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<nettime> Ippolita Collective, In the Facebook Aquarium,
Patrice Riemens on Thu, 7 Aug 2014 01:43:45 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Ippolita Collective, In the Facebook Aquarium,

Ippolita Collective, In the Facebook Aquarium Part III

The Freedoms of the Net

Orwell, Huxley, and the Sino-American model (section 2, concluded)

Profiling techniques used by Google, Facebook, and others can be applied
to improve upon the relevance of individually targeted advertisements just
as  it can be used to sharpen individually targeted censorship and
repression. If your friends are fans of this or that band, chance is that
you will like this or that kind of music as well, and hence, by
association, you are a potential buyer of it. And if your friends read the
same subversive blog as you do, then they too are potential subversives,
just like you. The algorithms (arriving at these results) are exactly the
same. American and Chinese social formats share the same drive towards
increased transparency. During the nineties (of the previous century)
President Clinton was not able to push through his ideas about the
'information superhighway', but nothing proves that the Chinese Communist
Party, which is very much alive and kicking, may not be successful in its
attempts to create (its vision of) one big happy Peoples' Republic. With
assistance from the American military-industrial complex, China is busy
creating the prototype of a high-tech police state. The plan is to give
each and every citizen an e-mail address, (associated with) a page on
government-owned social media, an account for on-line purchase on
authorized sites, and  disk space to store personal data on
regime-controlled servers. A kind of nationalized, Chinese Facebook, fused
into a Chinese e-address, storing data on a Chinese iCloud, and able
(accessorily), thanks to total profiling, to suggest what to buy next from
the Chinese clone of Amazon. This scenario highlights the fact that the
policies of the IT giants, and especially of those which require ever more
sophisticated profiling to boost their profitability - as is the case with
the four largest: Facebook, Google, Apple, and Amazon - is totally
compatible with authoritarian control systems. These technologies
correspond exactly to what modern dictatorships do wish for themselves.

The (generalized) acceptance of (this) profiling is what makes the coming
of this social model possible. Authoritarian capitalism, China-style,
proves perfectly reconcilable with democratic capitalism, US-style. The
two systems (actually) support each other. They are totally
interdependent: on the financial plane, since the Chinese sovereign funds
own a large part of America's public debt, and thus China could, given the
amount of its Dollar reserves, explode Washington; and on the economic
side, since American high-tech companies never could amass the kind of
fabulous profits they make without low-cost industrial inputs from China.
Just one example: were iPods, IPhones and Ipads manufactured in the West
rather than in Shenzen industrial zone, their cost would be astronomical
(Shenzen, near Hong Kong, was a small fishermen village thirty years ago,
and is now a city with over 12 million inhabitants). Meanwhile, the FoxCom
factory workers, who put together these splendid objects of desire, must
sign contracts in which they pledge not to commit suicide - understandably
so, since suicides far from uncommon, given the inhuman labor conditions
prevailing in these workplaces. (And) It would be unthinkable to impose
such labor conditions in the West.

So the two systems share a need to optimally classify (identify) their own
population. The United States, on one side, must make consumption goods
available to guarantee the happiness written in the Dollar Constitution,
while at the same time identify and neutralize potentially subversive
threats to the system. China, on the other hand, needs to improve the
material life conditions of the people without advancing the emergence
of democratic politics, while it also needs to keep a firm check on ethical
and religious issues, which are perennial sources of tension. Unlimited
growth is (of course) the horizon common to both approaches. The rest of
the world, meanwhile, does not sit still, and every country partakes as
much as it
can into this competition. Some countries go for the Orwellian approach,
other prefer a more sophisticated model with subtle profiling, the
Huxleyan way.
The social network thus morphs into a trap where flat individualities, 
also known as /pancake people/, split up by profiling, trash around. At
that stage it becomes ever more challenging to make them buy stuff because
they are not even able to consume all they have accumulated, while they
waste away phenomenal quantities of all the products they have at their
disposal. They wiggle around in the search for personalized goodies,
passive entertainment, and collective identities for effortless

On counter-moves and survival skills (section 3)

Not all is lost, however. It is possible to remove data and to vanish from
(digital) social networks. One can perfectly leave Wikileaks'
meaningless revelations for what they are, and in the meanwhile build up
'free' alternatives ? "free as in freedom, not as in free beer" - and
hence free of control, like Lorea, the Diaspora Project or Openleaks [12].
It is possible to build profiling-free search engines, /cloud computing/
services, and more
generally, electronic communication services that are owned and managed by
the users themselves. Curiosity - a characteristic of the hacker spirit -
would make it possible to start setting up physical networks of and for
autonomous communications. Everything is within ready, and it is much
better to go for independent tools than to outsource sociality's access
(to private companies). But at the same time, one needs to realize that no
alternative is going to be totally free. Even if we manage to concretely
define what meanest to liberate oneself, and are able to mobilize the
necessary energies, still the most difficult task remains: to actually
build. The challenge is not to rebel for the sake of rebelling, but to
imagine ways to develop autonomy and to put these in practice, here and

