Law in the Internet Society
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Does the Truth Matter?

-- By JuanPaoloFajardo? - 02 Nov 2015


“I know this steak doesn't exist. I know that when I put it in my mouth, the Matrix is telling my brain that it is juicy and delicious. After nine years, you know what I realize? Ignorance is bliss.” Cypher’s words reflect an alarmingly skeptical attitude towards the concept of truth even after discovering that his perceived world was a manufactured reality and that his freedom within it illusory. Ultimately, he was willing to ignore the truth in exchange for a virtual existence that was preprogrammed to meet his standard of an ideal life and his notion of acceptable freedom. And if anyone had again presented him with the choice to learn the glass-shattering truth, he would rather “…shove that red pill right up your ass”.

The allusion to Cypher’s character aptly describes the societal obstacle facing the free software movement and its objective of uncovering the truth behind the current state of human social interaction. To elaborate, the movement aims to expose the following truths: (a) human beings are connected as part of an “overall constellation of activities”, a “nervous system” of interconnected networks and computers; (b) this nervous system is currently driven by proprietary software controlled by a few and commodifies aspects of human behavior into commercially viable resources; and (c) to perpetuate this dynamic, proprietors deliberately design software that conceals from users how it works and what information it takes from them and predicts/controls their consumption. By unravelling these truths, the movement hopes to restore “freedom of the mind” and instill within society a genuine sense of choice. However, looking back at Cypher’s rejection of the “truth”, one wonders whether human beings, when faced with perception-changing reality, are always ready to trade the status quo with whatever realizations a free mind carries? Sometimes and to some people, ignorance can mean bliss.

Cost-Benefit Analysis

An individual’s willingness to accept the truth and embrace free will depends on the socio-economic cost of choice and how it affects one’s perception of personal well-being. Normally, a person engages in a cost-benefit analysis between two choices when they are incompatible and where one choice precludes the other. Decisions are ultimately made based on where personal benefit can best be maximized. However, how an individual values a choice is highly subjective and is rarely confined within precise standards. For example, between two functionally identical devices, one individual may give a higher value to form over function, while another may prioritize brand loyalty.

Choosing to accept the truth behind proprietary software means sacrificing its perceived benefits or internalizing the perceived costs of adopting nonproprietary software. The standards of choice could be endless. On the one hand, one consumer may value the data security and high levels of privacy offered by nonproprietary software over the intuitiveness and functionality of a proprietary software’s graphical user interface. On the other hand, a user may be willing to surrender undisclosed amounts of personal data in exchange for the latest Apple operating system. At the end of the day, even free will is beholden to the concept of utility maximization.

The Central Nervous System and Valuing the Truth

Given the utility-maximizing behavior of individuals, the problem lies in its susceptibility to influence in a social environment where human behavior is a commercially viable resource, the profitability of which requires continued human dependence on the false sense of choice such environment generates. Simply put, the central nervous system which connects human experience, also generates profit. As society moves from a production-based economy to one that is consumption-oriented, there is a greater need to predict/influence/control human consumption and any information that enhances such grasp over consumption in itself becomes a highly tradable commodity. To mine consumers of information concerning their lifestyle choices, dietary habits, health concerns, and automobile preferences, software proprietors create the perception that their product is indispensable and its utility outweighs any concerns over personal privacy. In this manner, they greatly influence an individual’s system of valuation so much so that the latter is willing to trade off free will to feed this dependence resulting in the undervaluation of the truth in one’s hierarchy of values. In this case, the consumer is not only blind to the underlying functions of proprietary software, he is also indifferent to its existence so long as his dependence is satiated.

In the Philippines, for example, where the poverty line remains high and access to the central “nervous system” remains low, the average citizen would consider exposure to privacy concerns and data mining issues a “First World” concern in the face of grossly limited internet access. Filipinos would welcome zero-rated partnerships between mobile service providers and app developers and freely surrender personal data if it meant receiving free access to the internet. Business Intelligence units in major Philippine telecommunications and banking companies are robust given the amount of data they can freely obtain from the public which undervalues privacy.


The consumer’s cycle of dependence upon proprietary software is a major obstacle to the free software movement in that it renders the truth, to a certain degree, seemingly meaningless. Although there are a good number of advocates of transparency in proprietary software design, the prevalence of the problem makes one wonder whether the critical mass necessary for a genuine social revolution can be achieved. The glass-shattering truth has already been shared and yet many individuals choose to remain connected to the Matrix, like Cypher.

Nevertheless, one should never loss hope. As future lawyers, we possess the distinct opportunity to help change the social/legal arrangements that keep the true nature of proprietary software hidden from the public. The solution requires the perseverance to spread the word and the inventiveness to make the necessary structural changes to the legal order. In time, someone else will be ready to take the blue pill.

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r1 - 02 Nov 2015 - 06:00:37 - JuanPaoloFajardo
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