It’s 2018, Do You Know Where Your Personal Data Is?

“The political relevance of Privacy Rights is not exclusive to one country or one continent. These rights are essential for combating violent forms of control practiced by States everywhere, which aim only to benefit a hegemony rather than the people as a whole. Europe and the Americas are connected in ways that transcend the virtual world, but these connections have undeniably been exacerbated in this ever-changing technological landscape.”

From Mirna Wabi-Sabi

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The concept of privacy, in relation to personal data, is paramount for the fight against fascism (in the literal sense). In Europe, where fascism was born and bred, authorities misusing personal information is a lurking threat. Just because there has been a historical struggle to eradicate this type of violent rule, it doesn’t mean combating fascist tendencies is a thing of the past. Technology evolves at alarming rates, and reaches far across the globe. Keeping up with the world-wide political implications of these changes is essential to ensure history does not repeat itself.

Some of these changes involve how personal data is processed and stored. We have become increasingly dependent on social media platforms; the internet has expanded into a complex network of institutions and companies; and data is being stored exponentially more on “the cloud” rather than on individual hardware. These innovations have provided us with new types of connections, but they also provided new vulnerability gaps on personal and political realms. These gaps can seriously undermine basic human rights, and there are serious doubts regarding whether the legal framework that is being put in place can be effective in safeguarding these rights.

An analysis of one of the shortcomings of the current legal framework that aims to ensure user’s basic rights (the inconsistency with which we establish accountability) will be presented tomorrow, October 5th, by René Mahieu at the Amsterdam Privacy Conference 2018. In the current networked online landscape, tracking down who has your data is a matryoshka doll of labyrinths, where arriving somewhere only means finding new sets of potential controllers. In his most recent working paper, Mahieu (et. al.) argues that in this context the law is unclear in assigning legal responsibilities to companies and institutions.

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“We are currently witnessing what Zuboff calls the rise of “Surveillance Capitalism”. It is characterized by a new form of extreme concentration of power by those who control the platforms and the data. If we do not force this concentrated power under the control of new forms of checks and balances, it will be detrimental to democracy and individual autonomy.” (Rene Mahieu)

According to Mahieu (et. al.), attempts to make this type of law enforcement more effective by the Data Protection Authorities, the courts and even the introduction of a new law in Europe have fallen short in doing so. Nevertheless, the European legal system became the main reference for law-making in Latin America. Brazil has just adopted a virtually copied-and-pasted version of the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) as data usage accountability efforts. As one of the world’s biggest democracies, as well as the “most influential” South American country, we are yet to see if this new General Data Protection Law (LGPD) will be used to repair some glitches in this so-called “flawed democracy“.

The LGPD was approved in August 2018, and immediately confronts us with the following question: will it be used to protect personal and political freedoms of the Brazilian population, or was it approved precisely because it may not? If this new privacy protection law is an attempt to balance out the completely unbalanced way in which law enforcement operates, it is happening so slowly that by the time it can be used to help the people who need it the most, they would have already served their sentence and we would have a whole new set of problems (technologies and mechanisms) to deal with.

The law won’t come into effect before 2020, while 23 political prisoners of Brazil need protection now. They were convicted based on personal data collected online and by phone wires, which paint a distorted picture of criminal plans that were never realized (an investigation lead by the Precinct for Repression of Informatics Crimes).

This concern over using people’s personal data to monitor, intimidate, imprison, or even kill marginalized peoples is widespread in Europe. The conference where Mahieu presented his research hosted a vast majority of Privacy Rights related works, but it was strangely financed by the very companies most likely to evade people’s privacy and misuse personal data. For instance, Google, a large umbrella cellphone company, and even a data collection agency for the military were involved in the realization of this event, which provoked resistance from a hand full of scholars.

Scholars members of the groups DATACTIVE and Data Justice Lab published an open letter one month before the conference stressing that, “in the context of what has been described as the increased neoliberalization of higher education”, transparency with regards to corporate funding and “a clear set of principles for sponsorship” is of the utmost importance. Without it, participants and organizers of this academic field would inevitably play a role in efforts to “neutralize or undermine human rights concerns”.

