Law in the Internet Society

At the exit - Reflections after heaving learned we're being watched

-- By KristofferRakner - 14 Feb 2017


“I have nothing to hide, so I have nothing to lose” is so frequently used as a counter argument in response to anti-surveillance advocates that it has it’s own Wikipedia-page.(1) The reason why the argument is so successful may be because policy(propaganda) often has equated surveillance with security. (2)

The Wikipedia-entry also quotes Edward Joseph 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."

In my mind this quote is illustrative of an important point. There is an important connection between speech and autonomy when it comes to driving the collective human intellect forward. The freedom to speak to share ideas helps others build on these ideas to create, and share once more. True autonomy exists only when one can create free from influence and control of the speech to listen to when creating.

There is a sucker born every minute, how about a genius?

There have been conducted scientific studies that indicates that smartphones may have a severe impact on our attention span.(3) It is not a leap to imagine that the Einsteins, Newtons and others that have made discoveries vital for a society, may be farther apart due to an average decline in attention span. More crucial to our way of life and human ingenuity may however be the surveillance of human behavior enabled by our connectivity.

At outset surveillance at the outset nothing more the being observed. Thus, the attitude that the privacy-battle is reserved for the few may be understandable. However, the detriment of surveillance may follow the collection of behavior that, more often than not, compliments the observation computers make of our swiping, clicking and typing. Warehousing of collected behavior itself does little damage and can be useful e.g. in criminal cases and economic studies into mass behavior, the later may in turn lead to solutions to a more efficient society.

The danger is that large amounts data can give corporations and governments the opportunity to deploy this data, not only to predict behavior, but also control future behavior by controlling what the future Newton is exposed to and incentivizing further connectivity. Under the Christmas tree this year a four year old may find Hello Barbie. Of course, no toy is a toy unless it is connected to the net.(4) This can generate useful features as the doll may remember what you said to it a week ago. The price for this is a simple trade of. The creator of Hello Barbie just need to put the recording of the four year old talking to the doll on the cloud, but only for two years.(5) Pluss you can trust the company to delete all identifying data, and not use it for tailored marketing, controlling behavior. Power to control behavior is rarely abused.

One may philosophize that uniform exposure to the same ideas produce uniform thinkers. This may lead to the Einsteins and Newtons being further apart. Instead of sitting outside being hit by an apple,(6) Newton may sit inside clicking update on his Apple.

The dramatic effect of being deprived of the next Newton maybe high, however the connectivity of youth and young adults may lead to a collective homogeneity of thinkers. This may in turn lead the public as a whole to become docile, allowing the agenda to be set by a presidential Twitter-feed. I imagine this is why Snowden is warning about indifference to privacy.

Conclusion - The Moloch of our day

In part I of the 1955 three part poem Howl, the Beat Generation poet Allen Ginsberg observed that “the best minds of [his] generation [were being] destroyed by madness”. Ginsberg figuratively attributed the demise of the best minds of his generation to “Moloch” in Howl part II.

Ginsberg uses Moloch, “the Biblical name relating to a Canaanite god associated with child sacrifice” (7), as an image of the social forces, government and capitalism that is destroying society and its young minds.(8) Ginsberg references both “Moloch whose mind is pure machinery” and “Moloch whose blood is running money” as he depicts how Moloch destroys society.

Howl is obviously not written with neither social media, nor the internet, in mind. But could not Ginsberg just as easily have labeled social media and the internet as “pure machinery … whose blood is running money”? It is not a stretch to imagine that a Ginsberg in 2017 would look at Facebook’s ability to influence election,(9) and the collection and manipulation of behavior via the net and conclude that internet and social media is the Moloch of our day.

However, Ginsberg himself might of course have said that he got it right in 1955 and that there is no need to update Howl in 2017. Ginsberg might argue that capitalism is still Moloch in 2017, just as it was in 1955. Capitalism has just acquired a more effective tool to create madness and destroy the best mind of the generation.


1 :

2 : See Id., citing Solove, Daniel J. "Why Privacy Matters Even if You Have 'Nothing to Hide'." The Chronicle of Higher Education. May 15, 2011,

3 : Timothy Egan, The Eight-Second Attention Span, January 22, 2016, The New York Times

4 : Geoffrey A. Fowler, Talking Toys Are Getting Smarter: Should We Be Worried?, December 17, 2015, The Wall Street Journal

5 : With parental access of course.

6 : Steve Connor, The core of truth behind Sir Isaac Newton's apple, January 17, 2010, The Independent,

7 :

8 :

9 : Seth Fiegerman, Facebook is well aware that it can influence elections, CNN, November 17, 2016,


Webs Webs

r3 - 14 Feb 2017 - 22:39:14 - KristofferRakner
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