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Tag Archives: Technology

Is Internet Anonymity Really a Feature?

I think I shall talk about a little something different today, dear heathens. I’ve made abundantly clear in the past that I’m a geek. Of course even if I’d tried to keep that under wraps the subject matter of this blog likely would have spoiled the secret. I don’t constantly scour the net for the latest geeky news, but when something is brought to my attention I keep an eye on it. So I’ve been watching Google+ over the last month; I’ve been keeping my eye on it even though I’ve not had the chance to use it yet, and quite honestly am expecting it to be the disappointment that Google Wave was (I was fired up by the possibilities displayed in the early video presentations, nosed around for months until I finally managed to get an invite… and absolutely no one I knew was using it). So what has been popping up the last few days is the brouhaha over Google instituting a “real name policy” a la Facebook.

I have to be honest; I’m not impressed by the “outrage” this has inspired. Do I believe that people have a right to privacy? I sure do. However, I’m also aware that just by choosing to use the internet you’ve probably given up far more privacy than you realize. If you’re reading this, then various services have already recorded the internet provider/network that you are reading it from. It will tell me what city you’re reading it from. If I was inclined to do so I could use that information to get a little more information about you. I won’t, because I’m not trying to sell you anything, but I could. For that matter, even if I was trying to sell you something (like a book, for example), the only thing I might use that information for is to say, “Hmm… I tend to average X readers from location Y, presuming these people like the blog maybe I should do a convention appearance or book signing in said location, so that they have a chance to talk to me in person should they so choose.”

Given that using a pseudonym doesn’t really provide all that much protection in the digital age, I don’t find most of the arguments for their use all that compelling. I could still stalk you even if you’re not using your real name. Do you really think that not using your real name is going to protect a boss, or an oppressive government regime from finding out who you really are if they put their minds to it? We all leave traces of our “actual” identities even when we’re hiding behind invented personas.

I’ve also heard people claim that Google only wants your real name so they can better target advertising at us… not really. As I’ve already mentioned, your being online, using Google, and browsing the web in general all generates a fuckton of metrics data they can shift through in order to target you with advertising. Using the Google+ circles, pressing the +1 button, and otherwise engaging with their service just generates more data for them to mine. Yet again, it’s not something they need your “government name” for.

I’m also not convinced that hiding behind a digital mask allows people to “express who they really are.” I’ve increasingly become a big believer in owning what one has to say. If I say something that is controversial or offends people, then I say something that is controversial or offends people; by that same tautological token if I lose friends or job prospects because of something I have to say, then I lose friends or job prospects because of something I have to say. This blog has my name attached to it. My twitter has my name attached to it. My e-mail has my name attached to it. My facebook not only has my name attached to it, but features a picture of me wearing Green Lantern underpants on my head, while holding a rubber severed head; and I have more than once posted shit that most people would likely consider to be bizarre and/or offensive. If people don’t like it they are free to, in the words of the Rubberbandits, “fuck right off to Cork.”

There is no meaningful separation between what you see on Facebook, or on this blog, and who I am in person. Given that any number of posts on this blog, indeed I suspect the majority of them, ultimately come down to, and back around to, issues of authentic identity and personhood, and I’ve just pointed out that I’m a big believer in owning what comes out of one’s gob (digital or otherwise), it shouldn’t come as any surprise that I don’t believe in using a pseudonym to express one’s self (even if the pseudonymous persona is not being used to spout ignorant shit without fear of repercussion). Yet even if I didn’t believe any of that, I would find using a pseudonym in the context of social networking to be eyeroll worthy, as it pretty much defeats the bloody point of social networking. If you don’t want your boss, or your mother, to know that you really, really like it when your significant other takes a strap-on to your arsehole… don’t post the shit, or don’t social network with your boss or your mother; your ability to express yourself is only limited in the ways you choose to limit it.

I’m sure people might well be along to tell me that I’ve never been stalked or harassed. One of those is true. I’ve never been stalked. However, as I’ve pointed out above in the digital age a pseudonym is nothing near sure protection against stalking. I have been harassed. Admittedly, it was far less than the harassment that many have been subjected to, but it has happened… more to the point it happened despite using a pseudonym. I also don’t believe in hiding my opinions behind one, even if those opinions wind up biting me in the ass (that would remain true even if I thought one of the potential ass bites was storm troopers kicking down my door).

