maybe mixing up the avatars now and then might slow the habituation response.

    Or maybe the goal isn’t so much to induce fear as outrage. I might not be especially frightened by the image of myself covered in sucking leeches, but such a graphic metaphor might still remind me to stay angry at the bloodsuckers for longer than I otherwise would.

  25. Living life as a reclusive computer privacy nut isn’t too bad. It’s kind of hard to coordinate things without social media, but none of my friends are all too invested in that shit anyway so it’s fine.

    One thing is that most people don’t realize how deep the rabbit hole goes. Trackers can do some really shady shit to look at your activity online, and it takes a lot of work to get a system that is both usable and private, mostly with installing browser plugins and changing dns settings and switching browsers and then operating systems(windows and chrome users, you’re being tracked right now) and deleting social media accounts and moving out of the cloud.

    I encourage everyone to try.

  26. bookworm1398:
    So far, no one I know had been harmed by cyber privacy issues. I’ve gotten a dozen notices about my credit card information being stolen by hackers…

    Three times, first two in the Aughties. Second time someone was having a grand time in a hotel and spa or something in Kiev. Third time they said someone made a pair of physical cards and successfully used them in both Texas and California just days after I moved to Chicago.

    Really a minor inconvenience though compared to pickpocketing and mugging on the way to court houses. :)

  27. Dan Reid:
    I wonder how long humans or proto-humans had been living in groups before the idea of privacy developed? “Hey, don’t come over here right now, I’m ——-ing here!” I bet it was quite a long time, and the idea of privacy is certainly a quite fluid concept depending on the culture and the individual. The web’s been around for two or three decades, hardly long enough the diversity of reactions/responses to it to have evolved to any kind of uniformity. It’ll take a lot more cyber-K-T extinction events — either personal (identity or resource theft) or societal (breaches resulting in massive negative social effects, e.g. bye-bye North American power grid) — before most people start reflexively treating the virtual, electronic world with the fear and respect that they should.

    …uh, this privacy you have in mind is roughly about.. 100 years old?

    Before that, everyone who wasn’t wealthy lived crammed in with so many people that they had no privacy.

    And that ‘don’t come here I’m —ing there’ seems to be an American thing. I recall a WWII memoir where US soldiers were incredulous that European men would just stop somewhere off and piss against a dirty wall or into a bush in full view of a number of others.

    whoever: Really, we should be thinking along the lines of East Germany. They didn’t care that if people were loyal to the State; they abducted them and tortured them until they confesses to things they didn’t do.

    You’re confusing Stasi with Soviet security and their infamous quota systems. Those started with Lenin, and his order to find somewhere a hundred kulaks and hang them to show Soviets mean business. No doubt Stasi were unpleasant, but I’ve never read of them having actual arrest quotas meant to spread terror. Or much in the way of show-trials.

    whoever: The problem: said treatment was done primarily on behalf of men like him.

    What should the US government had done? Kept all the settlers penned in a narrow coastal strip? Curb migration to the West – which was one of the reasons the colonists in America rebelled?

    Sadly, the natives were on the wrong side of history. Even the meso-Americans with their states, writing and armies couldn’t stand up to the Spanish.

  28. Yeah, you’re right. Was half-consciously thinking of The Lives of Others {which I recommend} while on the Moore train of thought. BTW, for Americans, there’s Jean Seberg.

    I think we’re talking past each other on the other thing. In a way. In another I guess I’m saying many of us may find ourselves, in some manner, on “the wrong side of history” which I think is just an odd way of saying they lost. Easy to present a one-sided argument for genocide after the fact when the survivors are few and impoverished and you control the printing presses.

    Multinationals and oligarchs will say, “What were we to do? Water and oil were running out and all that climate change” while forgetting to mention they never bothered with even trying non-oppressive alternatives. When the problem coincides with power grabs and the largest profits in history and results in some of the most preposterous scared-of-own-shadow scenarios, color me skeptical.

