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Guest Post - Weekend Longread
Posted by Heebie-Geebie on 06.22.19

Mossy Character writes: This first appeared in the WaPo, so you assholes have probably all read it already, and not a damn one of you thought of the blog. BUT SOME OF US DO.
Bare branches.

Heebie's take: In a nutshell:

Men outnumber women by 70 million in China and India.
The consequences of having too many men, now coming of age, are far-reaching: beyond an epidemic of loneliness, the imbalance distorts labour markets, drives up savings rates in China and drives down consumption, artificially inflates certain property values and parallels increases in violent crime, trafficking or prostitution in a growing number of locations.

I would just like to point out a counterfactual made-up true fact, which is that if the gender proportions were reversed, men would be put on pedestals and treated like a luxury scarce good instead of being consigned to a life with a growing risk of slavery-rape.

In addition, I suspect men are raping other men in increased rates, and it is just underreported.

Comments (29)

Guest Post - Privacy as social good
Posted by Heebie-Geebie on 06.21.19

Nick S. writes: This is well put:

Until recently, ambient privacy was a simple fact of life. Recording something for posterity required making special arrangements, and most of our shared experience of the past was filtered through the attenuating haze of human memory. ...

Ambient privacy is not a property of people, or of their data, but of the world around us. Just like you can't drop out of the oil economy by refusing to drive a car, you can't opt out of the surveillance economy by forswearing technology (and for many people, that choice is not an option). While there may be worthy reasons to take your life off the grid, the infrastructure will go up around you whether you use it or not

Because our laws frame privacy as an individual right, we don't have a mechanism for deciding whether we want to live in a surveillance society. Congress has remained silent on the matter, with both parties content to watch Silicon Valley make up its own rules. The large tech companies point to our willing use of their services as proof that people don't really care about their privacy. But this is like arguing that inmates are happy to be in jail because they use the prison library. Confronted with the reality of a monitored world, people make the rational decision to make the best of it.

After sending that, I thought about another analogy. The linked article argues that we should think about privacy similar to environmental regulations.

We're at the point where we need a similar shift in perspective in our privacy law. The infrastructure of mass surveillance is too complex, and the tech oligopoly too powerful, to make it meaningful to talk about individual consent. Even experts don't have a full picture of the surveillance economy, in part because its beneficiaries are so secretive, and in part because the whole system is in flux. Telling people that they own their data, and should decide what to do with it, is just another way of disempowering them.

I wonder if a better (though more pessimistic) comparison would be diet. I was talking today with a co-worker who has lost 15 pounds over the last couple of months and congratulating him on his progress. It occurred to me that, for any individual successfully losing weight will have a variety of health and lifestyle benefits. But, as a society, there is enormous waste of time, money, and mental and emotional energy on dieting which is, essentially, working against the broader food and consumer culture.

It would be wrong to say that individuals can't address (their own) weight or food concerns with individual choice. It's also true that, collectively, individual choice is an inefficient solution. The same is probably true of privacy. An individual can benefit by being conscious of the privacy policies of the sites and companies they interact with, and can make choices to protect themselves but, to the extent such concern becomes widespread it will also represent enormous waste of energy.

Via Bruce Schneier.

Heebie's take: I totally agree that this is well-phrased.

To the broader analogy, there are so many domains where we pretend that the best protection agains capitalist wreckage is for individuals to be extremely well-informed. Medical billing and health care (in the US) springs to mind. I remember hearing once, maybe 25 years ago, that medical billing is similar to auto mechanic billing, because they both involve a huge asymmetry of information between the provider and the individual patient/customer. That asymmetry of information is the crux. It is royally dumb to solve problems involving an asymmetry like this by expecting the non-expert to achieve quasi-expert status.

With surveillance and technology, "opt out" is not exactly quasi-expert status, but knowing why and how to do so involves either expertise or paranoia. It's dumb to have expertise and paranoia be prerequisites for navigating society.

There are also so many domains where we pretend that individual virtue will solve a collective action problem. Greenwashing, pinkwashing... what color should surveillance-washing be? matrixwashing?

(An aside: I think it's funny that a lame post, namely mine on Wednesday, serves as a beacon inviting guest posts. You're not wrong to interpret it as so! Several of you correctly did so.)

Comments (61)