Does all of this mean I agree with the way that Google shut down accounts without warning? Not so much, and had I been affected by that decision I would likely have been highly annoyed. Am I irritated by their apparently inconsistent application of their “real name” policy. Sure am. Yet I don’t find in myself the slightest feeling of betrayal or outrage that I couldn’t, for example, have my G+ account and Google Profile in my “truly expressive identity,” of Bob the Sodomite Gnome.

Now if you’ll excuse me I just saw some twat compare Google’s wanting your real name to the policies of Stalin, Pol Pot, and Hitler; I need to go vomit in despair now.

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Posted by on July 29, 2011 in Activism, Pop Culture

 

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The Doktor is in.

I dig Warren Ellis. Not in a I want to have his bald-headed babies kind of way, but Ellis is near the top of my list of favorite writers. I haven’t read everything he’s ever written, because he’s written a lot of words, but I’ve read a fair bit of his stuff. I’m particularly fond of a little comic he does called Doktor Sleepless.

Doktor Sleepless takes us on a relentless tour through the dystopian future of Heavenside. There are no flying cars, and no jetpacks, but people do have contact lenses that let them keep track of (and communicate) with their friends, their is a pharmaceutical for every occasion, and modifying one’s body with technology is taken for granted. Heavenside is us run rampant. I might not have an instant-messaging system enabled contact lens, but I have a cellular phone that can access multiple messaging networks, take pictures, play music, and uplink to a GPS satellite. With a touch of an icon this little device lets me see the musings of people half a world away; people I have never met, and who have never even heard of me.

I’m not all that old quite yet, and when I was younger these sort of things were strictly the stuff of science fiction. Yet, despite how quickly things like cellphones have come to prominence, how many times have we stopped and really questioned them? Oh, I don’t mean just question whether or not they are useful, because they certainly can be; though on the other hand we managed to live just fine in a pre-cellphone world. So if we’re not questioning their utility, what should we be questioning?

How many cellphones are responsible for car accidents? How many of us have had a conversation interrupted so someone could answer their phone? These sort of questions could go on, and these are the easy ones. How many of us have really, and I mean really, stopped to consider the fact that without ever putting anything into our bodies, by letting them put a cellphone into our hands we have made changes to ourselves? It’s an important question, and one that seems to be set aside in favor of novelty and utility. That isn’t living philosophically. Hell, I’m not even sure it’s really living.

Maybe the changes that callphones and similar technology have made in us have all been for the better. I certainly won’t deny that our quality of life has been vastly improved by modern science and technology. Hell, I’m even a big fan of science. What I’m saying, is that when we are introduced to something we should ask hard questions about it. Please notice, that this does not include silly, already answered questions, or making ridiculous claims along the lines of vaccines causing autism, or cellphones causing brain tumors. We have answers to those questions, and the kind of people who go about crowing about conspiracies are ignorant, irresponsible, and unethical.

I’ll let an excerpt from a 2007 post by Mr. Ellis sum up the kind of questions we should be asking:

You are never going into space.
You will never own a jet pack.
Your car will never fly.
HIV will not be cured in your lifetime.
Cancer will not be cured in your lifetime.
The common cold will not be cured in your lifetime.
Don’t these things bother you?

Yes, Mr. Ellis, these things sure as shit bother me. They bother me because most of us never think to ask, or we ask and then let it go. How often have we stopped to consider that this constant influx of devices to make our lives easier, to amuse us, might just be a 21st century version of Rome’s bread and circuses?

I own a cellphone. I own a decent computer with a high definition monitor. I own a Playstation 3, and a PSP to go along with it. I like technology and gadgets, so I’m not going to tell you not to buy them, or that you should throw away the ones you have now. What I am telling you is that you should always, always ask yourself why you need it, and what accepting it into your life will mean. Not only that, but even when we buy what they are selling we should never stop asking “Where’s my fucking jetpack?”. If we continue to refuse to engage with the material of our everyday lives in a critical and reflective fashion, if we continue to simply take technology for granted… well, we might have cellphones in our brains, and nanites in our blood, but we’ll also be living in Heavenside sooner than we think. We’ll be living in Heavenside, and I still won’t have my fucking jetpack.

 
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Posted by on December 26, 2010 in Comics, Philosophy

 

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