pinguin on Thu, 31 Oct 2013 18:50:36 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Us(c)hi Reiter interviewed Felix Stalder about the future of the internet....

Dear nettimers,

Want to share my interview with Felix Stalder with you
Thanx to Aileen Derrieg translating it!
Us(c)hi Reiter -, Linz/ Austria

UR: With the Snowden affair the Internet as space for surveillance has
reached a wider public. This incident and the excitement it caused
hasn?t brought about any major withdrawal from the social network
Facebook, for example. What impact does this knowledge of control have
on the way we culturally act and communicate on the net?

FS: As long as there is no real alternative to the ever expanding parts
of the Internet, that act as surveillance spaces, the current discussion
about the way we should act on the net will remain quite limited.
Cryptoparties and such are more symbolic acts. As long as the
infrastructure of surveillance is optimised, creating individualised
private spheres later will remain a highly complex matter. So it will
always be a minority activity.

On the other hand, what we can see already is a shift in general
assumptions. Extensive surveillance is considered normal, defending
yourself against it naive. In the case of legal actions taken against
Google?s data mining, Google justified itself recently by saying that
Gmail users can?t expect that their e-mails and private information will
not read and analysed (?a person has no legitimate expectation of
privacy in information he voluntarily turns over to third parties?).

UR: Encrypting e-mails and anonymisation services such as Tor is more of
practise of geeks. Do you think this practise will spread?

FS: In mass culture? No. I think that information professionals like
journalists, activists and so on will become more careful and pay more
attention to the security of services they use. Whereby the issue of
security is relative. What resources and methods are used by ?attackers?
to get hold of the data? Commercial profiling is easier to reduce,
because it works with a visible exchange. User-friendliness in exchange
for personal data. Whoever is prepared to give up this user-friendliness
can easily protect him/herself.

It is already sufficient to change default settings, install add-ons,
not accept cookies or use a variety of services and so on. However,
providers design this exchange in such a way that the loss of usability
has a greater effect than a noticeable direct gain of data protection.
In practise this means that most users in the end prefer ease.
Protection against targeted police surveillance is more difficult, in
the case of secret service surveillance impossible. And since Snowden we
all know that the latter form of surveillance can affect anyone.

UR: Often there is talk about actually wishing for more decentralisation
and alternatives in relation to the development of the net. With current
requirements for more bandwidth and the fact that Telecoms and Co can?t
offer affordable symmetrical connections for households (same bandwidth
for up and downloads), real decentralisation was already prevented in
the early years of the net when the business with access to the Internet

FS: In order to create a decentralised infrastructure it is not
necessary for everyone to become a provider. For the time being,
decentralisation is a question of inter-operability. All decentralised
Internet services were once inter-operable in the early days, thus
making it possible to change providers. Let?s take e-mail for instance,
where this is still the case. When I change my provider I can take my
address book with me, because e-mail is inter-operable. When I change my
social network provider, then I loose my friends because the services
are not inter-operable. Behind this lies a conscious decision by
developers and investors. If we want to develop in the direction of
decentralisation again, we have to increase the requirements of
inter-operability. This requires laws, though, so I am not very
optimistic that these will come soon.

UR: One solution could be running your own ?freedom-box? from at home as
a communication and production infrastructure. How utopian do you think
this idea is, or has that ship already sailed? How do you envisage
decentralisation or alternatives?

FS: Operating relevant infrastructures is a business for professionals.
I don?t think it is necessary for everyone to participate in this
venture, unless you make it as redundant as BitTorrent did. There it
doesn?t matter if one node or provider drops out. What is important,
though, is that different providers could engage in competition with one
other. It still makes a difference whether an e-mail account is with or Google, even though with both I expect to be able to access
my mails at 3 am in the morning, if I wish to do so.