The first method to escape the consequence of transparency, wall-to-wall
control, is to use strong cryptography and anonymization protocols. This
makes our e-mails unreadable for whomever does not possess the appropriate
decryption key. All searches we do on the Web can be anonymized, just as
all our communications with and on electronic networks, as well as all
data on our computers, and our smartphones. There exist very powerful
hybrid encryption algorithms, such as GPG (Gnu Private Guard) [13].
Anonymous Web-browsing is equally possible, making use of, e.g. TOR, a
system first developed by the US Navy, but now an independent project
[14]. TOR enables its users to hide their requests by connecting them ,
first to intermediary nodes (proxies) or to other randomly selected TOR
nodes, from where they finally reach the desired site. To protect one's
privacy whenever possible is always a good idea. The use of cryptographic
instruments should be the rule, not the exception.

It is also advisable to learn more about how to use our everyday tools.
However, one should always keep in mind that protection is always
relative, never absolute, yet provides a reasonable level of security with
regard to the current state of technology. With sufficient financial
resources and computing power, decoding an encrypted communication is not
a question of if, but of when. And as far as anonymization is concerned,
blocking of proxies is always an option within a system of diffuse
surveillance: we have seen that the practice exists both in democratic and
in authoritarian states. And if the user has been marked as dangerous by
the surveillance systems, the use of physical coercion is always another
option. But the most counter-productive aspect of these technologies is
that in a context where everybody trusts everybody else, where everybody
uses her/his real name on-line, and where nobody makes use of
cryptography, those who take a different approach have obviously something
to hide. By the simple (f)act of using these systems one turns oneself in
as it where, and becomes a target. Non-conformism in a context of
prevailing standard behaviour is suspicious. In the same breath, not
maintaining a Facebook account ("what does this person have to hide"?, not
having a mobile phone, and to live in an isolated place, all become cause
for suspicion.

Cryptography is not easy to use, and requires a fairly high level of
technical competence, and this is what hampers its widespread adoption
[15x]. As a specialised form of knowledge power, cryptography reinforces
the emergence of a hierarchy of more or less trustworthy experts.
Moreover, it does not really protect against profiling, since it is
perfectly possible to profile users of cryptography, as soon as they
communicate with less wary internauts: both the personal as well as the
group 'fingerprint' make it possible to trace that user out. The paradox
being that the more one tries to protect oneself, the more one stands out
from the mass of users, and hence the more one becomes recognizable/
identifiable. If your browser uses extensions preventing profiling, while
enabling anonymization and cryptography, and if your operating system is
of a particular type like GNU/Linux, you become much more visible to
prying electronic eyes than the lambda user with her/his less
sophisticated, 'mainstream' systems [16].

And cryptography has also attracted a lot of criticism by those who
consider that it shares the same idea of unlimited growth ? ever faster,
ever more powerful ? as libertarian turbo-capitalism. By enhancing
computer power and accelerating network speed, one increases the
effectiveness of the latest crytographic protocols: but this also renders
older systems rapidly obsolete. Besides, this innovation-obsolescence
model resonates with a military-type rationale of attack and defence, aka
spy vs. spy. We should not forget that by origin, these were always system
that were designed for military usage and that they were intended to
prevent communication interception by the enemy. To sum up, cryptography
is a nice exercise, especially for technology buffs found of logical
puzzles, but its basic approach is not satisfactory.

The other reaction, also widespread and quite popular, is luddism, brought
forward especially by machine-haters. Luddists are convinced that
information and communication technologies should be shunned, or even
destroyed. Their reasons include the fact that they represent a grave
danger to personal and collective liberties, that they provide governments
of whatever hue formidable instruments of repression, that they encourage
compulsive self-denunciation as the hierarchic management of these forms
of technological knowledge-power tend to create structures of technocratic
domination. (But then) there are both technophobic luddites, and also
technophile ones. The former are more consistent with themselves: they are
not at ease with appliances, especially digital ones. They often idealise
a mythical, natural past world - which never existed ? where humans were
not living under the yoke of machines. They say over and again, talking
about technology-induced, or exacerbated, calamities that "things were
better before" or "this would not have happened in previous times". They
are not entirely mistaken: Ivan Illich's criticism of industrial
technology tools is still relevant today. Technical systems become
counter-productive when they develop beyond a certain point, and once they
have passed the threshold of usefulness, they turn into a nuisance. Cars
within cities are a slow, polluting and dangerous mean of transport. The
same applies to the social Internet, which looks more and more like a
system which makes one feel alone while being in company, with everybody
being individually connected to the big network without physical contact
with the other people on it, and becoming detached from a reality turning