  29. Dale Sproule,

    One of the problems with that argument is that you don’t get a say in what needs to be kept a secret now or in the future, or maybe as in
    “If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest of men, I will find something in them which will hang him.”
    – Cardinal Richelieu

    And even is you assume CSIS is full of clowns, the might be mean clowns and if you happen to slight one of them or maybe they just don’t happen to like you… I have one or two people that I would put on a no fly list or something similar if I had the opportunity and was sure I could get away with it. Despicable people of course, you can trust me on that, no need to check further.

  30. whoever: Yeah, you’re right. Was half-consciously thinking of The Lives of Others {which I recommend} while on the Moore train of thought. BTW, for Americans, there’s Jean Seberg.

    Interesting that 1970’s and 1980s state security in easten Europe started to use methods more like the FBI.

    whoever: Easy to present a one-sided argument for genocide after the fact when the survivors are few and impoverished and you control the printing presses.

    Look, I’m not saying that the dispossession and the genocides and the natives were right, but simply that that was natural. History taking its course, because more advanced peoples were free to move and settle North America.

    If you want to be really nitpicky about history taking its course, why not carp about the Indoeuropean conquests and genocides in Europe? First the hunter-gatherers were pushed out and mostly replaced by first farmers of mid-east origin, then Indoeuropeans, the first steppe raiders came in and basically took over the entire continent. ‘Population replacement’ (now there is a nice euphemism) was almost complete in NE, the further SW you go the more first farmer genetic material is present. Even a few first farmer Y-chromosome lines survived in Sardinia..

    That’s humanity for you. If an empire is not keeping them down under an iron heel, like in early modern China or Japan they’re liable to spread and fill out any ’empty’ habitable space.

    Multinationals and oligarchs will say, “What were we to do? Water and oil were running out and all that climate change” while forgetting to mention they never bothered with even trying non-oppressive alternatives.

    Multinationals and oligarchs – why should they act any differently? You don’t get to be a multinational or an oligarch without power grabbing and worse.

    Both types of actors are the end result of people power and economic ‘liberty’. You can’t have freedom for everyone without also giving assholes the freedom to be exploitative.

  31. Hello Peter, sorry for the irrelevant question, but I’m curious to know the opinion of a Canadian resident. Is British Columbia a good place for a holiday? Pretty? There are lots of trees there, yes? I come from Scotland where everything that could be described as a tree was cut down centuries ago. Again, sorry.

  32. @Y:

    Not disputing the relative ethics of humanity and its history. If the murdering of our physically and mentally superior hominid rivals was part of what happened, it served us well in terms of survival, as did Optimism bias. I guess I just hoped that something had seeped in, that we had evolved perhaps just a bit. We are certainly good at pretending that we have.

    It’s just that though. We are in denial, think at best that the oligarchs and multinationals have our best interests in mind or at least partly and missing that they really do not. I don’t think that’s a matter of seeing the tiger in the grass; it’s more a matter of recognizing what being eaten looks like and not being numb when it happens slowly and they provide distractions while it happens and point elsewhere even when we realize that it is. The predators have way outpaced the prey in terms of evolution of methods.

    But then at least some of us had/have choices. Wish I could remember what that was like. 😉

  33. EthicsGradient: Hello Peter, sorry for the irrelevant question, but I’m curious to know the opinion of a Canadian resident. Is British Columbia a good place for a holiday?

    I personally love BC– the coast at least, where in the heart of Vancouver you’re an hour away from rugged mountainous sasquatch territory or deep-sea monster territory, depending on which direction you take. I still haven’t entirely given up hope of returning there someday (I certainly get back every chance I can). From a distance, Vancouver looks like someone dropped a colony down out of orbit on some lush new world.

    The problem, of course, is that the illusion fades the closer you get. The lower mainland is hideously overpopulated— if they haven’t already paved the valley all the way back to Hell’s Gate they probably will have in a year or two. The cops in that area are fucking brutal, as cops everywhere are wont to be; they’ve been known to dump chicken shit over the tents and other belongings of the homeless, leaving them with even less recourse than they already have (this isn’t one or two bad apples; this was a departmental campaign). There’s also a fair bit of gang violence.