There were several problematic sponsors, but the one that stood out in their protest was Palantir, a data analysis company from the United States affiliated with the military and inhumane border control initiatives:

“[P]roviding Palantir with a platform, as a sponsor of a prominent academic conference on privacy, significantly undermines efforts to resist the deployment of military-grade surveillance against migrants and marginalized communities already affected by abusive policing.” (Why we won’t be at APC 2018)

The political relevance of Privacy Rights is not exclusive to one country or one continent. These rights are essential for combating violent forms of control practiced by State-Capitalism everywhere, which aim only to benefit a hegemony rather than the people as a whole. Europe and the Americas are connected in ways that transcend the virtual world, but these connections have undeniably been exacerbated in this ever-changing technological landscape.

Just so you don’t finish this article in complete despair, there are a few things we can do to remedy the situation; if not a cure, at least damage control. There is value in demanding your right to access information about where your personal data is, who it is being shared with, and what this data consists of (e.g. address, name, birthday, etc). Denouncing the institutions that refuse or evade the request may shift the power imbalance between individual citizens and organizations in favor of the citizen. Perhaps our biggest asset in capitalist society is our demand as consumers, and consequentially our motivation to not wanna be fined alongside potential business partners. In short: do your best to keep track of where your personal data is, and don’t do business with shady companies.

And of course: #NotHim


Other References:

Booklet on Privacy as a Human Right (For teachers and students).

Coding Rights

Direitos na Rede

Policy review


Mirna Wabi-Sabi

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is co-editor of Gods&Radicals, and writes about decoloniality and anti-capitalism.


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Why Do You Care About Alex Jones?

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Should Alex Jones be on Facebook?

Last week, the company announced that it’s taking down his pages. The reading public will have to go elsewhere to learn about the perils of routine vaccinations and the undoubtedly-many uses of a “latent iodine survival shield.” Now, given his conspiracy theories, homophobia, and more-or-less explicit white nationalism, Jones does not cut a sympathetic figure. But should the Left support his free speech rights anyway, because the same mechanisms that removed Alex Jones are also turned against leftists? Or should anti-fascists rejoice that a hard-right demagogue has lost a platform?

Leftist and social-justice social media’s been arguing the case all week. But, while the debate’s touched on free speech, no-platforming, and the power of tech companies, one question’s been lost in the shuffle:

Why does it matter?

Should we support Facebook’s action? What does “support” even mean? Will commenting on Facebook about the company’s decision change its policies, towards Alex Jones or anyone else? Facebook does as it pleases. The Left can’t change that any more than it can convince Alex Jones that floods aren’t caused by the Air Force.

So, is the issue important? The question’s empty. There are no stakes. There’s no political practice involved other than the discourse itself. It’s isolated from any kind of social power. Does it feel meaningful? Sure, but the feeling is fake – simulated politics. It’s catharsis without the trouble of leaving your front door.


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Ideas are not political.

Politics is power. It’s about deciding the shape of collective life. Talking about how things should be isn’t political if it’s outside the context of organizing for power. So, neither side of the Jones debate has a political position. After all, is there anything at stake besides whether to type “this is good” or “this is bad” into a comments thread?

Social media platforms seek to maximize their own economic good as individual businesses (by engaging more people for longer, they increase the number of eyes on each ad they sell). Every post you make about whether Facebook should have deleted Alex Jones increases Facebook’s user engagement and, therefore, its profitability. But as they compete for ad revenue, social media companies also maximize the political good of the entire capitalist class: if you scratch your political itch by liking and sharing, you’re that much less likely to feel the need to stir up real-life trouble.

But why should it be either/or? Why not do politics both in person and on social media – can’t you walk and chew gum at the same time?

Well, social media “politics” isn’t zero-impact. The cost goes deeper than emotional exhaustion and wasted time – social media rewards certain styles of interaction. Controversy and hostility lead to more attention and engagement (not to mention favorable treatment from the algorithm!). It’s easy to form endlessly-specific insider cliques, and drama within them just pushes user engagement even higher. So, companies deliberately design their platforms to encourage all that.

In the field, though, that sort of behavior wrecks a fledgling project faster than you can realize it’s happening. I know a self-defense instructor who won’t let trainees directly hand each other the fake gun prop after they practice disarming a shooter – if you do it in practice, you’ll find yourself doing it in real life. The same goes for how you approach other people and form relationships. If you keep handing the algorithm the inflammatory statements and flame wars it loves, you’ll find yourself acting that way when you organize in real life. Social media takes your organizing skills and makes them worse.