But luddite technophobia is not coherent when it comes to its nature-based
purity: human history is cultural history, made up of (the development of)
technical ideas, which became materialized in technological tools. The
problem resides in domination practices, not in technology in itself,
which does no more exist as nature in itself does. The most extremist
(luddites) will even affirm that all technical systems should be
destroyed. Anarcho-primitivists like John Zitrain, for example, would like
to abolish the Internet, but also agriculture, art, language, all being
considered tools of oppression. But who wants to live in such a world?
Fundamentalist luddites exalt the inviolability of nature, and are
fanatics in the religious meaning of the term: the even promote the total
extinction of the human race as the sole remedy to the impending
catastrophe [17].

(to be contiued)
Next time: technophile luddists, technocrats, technolatry, and other
abominations ... ;-)


[12] Lorea is a self-managed, autonomous social network:
Diaspora is a community-run, distributed social network:
Openleaks is in limbo - or dead. (see note  )
[13] With asymmetric cryptography, every participating actor holds two
keys,  a public key, and a private one. The public key sHe distributes (or
public on a repository). The private key is individual and secret. The
public key serves to encode a document send to a receiver who holds
corresponding the private key, which sHe will use to decode that document.
With other words: everybody can send us a message, encoded with our public
key, but only we can open it. So much for asymmetric cryptography. With
symmetric cryptography, on the other hand, there is only one key and one
code. GPG is a fee software project using exclusively non patented
algorithms. As prescribed by the OpenPGP charter, it is a hybrid system,
whereby each message is encoded making use of a symmetric key, used for
that message only, which is in its turn encoded with the receiver's public
key. See:
Various plugins are available for easy OpenPGP add-on to various messaging
clients. Thunderbird's plugin is Enigmail:
[14] Every TOR node negotiates asymmetric keys with other TOR nodes. This
way, security progressively with every connected node since decryption and
analysis becomes increasingly difficult, if not impossible:
For a more efficient usage of TOR is both possible and advisable to
download an already configured webbrowser directly form the TOR site
On TOR's somewhat 'hybrid' history:
[15x] And to darken the picturte further, 'public IT-experts' like Arjen
Kamphuis: http://www.gendo.nl/blog/arjen like to add "and crypto cannot be
endlessly simplified".
[16] The Panopticlick project of the Electronic Frontier Foundation:
https://panopticlick.eff.org/ provides not only a way to examine the
search engine one uses, but also demonstrates what use is made of one's
fingerprint in e-mail and on social media ? and how to nullify it. EFF's
initiative also points out that those who excel the most in their use of
IT instruments are the most easyly detectable. A full explanation of the
methodology used is provided in their article "How Unique Is Your Web
Browser?" :
[17] There is an excellent refutation of the logical absurdity represented
by extinctionist nihilism in Marco Maurizi's article "Che cos'`e
/Liberazioni/, no 4, February 2008:
Note 7 reads: "Extinctionism is an absolute stupidity  because it is so
totally absurd from a strictly /logical/ point of view. If humans were
able to collectively arrive at the conclusion that they are basically evil
and hence decide to self-destruct, then they would herewith demonstrate
that they have attained such a high level of moral probity that they could
come to doubt the  validity of this badness: they would indeed turn out to
be the most altruistic animals ever seen on the face of earth! And thus it
is a case of either or. Either one assumes that humans can consciously
(deliberately) speed up their own extinction ? in which case one has to
assume that they can also accomplish ethical actions of a completely
different order. Or humans are nothing of the sort ? in which case the
whole move towards voluntary extinction makes no sense at all. It is hence
manifest that people flirting with the idea of extinction  mostly do so
for the sake of provocation. But then I cannot see the point at all of
this provocation, since it blocks out any sensible discussion of the
relation between nature and society.


Translated by Patrice Riemens
This translation project is supported and facilitated by:
The Institute of Network Cultures, Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences
The Antenna Foundation, Nijmegen
(http://www.antenna.nl - Dutch site)
(http://www.antenna.nl/indexeng.html - english site under construction)
Casa Nostra, Vogogna-Ossola, Italy

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