    Still, if you can get away from the fucking people, it’s a great part of the world.

  34. Peter Watts:

    The lower mainland is hideously overpopulated— if they haven’t already paved the valley all the way back to Hell’s Gate they probably will have in a year or two.

    Well, I’m sure it can’t be as bad as the UK, the entire island is just cities, agriculture, and treeless hills. A great shame, considering it was all forest, populated by interesting animals, before humans arrived, and cut down all the trees, and drove everything bigger than a fox to local extinction. But, otherwise, I’ll take what you said to be a recommendation.

    Thank you for taking the time to respond!

  35. Edmonton ConSpec: Is real science killing science fiction?

    Article ends somewhat abruptly. Wonder if got edited down.

  36. Very weird. That particular con was in 1999. 2000 at the latest. Beats me why it’s being posted in Dec 2015.

  37. Peter Watts: […] You may want to rethink that living-in-the-woods option.

    There are woods left? For what it’s worth, while exploring in the allegedly deserted backcountry in Berkeley County WV, there are little signs that say “Smile! You’re on Litter Camera $25,000 fine! :)” with an actual smiley-face icon. On paper. Nailed to about every 10th tree. It’s one of the most disturbing ways I have ever seen for destroying all similarity to untrammeled wilderness. And the cameras apparently really do work, some variant on game-cameras. Motion activated, they apparently connect to the cellphone network. It may get even worse once IPv6 “internet of everything” becomes an actual reality. Meanwhile, an additional worry: it’s not just your device that’s snitching on you, and it’s not just the spooky shadows that made sure your device snitches for them. It’s also everyone on the path between the devices and the spooky bastards, because if it’s interesting enough for the spooky bastards, it might also be interesting and valuable to anyone else who can snag a copy.

    That being said, a change of subject. How did you manage to get a picture of my stalker (from 2 years ago) standing around looking fashionable in TO? Or is my memory (or vision) that bad and do I need new glasses, or have all of those shadowy figures from the “after” shot been playing games with photoshop? And looking at your last post… is there an app to tell us if the censors have been at our favorite shelves in the library, making changes to references we love to cite?

    Additionally: I don’t want to sound too critical, since after all it’s not likely to be your fault but rather the responsibility of your site-hosting outfit, but connections to this site seem to be limited to non-SSL, non-HTTPS (non-secure-a-bit). There’s almost nothing in connections here, reading or posting, that are of incredible concern, other than e-mail addresses, which of course could be totally bogus. Yet that right there is one of the things that functions in my brains as an app that looks like that “after” shot of the young lady, above. There’s a lot of that going around, as well as a lot of places jumping on the bandwagon with things like “sign in with facebook”. We should all just envision ourselves as covered in leeches at all times, because that’s how life is in the modern world. Regards,

  38. One of the hardest parts of being the sort of activist I am is on the one hand convincing people that they should really not be determining the mindsets and priorities of low and high officials from TV shows like 24, Bones, NCIS, H50, etc. but rather view the low as tools of maintaining status quo when we really need that elusive change as a matter of survival as the high accrue nest eggs in order to build castles to keep the rest of us out, while on the other hand not scaring people to the point of panic. Really one need only look at the track records. Three simple examples: Gulf of Tonkin {possibly repeated just days ago with Iran BTW}, destruction of the labor movement and now the middle class–the societal glue–is disappearing, and things like learning how to trick and control humans on both individual and group levels. All of that pushes in one direction and what is most remarkable about the past few years is how utterly devoid of a single, real pushback events are. Really. Everytime it appears that there is a compromise, it usually is PR to cover for another method of doing the same or something worse {like the criminal justice reform mentioned previously}.

    There’s a lot of labels being thrown around of course. Fascism works to an extent, but really this is something new with elements of lots of things that are old. Just started watching The Man in the High Castle and it just doesn’t seem that far off apart from being more open about it. Also find it amusing {though still a little frightening} how people think Trump is really that different from what we’ve had under W and Obama. In most cases, whatever he’s mentioned is already being done or is in different words what other candidates are suggesting.