You don’t have to take part. You’ll be a better organizer if you don’t.

Talk to your co-workers, your fellow-renters, your co-religionists, and your neighbors. What communities of interest are you part of? Anyone can organize their community but if you don’t do it, how will it happen? Reach out. Find your common interests. Get organized. Take collective action. Serve the people.

And then, when you’re doing real politics, it won’t matter what Facebook thinks.

 


Sophia Burns

is a communist and polytheist in the US Pacific Northwest. Support her on Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/marxism_lesbianism


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Sometimes Coordinated, Always Authentic: Terrorism prevention efforts apply to G&R

Facebook’s efforts to detect and eradicate “coordinated inauthentic behavior” by Russian meddlers is a pretext to suppress political activism and counter-hegemonic initiatives.

From Mirna Wabi-Sabi

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In the beginning of August, 2018, we tried to boost an article about climate change on Facebook, and we got this message:

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We looked up what the authorization process entailed, and didn’t even consider going through with it when we learned that:

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Let’s begin by clarifying why we are buying Facebook adds to begin with:

“Facebook already determines what posts you see and which you do not, both from friends and pages. Pages in particular are throttled heavily. For instance, Gods&Radicals has 10,000 followers but often our posts are only seen by 500-1000 people.

The only way that Facebook would allow a post to be seen by more followers is if you paid. It’s about 1 dollar per 100 people.”

-Rhyd Wildermuth, G&R’s Managing Editor

Regardless of whether you think we should be paying for adds or using Facebook at all as a platform, we need to discuss what it means for Governments and Corporations to have this kind of control over the dissemination of information and ideas, and the personal information and location of the people spreading them.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) “was founded 15 years ago to prevent another 9/11, but today I believe the next major attack is more likely to reach us online than on an airplane.”

Kirstjen Nielsen

This FB-DHS twosome isn’t surprising, but it’s alarming. It means giving carte blanche to request and store names, locations/IP-addresses, and photos of anyone they want, and use that information who knows how. Treating political activism as a terrorist activity is a deliberate effort to intimidate activists, while at the same time manufacturing public support for fascist policies. When the State defines what “terrorism” is, it not only does that to justify unacceptable actions (military violence, censorship, etc…), it does that to ensure that label is never used against them.

Both editors of G&R are not currently residing in the U.S.A., and we are not interested in advertising our locations. Does that mean what we write and share is “meddling”? The U.S.A. has financed a military dictatorship in the country where I live, and controls essentially every aspect of our economy and of our electoral process. But we are not allowed to boost an article about how banning plastic straws doesn’t actually reverse Climate Change or even significantly reduces the amount of plastic dumped into the ocean… (Do I need to affirm that the oceans and Climate Change are not issues important only in U.S. American politics?)

This new policy doesn’t only affect foreigners or people outside the U.S., it affects everyone everywhere. If you’re on a U.S. IP-address but have your language set to Russian, or if you’re a regular English speaking American trying to increase attendance to a meeting, it’ll apply to you too. Eric O. Scott, a Pagan writer and labor organizer, was unable to publicize a meeting for the Democratic Socialists of America in Columbia, Missouri. He said that, even though he already is a public political figure, with class, gender and race privileges, he still chose not to complete the authorization process:

“it’s easy to imagine a scenario in which a state demands Facebook turn over all the registration information for anyone associated with a leftist page. […] And of course if promoting any kind of writing that could be considered ‘political’ requires registration, that’s requiring that anybody who wants to publicize writing that has actual substance will have to register. The chilling effects are huge.”

This policy is not an actual effort to promote media literacy. Identifying authenticity is something we indeed should focus on. But this Capitalist Democracy relies on the population’s inability to discern between authentic and inauthentic information. This policy is simply an attempt to keep the ability to manipulate “authentic passability” exclusive. Much like banning plastic straws, it is not something that will do what it claims to set out to do.


Mirna Wabi-Sabi

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is co-editor of Gods&Radicals, and writes about decoloniality and anti-capitalism.


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