Ghost Right…er…

In the near future, we will be confronted with issues most of us can’t imagine today. Companies are already competing to send the first ships to Mars first. When a company like SpaceX or Boeing lands on another planet, will they automatically own the land they build their headquarters on? What about tech companies? What if Microsoft and Google started selling our pictures, search results, or business data to the public on USB sticks next to the candy at the checkout line at Target? What if Wells Fargo opened a credit card account for a child the moment it was born?

These things aren’t horribly unimaginable. Most of the time throughout history when someone’s found a new piece of land on Earth, they’ve claimed it for themselves or their country. Why wouldn’t they do the same with space? Social Networks and app devs (i.e. Shazam) already spy on us and sell their findings to other companies behind our backs.  Wells Fargo was caught opening accounts in other people’s names without their knowledge.

The people that run companies whose products we use on a regular basis don’t want us to know about or have any say in the matter. Microsoft never asked if they could track everything we type on the computers we own. Elon Musk has not asked us what we think he should do with the land when his company makes it to Mars. They don’t want us to reduce their profit by way of regulation and restriction. These companies are against us.

This is where knowledge of the tools you use to communicate starts to play a role. Paying attention to your extremely intimate relationship with technology does not make you a poindexter, brainiak, or neckbeard. It makes you prepared. That’s something that you can read anywhere on the internet, though.

What I’ve seen very little of is a call to act now in order to protect rights that we’re going to need in the future. We can take action to protect the rights we don’t need yet. We need to do this before they become compromised or completely taken away from us. You name it, we need laws in place to protect it. Most importantly, we need to protect our ownership of information.

Open Source Software and Open Information are part the answer. They’re the perfect way to start protecting ourselves from companies with a lack of transparency. The concept of privacy as we know it today is going to change as technology advances. Generations to come may see things pretty different than we do. That’s something that we need to ponder. Will privacy be something that is more valued, or will people be more open in the future? It’s difficult to predict how the next generations will think. What we know for sure right now is that a company whose product has no demand is in a rough spot. We also know that the primary source of income for a lot of companies today is our information. How do you kill the demand for information?

Make our information publicly available. Free our data. Gift it to the world.

We need to gradually move towards using two methods of communication online, both based totally on open source software. The first should be an end-to-end encrypted and private means of sharing. The second should be a 100% free, totally public sharing platform. Nowhere should there be servers owned by a company that stores and sells little pieces of our lives to the highest bidder. The reasoning behind this?

  1. It will force us all to rethink what we share online, but also give us a tool to communicate in private.
  2. No company will own our data and they wouldn’t have access to what we don’t want them to see. If information is available to the public, it loses all value as a product.
  3. Free and Open information can be used in studies that would potentially benefit mankind as a whole. Who knows what we would find out?
  4. It has the potential to cause us to rethink dated norms and stigmas that cause unnecessary suffering.

There are more reasons that creating a public share of our data would be beneficial that I’d like to discuss in depth in the future. For now, this is a bit to chew on. It’s tough and there are a few good reasons to not open our data. Freeing our captive information, though, would give us back something that was stolen from us while we were turned the other way.

However you feel about opening up our data, that’s sort of a secondary point in this post. We need to think about the future. We need be aware of how businesses and governments will take advantage of us. We need to do something about it. If we don’t act, ghosts of the rights we didn’t even know we could have had will continue to haunt us.

Please check out the EFF and GNU.

Author: A. M. Langston

Poet and Novelist

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