    The point! This time it isn’t about Hitler, Goering, Goebbels, Himler leading, nurturing a movement. It’s about filling roles, identity politics, that fit the slots that the System™ wants filled. The enemy is not flesh and blood.

    As for asskissing/compromise, I am reminded of the words of Lando Calrissian about the deal getting worse all the time. Power doesn’t just give up territory. But before it can be made to, people must agree that there is a problem, define it, and have the cajones to speak out. That’s a pretty tall order.

  39. Mr Non-Entity: How did you manage to get a picture of my stalker (from 2 years ago) standing around looking fashionable in TO?

    I have no idea if that lady was shot anywhere near TO— I just googled for an image of “Happy Shopper”, and grabbed the first image that had lots of empty space in the background into which stuff could be inserted.

    And if that was your stalker, you get no sympathy from me. I only wish my stalkers had looked like that…

    Mr Non-Entity: I don’t want to sound too critical, since after all it’s not likely to be your fault but rather the responsibility of your site-hosting outfit, but connections to this site seem to be limited to non-SSL, non-HTTPS (non-secure-a-bit).

    The point’s been raised before. But the whole point of this ‘crawl is to attract eyeballs and discussion; I want the world to see these words. The fear that someone might be spying on you loses a bit of relevance when you’re deliberately speaking through a megaphone (even if it’s a half-assed and tiny megaphone).

  40. @Peter Watts:

    [T]he whole point of this ‘crawl is to attract eyeballs and discussion;
    I want the world to see these words. The fear that
    someone might be spying on you loses a bit of relevance
    when you’re deliberately speaking through a megaphone
    (even if it’s a half-assed and tiny megaphone).

    Well, the debate between the value of anonymity, when speaking truth where it might be thought terribly inconvenient to power, and standing forth with one’s identity and credentials on display, to do the same, is a debate that won’t be soon resolved. Anonymity has always been the enemy of broadcast, “pseudonymity” is little better, and obscurity is little defense against the powers-that-be once they’ve realized that you exist. No, whether the State itself, or merely its agents — or people who do the kind of work for NGOs, which the State usually reserves to itself — become aware of the sound of “a voice crying in the wilderness”, they may be far less concerned with either the prophet or his message, and more concerned about the audience. Mr Snowden might have leaked an immense amount of information, but he himself is in hiding where not on the run… yet his audience is less on the run or hiding, and more in the position potentially developing the means of setting culpable officials on the run. So which is the more dangerous to the State, or agents/officials whose malfeasance might come to light? Is it the medium, the message, or the speaker? It’s less of those, in my opinion, than it is the audience.

    I suspect that it’s not lost on modern governments, and NGOs (including for-profit corporations) above a certain size, that if John the Baptist did in fact get what Salome thought he deserved for being “a voice crying in the wilderness”, that instructive execution did nothing to halt the career of one fellow who was inspired to quit carpentry and go into street preaching. Even his career turned out to be short-lived, but what of those who heard what he had to say? And did even he know how dangerous it would be, for thousands of years, that anyone had heard, and repeated, “render unto Caesar”.

    But to again paraphrase the man, “if you had a lamp, would you hide it under a bushel-basket? No, you would place it where it can spread its light”. Thanks for keeping the lamps lit, and Happy New Year.

  41. I’m really not certain anonymity isn’t tot. Or if it isn’t, it’s only truly valuable in whistleblower situations and then only some of those, sometimes for a limited time. Governments use it all the time to intentional “leaks” that usually are just MSM catnip disinfo. The other part, the energy spent learning how to be anonymous and maintaining that, when the purpose is political criticism, seems better spent actually doing that.

    There’s also some safety in being in public view. That was what Scahill said protected him when doing the Blackwater story.

  42. Thinking of banks, beer and Ad Astra…

    WaPo: New Way Police Are Surveilling You, Calculating Your Threat Score.

  43. Anyone watched Helix {Netflix disease at snowy base series}? Seems surface-similar to Fortitude but haven’t heard a yay-or-nay peep about it.