Friday, March 4, 2011

Transparency - Grist for the Mill

It comes in waves - this push for "transparency" and "accountability" on the net. It seems that both common sense and common practice go out the window if you just throw 'teh innernetz' at them, in the same way "9/11 changed everything!" is used now to justify the most horrendous shredding of human rights and decency, ushering in a proto-fascist nightmare that would have George Orwell slamming his head against a brick wall and screaming "My imagination was so paltry!"

This particular wave seems to have been touched off by a 'tweet' by 'Bettina Tizzy': "Are SLers in denial? I think avatar=real person privacy is at death's door" Well... for one thing, using this person's internal logic, it's difficult to take such a statement seriously from a person using a fake name to promote transparency and accountability, seeing that 'Bettina Tizzy' is an assumed name for a real person named Beverly Millson. It is also puzzling that 'Bettina Tizzy' is a registered FaceBook user, which appears to violate the FaceBook TOS regarding false names, and almost everything I can see on 'Bettina Tizzy' in several search engines makes no connection to the real person legally named Beverly Millson...


As the mythical and anecdotal Down-To-Earth Sensible Farmer invoked by many Republicrats would say, let's run this 'transparency' pig through the common-sense grinder and see what kind of sausage comes out the other end.


Somewhere you are always anonymous

WTF is with all this push to total transparency? I mean, what's the point? Not being sassy; I am asking an honest question. Things don't happen for no reason. Cui bono?

I've frequented coffee shops, bars and bookstores all my life. I've gone to some of them often enough that they know something, or even a lot, about some part of me: how much coffee or otherwise I drink, what time I usually come in, my first name, my friends I might bring in, my opinions on various things, my fashion sense (or lack of it), what books I might be reading or what films I have seen recently... yet almost no one in those places knows my phone number, my mailing address, my banks... and why would it be important for them to know? Do I need to know the book guy's last name? The bartender's? Where they bank? What kind of loan the waitress has on her car?

For all practical purposes, I am semi-anonymous at those places. I'm sure you can think of 200 other scenarios and examples from your own life and the lives of most people where you are either completely anonymous or semi-anonymous. This is real life; this is common practice and conduct.

My Avatar, My Best Self

I was trying to explain something about Second Life to one of my new CSULB friends [see previous post] about avatars when one asked me, "Is your avatar close to what you look like in real life?" In turn, I asked her, "Do you dye your hair sometimes? Do people get their teeth capped, go to tanning booths, get liposuction and face lifts? Do you dress differently for a dinner with your parents or for work/school than you do for a night out with your boyf? Do you wear makeup?" [it always pays to use the dialectic approach] Of course I design my avatar in a fashion that is a reflection of my idealized self! I'd do it in real life if I could! So would you!

Am I lying in real life when I slather on the war paint? When I use a tanning booth in January in Boston? [well, that one is kinda obvious to most people, but still] When I tell someone in a bar my name is Trixie and I live in Poughkeepsie? Am I avoiding accountability? Am I falsifying my presentation to the world??? [ps- guys, this means you when you try to suck in your abs when you think someone's looking at you]

Of course I am, silly! So are you in various situations. But why? For nefarious reasons? Am I planning to make off to the Seyshelles with the skim from my shady bookkeeping of the boss's business? Am I plotting to heist that absolutely nummy diamond necklace in Cartier's window? Am I planning a terrist attack? Am I planning to murder my boyf? [well, that's an up and down thing, you know what i mean girls]

No. I'm having fun. I'm showing some steam, dancing in a fountain, being the star of my own Hollywood movie, changing hairstyles and shoes from mere whim and caprice, princess of my own domain [which naturally includes the entire known and unknown universe]. I'm auditioning and trying on various personas, poking around inside my head and heart and finding all the pieces of me that lurk or sparkle there. It's a thing that human beings do and have been doing for a long time. People do it every time they sit down to a game of Monopoly and pretend to be a hard-rolling vulture capitalist.

Is 'total transparency' really helpful?

Jeffrey Dahmer had a good, stable bank account, was reportedly nice to children and considered "a nice guy" by his neighbors; so was John Wayne Gacy. Would having their net personas linked to their rl data in any way have indicated that these men were committing heinous crimes? Would such anal dataprobes have caught Charles Stuart? Not according to all newspaper reports. I can think of at least 40 other examples to illustrate this simple point: no kind of data transparency would have been in the least effective to stop these men.

On the other end of the spectrum is the now-admitted failure of the CIA to act on the data it already had to hand to prevent the 9/11 attacks, using only the lawful and well-regulated means and methods of information collection granted to it by the US Congress. They didn't need sweeping new and questionable regulations to snoop even deeper into the private lives of US citizens; they couldn't even use the information they had.

Likewise, the sad and sorry case of military whistle-blower Bradley P Manning, who now faces the death penalty for "leaking" information about gross and illegal breaches of military code and ethics (no, not the diplomatic cables you've been distracted with but the killing of known civilians and reporters in Iraq by US military personnel). Supposedly, official channels were set up to report such criminal military breaches after the exposures of the Pentagon Papers, Lt William Calley, Contragate and many others. There are now several reports out that detail Manning's attempts to go through proper channels and report these crimes to his military superiors; the only reason Manning went to Wikileaks is that his reports were denied, buried and he was subject to military discipline for attempting to address these crimes in a lawful manner through these supposedly clear channels.

