Patrice Riemens on Sat, 1 Mar 2014 15:36:41 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Ippolita Collective, In the Facebook Aquarium, Part One, section 7,

NB.  There will be an interruption in the translation flow for a few days
as I am moving to Firenze, where I'll have little or no connectivity - nor
very much time. Feuilleton likely to be revived after March 5th.  Doewie!


Privacy no more (continued)

Or, more simply: As I don't want to go out with you tonight, I should be
able to tell you I'm tired - and that's it. I don't want you to feel hurt,
or worse still, you to think I'm making fun of you or taking you for a
ride, all this because the next day, you're going to find out on a common
friend's Facebook wall that I wasn't at home the previous night, and
actually had gone to a party with other friends. Social life is far more
complex than radical transparency is able to anticipate, unless we are
prepared to shed of the largest part of us that makes us different (from
others), and which is precisely what renders us attractive and desirable
(to others), and also ensures that we do not simply become lost in a group
where all hold the same opinion on all things.

The personal data we entrust to social networks, foremost (#***) Facebook,
are kept in the /clouds/, that informational overhang above us, a domain
not under our control, quite unlike the private diary we used to guard
jealously in the past. Not so long ago, account holders could not even
delete their Facebook entries, whic instantly became the 'non exclusive
property' of the firm, for these data to be sold to third parties. Of
course, nobody was talking about copyright here.  Sure, Facebook does not
intend to make money with our holiday pics (OMG so lame, so wacky) nor
with our posted messages (and never mind the grammar). We (the average
user) are not artists ripe for the pluck and exploitation. Yet, the /data
mining/ [32] taking place in order to profile individual users, all this
material accumulating in data-bases, a.k.a. Big Data, constitute a serious
problem. There is no free lunch, and especially not in the world of Web
2.0, where the price to be paid for the 'free service' ("It's free and
always will be" proclaims Facebook's start page) is to assent to the
retrieval, indexing, and exploitation of all the data in the users'
profiles, and more importantly, of those pertaining to their reciprocal
relations. And then (for the owners) to laugh all the way to the bank.

But what about privacy then? Well, on-line sociality is based on the
absence of the same, meaning on the possibility scan e-mails, pictures,
blogs, texts, etc: anything that can be extrapolated by way of key words
in order to show contextualised and personalised advertisements, and all
this is obtained from exchanges that are usually deemed to be 'private and
confidential'. Google and Facebook and all social networks in general
illustrate the existence of domains (spheres) which are neither public nor
private, and which are managed by technocrats, and more particularly by
technocrats in the employ of private companies fueled by the profit
motive. Privacy, literally speaking, is /the right to be left alone/
(#****). For this reason, speaking of privacy in a collective, but
privately-owned social network is an oxymoron, since the prime objective
of a network is the circulation of information. When the information
consists of the identities of the people making up the network, the idea
to stay out (while being part of it) is a non-goer. The only way to stay
out is to not connect at all.

Privacy is therefore a pie in the sky: it only comes becomes manifest when
one realizes that it has been breached. Ever since the Echelon scandal
[33], everybody knows that privacy doesn't exist any more - at that for
quite a long while. Yet, the problem with surveillance is not so much the
disapearence of privacy, as the fact that the ensuing control and
monitoring extends for a long period of time. Let's stress it again: every
user has (and leaves) a digital 'finger print', a unique and personal
identity-marker. Being part of a network means to be connected and to
leave traces of one's passage. It is the same with (tele)phones: even if I
get rid of my previous mobile, I am most likely to call the same people
with my new phone as with my old one, and hence, to re-draw again (the
graph of) my social network. If there exist a users profile that looks
like exactly the same, identification is automatic and immediate: it can
only be me. The way social networks function makes this even more
worrying, because usually the names of members of a group are not hidden
to non-members, so as not to limit the possiblilty of not-yet members to
join the group. And it is easy to generate identifiers, or trace-marks, at
the group level. It is for instance possible to establish a list of all
Facebook groups with one member only. (HEU? -transl)

To encourage the free flow of knowledge has nothing to do with this type
of 'sharing' everything and anything whatever in an automated and
mandatory  fashion. Copyleft (for instance, is about encouraging the free
flow of knowledge, and)  is something completely different: it is about
sharing knowledge, bypassing obstacles formed by patent laws, trademarks
and non disclosure agreements. Facebook's type of 'sharing' is not about
making knowledge available in the public domain: 'published', for
Facebook, does not mean to make public, but to handle information through
a private company, i.e. Facebook [34].

Ongoing research is taking place around systems of /mass de-anonymizing &
re-identification/, where purpose-devised algorithms are let loose on
social networks. The only thing needed is to know the map of a small
social network (because all the nodes must be determined) in order to use
that information to re-identify (by their 'truenames') the users of a
larger network. So for instance, if one is able to map, by and large, the
relations existing between people who share pictures on Flickr, and then
to chart that segment of them who also maintain an account on Facebook, it
becomes possible to des-anonymize a large number of profiles of the
largest network [35].

(to be continued)

Next time: Browser history hijacking!

(#***) 'Facebook included' in the original. Given that _some_ social
networks don't go, or at least are not kept, in the 'cloud', I opted for a
starker, even FB-hostile rendering.
[32] The common monicker 'data mining', literally: digging, extracting
data, is most imprecise and has no technological support whatsoever. Data
analysis on basis of half-automated systems is a vast and heterogenous
research field. Put simply, we may say that /data mining/ is not about
identifying real persons, but about the extraction on a large scale of
significant correlations by way of algorithms. We can for instance
distinguish /cluster analysis/: the  way data are compartimentalised, or
/anomaly detection/ where one looks for norm-deviant data. /Data mining/
becomes problematic when the goal is to profile users for surveillance
purposes - this is the specific use of /data mining/ we are refering to
(#****) Cf
[33] Duncan Campbell, Surveillance électronique planétaire (global
electronic surveillance), Paris, Albin Michel, 2001 (I couldn't find a/the
english language edition of this book, might have been published in french
only. Duncan Campbell has however written numerous articles - in english -
on the subject, see: 
[34] See the postface of the INC edition of Ippolita Collective, The Dark
Side of Google (2013):
[35] Arvind Narayanam, Vitaly Shmatikov, De-anonymizing Social Networks,
Proceedings of the 2009 30th IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy Pages
abstract + pdf at:

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
( - Dutch site)
( - english site under construction)
Casa Nostra, Vogogna-Ossola, Italy

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