UR: Let?s move away from the mainstream developments of the net for a
moment. You just mentioned BitTorrent, which leads me to an other
keyword ?darknets?. Friend2Friend networks are nothing new. Projects
such as RetroShare (, a client that
can be installed on any platform ( Windows, Mac, Linux), would actually
offer everything that is needed. Encrypted communication, file-sharing,
forums between trusted friends and so on. It unfortunately fails because
of its very bad interface. Could projects like this take off or develop
into a new business model?

FS: There are a lot of darknets, especially in file-sharing where a lot
of communities have gone into hiding and can only be accessed by
members. This makes them almost invisible to the outside and the better
gated communities make sure that their connections to the outside,
through links that point outward, are consistently anonymised.

Darknets are a result of the pressures of criminalisation, which is
partially justified. The greater the negative consequences of
discovering the trade are, the more people are willing to use more
complex tools to protect it. I think here we can observe a learning
process that enables new business models. This also carries risks,
because increasingly the use of encryption is in itself suspicious and
can attract increased attention from the authorities. This is very risky
for providers of these services as well as for the users, as shown by
the voluntary shut-down of encrypted e-mail providers in the last few
weeks. This is one of the few reasons why I think it would be sensible
to encrypt non-critical communication in order for encrypted
communication to not be so conspicuous.

The basic assumption about darknets, whose existence I see as positive
(in contrast to the darknets of organised crime), is ultimately very
problematic: we are in a hostile environment and in it we have to hide
our actions that are actually legitimate. This is an experience of
dictatorship and not a constitutional state, which we shouldn?t give up
just like that!

UR: and are self-operating data centres for artists and
cultural workers in Austria that still stem from the time of ?Access for
All?. Even though the fundamental ideas have been fulfilled,
is still popular with users and constitutes an important base for
democratic processes (e.g. free radios). is only able to
survive through financial support from its members, meagre funding and a
lot of voluntary work. Do you think that communicating socio-political,
net-political topics in connection with digital culture has gained more
relevance today than actually running a such a structure?

FS: It would be a very positive effect in this discussion if the value
of decentralised and independent infrastructures and their providers
could be brought back into general consciousness and, in keeping with
this, the willingness to increase its financial support, through
donations, contributions or through public subsidies. Communicating net
political topics and running a independent infrastructure go hand in
hand. Because even with the best communication work, our influence on
the giants of the net is very small. Communication work can raise
awareness for the value of alternatives, but for that to happen, the
alternatives have to exist. In this sense, these are two sides of the
same coin. And everyone can choose on which side they would rather work.

UR: Digital Natives like to confuse the Internet with Facebook. In the
same way that many users can no longer distinguish between browser and
desktop. As an initiative for net culture we like to look underneath the
surface, but unfortunately this knowledge is increasingly getting lost,
because no one seems to be interested in it any more. Wouldn?t this be a
good time to introduce something like net culture in schools or does
something like that already exist?

FS: Exactly. Digital natives don?t understand more about digital
technologies than non-natives. In actual fact, they understand even less
because technology works in a simpler way and therefore it becomes
invisible. Tools only catch our attention when they break, as Heidegger
already knew. But it is increasingly difficult to look beyond the
surface, because technology has rapidly become very complex. This short
moment of transparency, when it was enough to press ?view source? to
understand a website, is definitely over.
At the same time are there new initiatives such as HackLabs that try to
look beneath the surface. I?m sceptical about the idea of integrating
net culture as part of the curriculum in schools, because the likely
danger of it turning into a ?respect for copyright? event sponsored by
industry, is very high.
It could be interesting, though, to introduce a DIY and HackLab culture
at schools. Whoever is politically interested will gain a better basis
to deal with our present time.

UR: Thank you for the Interview!

Felix Stalder is a lecturer on the theory of media society at the School
of Art and Design Zurich, Department for Media Arts. For many years he
has been exploring the dynamics of the interface between culture,
technology, politics, etc., and has been a moderator of the Nettime
mailing list for many years, as well as a board member of the Vienna
Institute for New Culture Technologies.

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