I suppose that Vikas Mavhudzi might have another opinion on transparency also; a Zimbabwe man arrested and charged with “subverting a constitutional government” for the following comment on his PM's Facebook page: “I am overwhelmed, I don’t want to say Mr. or PM what happened in Egypt is sending shock waves to dictators around the world. No weapon but unity of purpose worth emulating, hey.”

Here's another clue for you all...

The huge recent kerfluffle about zF Red Zone and VWR-24746 in Second Life covered hither and yon across the SLinterblog landscape is merely one tendril of an increasingly loud drumbeat of ersatz debate on the issue of whether I need to be followed, tabulated, sorted, shuffled and slotted into a category for easy access by forces unknown for their convenience. The proponents of this position structure their arguments as if this is only common sense and any questioning or dissent is met with the ad hominem attack "If you have nothing to hide, why are you afraid?"

Here's a good reason why: the people who want to get around such measures will always find a way to circumvent any rules or regulations designed to bring them to accountability. People do it all the time. They're called criminals. Laws won't stop them; technical measures (locks, alarms, watchmen, security systems) won't stop them; just read any newspaper or history book.

I have programs that allow me to hide information inside a picture, reverse hexadecimal, in the hidden sectors on a hard disk, XOR, Redshirt or in telephone tones. I know codes incorporated into musical nomenclature, mathematics, literature, Braille and Morse. I even know the difference between a code and a cypher!

Why? I am not a big-time hacker or terrist; I am a computer enthusiast.
I'm also just a big kid who likes secret decoder rings, invisible ink, clandestine letter drops in the hollows of old dead trees, shared bywords and passwords among friends and confidential notes passed furtively in class while pretending to listen to a boring instructor.

If I have these tools... they are widely available. I know where I could go to get even heavier tools should I desire them; I know where to go downtown if I want to score some weed or an unregistered handgun too. I know where to go for a shady loan. And in none of those places will my legal/financial identity be compromised or even asked.

The pertinent point, as discussed in many of the recent blog postings, is that these types of regulation-turned-laws will never stop the criminally-inclined, and only serve as an erosion of our civil rights. Humans have, except for rare madnesses that sweep the species at random intervals [carefully avoids invoking Godwin's Law], generally not treated most people as potential or actual criminals.

And for another huge and good reason why, page down to the Addendum at the end of this post.

So, who profits?

As far as transparency goes... who needs this? I don't give my employer all my financial details, nor do I give them to landlords, book clubs, local hobbyist meetings or anyone I meet in a store in physical life. I don't see a sensible reason to have this compulsion to make my name linked to every other place I go on the net. It goes against everything I know of normal human behaviour.

The only reason I can see for this "total transparency" meme being pushed is to benefit the profiteers. The people who wish to attach themselves like leeches and farm me like some kind of data-animal.

Why is it important for me to have my legal name linked to a gaming discussion site? Why even is it important for me to have my avatar linked? If someone wants to do monetary business with me, they get my Paypal account. If someone wished to contact me for a viable RL reason, I'd make another avatar with that info (isn't that what Display Names is supposed to be about?). If someone wants to do other business with me, they get my LinkedIn account, one of my several email accounts or even my telephone number. There's a million options I have for levels of exposure, which is not only good net practice but something we do every day in physical life.

And hey, while we're on the subject... why do you have several different email addresses that you give out in tiered levels of access? To stop the spam-barnacles from attaching themselves to you when you are forced to provide an email address for every stupid one-shot site you go to on the net, knowing that they will be selling that email address to marketeers and spammers 20 seconds after you push the CONFIRM button? Of course. You're evading accountability, you criminal you! Yeah... sounds stupid put that way, eh?

I really can't buy the 'zomg child-molesting terrist dope-fiends are everywhere!' BS as a rationale for this type of complete shredding and trashing of the 4th Amendment, nor the business rationales for this as detailed above. Given the tiny amount of information included in this post, and thousands of other examples that a few hours of dedicated Googling will provide, I really can't see any other reason for this need to link up every single aspect of myself to everything else except for one: marketeering; farming users, reducing us to datacows; rummaging through my life like sneak thieves pawing through my lingerie drawer in pursuit of salacious 'secrets.' Either that, or I am already potentially guilty of some crime or other...

Excuse my Unix, but fsck that.

We already have what we need

The US Mail was conceived as a communications service for the benefit of the populace and the whole. Rules and regulations covering this service were well-thought out by men of good will and excellent intelligence. Just because the communication is now electronic, a little thought on the matter would suffice to realize that the same rules and regulations easily and unconfusingly apply to electronic communication without further modification.

We already have quite enough rules and regulations for the needs of law enforcement to obtain legal warrants for wiretapping and other means of electronic and physical monitoring. We have seen that even when they do make use of these laws, they cannot even co-ordinate their use of the information they already have. We have seen that 'transparency' is a fiction, because there is no true and two-way transparency; corporations will lie, cheat, steal, reverse position, organize deceptive astroturfing schemes, solicit criminal behaviour and engage in a panoply of shady and disreputable actions in their voracious pursuit of profit.

