Law in the Internet Society

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DoesEveryoneShareTheBlameForTheGlobalErosionofPrivacy 5 - 29 Jan 2012 - Main.MatthewLadner
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Surfing the Internet, I stumbled upon this article in which a reporter spoke with Professor Moglen on privacy issues involving Facebook, twitter, etc. Here is a link to the article that includes a transcript of the conversation.
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 --Main.CrystalMao - 28 Jan 2012

I agree with Crystal that Prof. Moglen isn't saying we should abandon social media altogether--I don't think, however, that Austin was really challenging Moglen on this point. Rather, Austin seems to be calling into question the broader logic of our professor's vehement opposition to current social media platforms. And, I think Austin is on to something in this respect:

First, Moglen argues that an individual's use of social media is really only problematic (or, problematic enough to rouse Moglen's concern) because, more than reporting on himself or herself, that individual is reporting on tons of other people who also use social media. In other words, using Facebook--like littering--has harmful consequences beyond the "litterer." But, as Moglen seems to admit in the article Austin posted, the people being "reported on" are part of the social network too.

So, rather than a few "litterers" selfishly ruining the environment for the rest of the tree-hugging public, we actually have a world full of litterers who don't seem to care about or feel the consequences of others' "antisocial" behavior. I think this fact--that everyone who uses social media sites like Facebook and Twitter are both informing and being informed on--weakens Moglen's "moral" justification for fleeing these platforms. I argue that any person who uses Facebook acquiesces to the evisceration of his or her privacy to a certain degree. And, the reason so many people consent to this evisceration is that, for the overwhelming majority, the benefits of doing so dwarf the actual or likely real world consequences.

Moglen may argue that there are people who don't partake in Facebook and similar sites but nevertheless get swept up in and hurt by others' use of these platforms. But, if these people are smart and motivated, they can take extra steps--like Professor Moglen does--to reduce the likelihood of this occurring. Moreover, even if such "collateral damage" is inevitable, it doesn't necessarily follow that fleeing mainstream social media is some kind of moral imperative. Indeed, it seems extreme and unrealistic to define morality as altering one's behavior whenever there is an incalculably small risk that such behavior will pose a risk to some unidentified person in some unidentified place at some unidentified time.

Second, the strength of Moglen's objections depend in large on the harms he identifies. That is, we should only listen to Moglen if a failure to do so would have bad consequences. But, where are these harms? I know, we should fear the secret police, but I just don't know anyone who has had the secret police knock at his or her door because of Facebook or Twitter or any other social media site. I understand that there are "evil police" out there, but this raises the question whether tyranny should dictate the conduct of those living under it let alone the conduct of those--like me--who don't. Moreover, Moglen suggests that but for social media, the evil police of the world wouldn't be able to effectively stifle voices of dissent and revolution. But, as we have seen in the past, the "secret police" of many brutal regimes have managed to brutalize their people without Mark Zuckerberg's help. And, as we see today, secret police cannot stop every uprising despite the advantage new technologies may provide. Indeed, if current events in Syria show us anything, it's not the secret police people should fear but rather the indiscriminate murder of civilians in the streets.

In the article Austin posted, Moglen does cite some concrete harms--he says people lost their homes and jobs and freedom. I'm just not sure what this means. I'm pretty sure people lost their homes because of some combination of undue government involvement in mortgage lending, predatory lending and private greed, and irresponsible borrowing by individuals. Also, the housing bubble collapsed, which didn't help. Furthermore, jobs disappeared because the financial system was infected with toxic assets and the economy began to contract at a rapid pace. I'm not sure where data privacy fits in here--maybe it does in some tangential way. I just doubt that any reasonable authority on the matter would argue that the erosion of data privacy was somehow behind the global financial crisis. -- MatthewLadner - 29 Jan 2012


Revision 5r5 - 29 Jan 2012 - 06:13:17 - MatthewLadner
Revision 4r4 - 29 Jan 2012 - 04:41:57 - AustinKlar
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