The only thing that "9/11" changed was our willingness to let hysterics shred the Constitution and Bill of Rights and encourage the military and intelligence communities to collude with business in seeking to send their vampiric tentacles into every nook and cranny of our lives.


You think I trust these guys with all of my personal data?

Netflix sells your data

MySpace sells your data

Facebook sells your data

FourSquare sells your data

DynaWeb FreeGate, GPass, and FirePhoenix sell your data

TiVo sells your data

InfoChimps sells your Twitter data

... and so on, especially in the light of a thousand stories like these:

Giant list of high-profile data mishandling

Another giant list of data mishandling by financial institutions

An additional huge list of data breaches

Commerce, Wachovia, BofA and PNC data mishandled

AT&T's iPhone & iPad breaches

US Dept of Veteran Affairs breach

Viacom's attack on Google

Bank of America & HPGary Federal's plot to poison and hack social sites

... and so on. Please do note that in none of the cases cited above was data loss due to hackers but to the financial institutions mishandling the data themselves.


"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

- Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution


Full Disclosure: [as full as I can make it with my memory, yo]

1. I don't get paid by anybody :(

2. I was on drugs when I wrote this: specifically caffeine, nicotine and sugar.

3. I was visited at times during the writing of this post by the ghosts of Hunter S. Thompson and Dorothy Parker.

4. No, my "real name" is not Miso Susanowa [at least for now, until the paperwork goes through]. But unless you are the IRS or going to send me money, that's all you get.

The soundtrack to this post was Vangelis: Blade Runner - OST: Esper Version


Lalo Telling said...

This is fsckin' brilliant!

.. and should be more widely read. I'm about to tweet it, to aid that effort.

sororNishi said...

Brilliant, as usual....:))

Miso Susanowa said...

Thanks Lalo! BTW... in true geeky fashion, I commented on your blog about your computer :( I hope you and Kitty came through your lightning strike fine and without Permanents :D

Wizzy Gynoid said...

Bravo baby. as those brits say so well, "Brill."

Matthew said...

Personally I've never advocated total information awareness, likewise total anonymity is something that shouldn't be put up on a pedestal.

It's really the critical threshold that lives in the grey world between anonymity and persistent identity that is so crucial to understand and appreciate.

I think a more apt slogan than the ad hominem you cited is: only you can protect and manage your identity, online and in RL.

Miso Susanowa said...

@soror: it's so nice of you to read and comment regularly *hug*

Miso Susanowa said...

@Matthew: I agree totally. I see no reason for this incredible imbalance that is mesmerizing the world currently, given the few reasons I nicely confined myself to in this post (short of writing an entire book and which are readily and unfortunately voluminous with a bit of searching).

I don't expect to be anonymous everywhere and everywhen. But I do agree with the Founders of this nation and men of intelligence and good conscience throughout history that a person has the right to some privacy, and in laws that maintain a balance between the need for accountability and a human being's right not to be turned into, as the Matrix so well stated, a Coppertop.

And definitely agree that managing one's identity should not be left in the hands of some company that thinks of me as anything more than a byte to sell and doesn't do a piddling thing to protect me. We've seen too many reasons not to trust these people lately.

DG said...

The RedZone debacle that fueled this latest fire was spurred on by one simple factor that I've echoed here and there .. zFire Xue treated everyone with disdain and disrespect. He's still acting as if he's a notch above the rest of us mortals. In light of the examples you cite in your Addendum, where supposedly above-board and accountable firms bobbled and leaked our private data, the fact that someone as disreputable as zFire has his hands on it makes most people squirm a bit more than usual.

All in all, I agree with your points. Personally, I tend to PUSH a lot of personal info on some folks, and in a similar vein restrict a lot of other details. I find pushing stuff at them makes them forget what I'm not saying. ;-)

Brinda said...

For a very serious post I spent a lot of time laughing, Well said.
Heck I go into Starbucks and refuse to even give them my first name =^..^=
Sadly, there are those who's minds are made up.
Of course, there are the ones with out a mind!

Kranfel aka Kling said...

This is so well written and brilliant i dont have words for it really =O

**Applauds** **HUGSSS** wonderful! and very amuzing =))

Miso Susanowa said...

@DG - I dunno about that person, although I did comment on Tateru's blog vis-a-vis my short lookup on the web domain and contact info for RedZone. I also tend to PUSH data on people until they scream, 'Oooo please make her stop Mommy!" and run away to find earplugs :D But then, I am choosing which data to push at them.

@Brinda - thx! There's no reason seriousness needn't be so... serious, you know? Plus, sometimes a schoolyard attitude is called for - "We also serve who only stand and mock." :D

Kranfel - *hug* thx for the linkage :)

Wizzy Gynoid said...

this just in. now wants my real name too.

Anonymous said...

Just sublime to read and just about every thought I've had on the subject...Thanks Miso!! :D

Anonymous said...

Second go to get this to post...Simply sublime to read and echoing most of the thoughts in my head...thanks Miso!!