Online Privacy is a Corporate Invention!

Originially published here:

There is nothing private about the way we use the Internet. The act of posting something online without encryption is no different from shouting it on a crowded square. The concept of online privacy is purely a corporate invention, a way of normalizing the current practices, and is no way related to the concept of privacy, the act or ability of individuals or groups to express themselves and information about themselves selectively.

When we connect to the Internet, we connect to a vast network of devices that take our data and routes it as we wish, with no guarantees to privacy or secrecy. Social networking websites, and on a wider scale, all data-mining corporations, operate on a higher level of abstraction, providing us with the service of transporting our personal information and sharing it with others in the manner we wish, with a promise of secrecy as holders of this information. In fact, most of the services these corporations provide cannot function without this weird notion of virtual privacy, they need to be a third party that unnecessarily has access to said information.

The invention of online privacy, a pact of secrecy between the network and the user, facilitates these services, but as the corporation doesn’t only see the one user and their interactions, but the interactions of all of its users, it gains an interesting quality. This data becomes “mine-able” and suddenly gains great value. We trade the exclusive use of our data in this sense to these networks in exchange for the promise of secrecy.

This exclusivity satisfies one of the necessary conditions for this data to become a commodity for the corporation, a valuable raw material in a way. If it didn’t exist, then the value of this data is reduced to an ever decreasing function of storage plus bandwidth costs. This virtual “privacy” becomes a really important concept for the corporation to protect, as it becomes a business interest. The otherwise innocuous act of copying data becomes “stealing” because even though it’s “our data” only they have an exclusive right to use it.

When Facebook bought Whatsapp with 16 billion of its shares, we were angry, they bought 16 billion worth of our data with 16 billion more. Let’s stop defending online privacy and start advocating actual privacy practices on the Internet. The Internet is a public network and should always remain as such, if you want to transport information on that network privately, then you should use encryption, the network would provide you with secrecy only out of moral obligation, and anyone with in an interest in your data can only be stopped by encryption.

In conclusion, we can have privacy and use the internet, by using the proper kinds of encryption and not using data mining websites owned by corporations. We can develop and explore new paradigms in social networking, such as decentralization, that allow us to do what we do now but without having to sacrifice our privacy. Sure we might miss the targeted ads, and, well, the socially targeted ads… actually we probably won’t miss a thing.

Jordanian Parliament Debates Censoring YouTube Video

A local video production by ShooFeeTV brought out the ire of many parliamentarians in Jordan. The video heavily criticizes the performance of the Parliament in the recent years in a  National-Geographic-esque mockumentary. MP Rula Alhroub, a former actress and media personality, heavily criticized the video, and demanded that the Parliament must contact YouTube to remove the video, because allowing such videos would make the parliament lost it’s prestige and lessen it’s social standing.

On the other hand, MP Dr. Mustafa Alhamarneh gave a rare ferocious defense of freedom of speech, saying that creatives have a right to produce content and express themselves freely. He reminded MP Alhroub that her request would be considered media censorship and that we should help and support creative youth rather than oppress and censor them. To my personal surprise, the parliament ended up taking MP Dr. Alhamarneh’s suggestion and decided against asking YouTube to stop broadcasting the video.

Kudos to Dr. Alhamarneh for being a champion of free speech, I feel much better knowing someone like him is under the dome. Here is a link to the video:

New Threat to Free Internet in Jordan – Article 6 (b)

The year 2012 was a horrible year for digital rights and free press in Jordan. The passing of the draconian Press and Publications law and extending its jurisdiction to include online news websites gave the government unprecedented powers to control and censor websites it deems unlawful, made it difficult to start a news website, and practically made it impossible for these websites to allow free comments on its websites. So far the law has not been applied yet, which gave us Internet activists in Jordan a glimmer of hope. News that members of the new Parliament gave a memorandum to the government asking for the Press and Publications law to be appealed gave us more hope.

However, my own hopes were dashed when I read the draft of a new Telecommunications law (link content in Arabic). The Press and Publications law was bad, it was the first attempt by our government to systematically censor the Internet, but at least it targeted censoring individual websites. According to the law draft, article 6 (b) gives the government sweeping powers to dictate guidelines that censor entire categories of websites if they wish. This clause alone can cripple free access to Information and Free Speech, both rights guaranteed by the Constitution.

Article 6 (b) of the Telecomunications Law draft states, "(The Telecom Regulatory Commission has to) regulate access to content through public communications networks according to regulation set by the council of ministers for this purpose, as long as this regulation are limited to cases where the content is forbidden or restricted according to Jordanian law."
Article 6 (b) of the Telecomunications Law draft states, “(The Telecom Regulatory Commission has to) regulate access to content through public communications networks according to regulation set by the council of ministers for this purpose, as long as these regulations are limited to cases where the content is forbidden or restricted according to Jordanian law.”

First of all, the article does not fit in this law. The purpose of the Telecommunications law is to regulate telecoms and protect consumer rights, not to dictate and supervise what content they should be allowed to access. Secondly, the fact that “illegal” content exists on the Internet does not justify this article, Jordanian laws already apply in the cyberspace, and this particular issue is handled in the Cyber Crimes law (2010) and the unfortunate Press and Publications law of 1998, and it’s revisions.

That’s not to mention the biggest issue with this article, we simply do not want censorship over the Internet in Jordan. Jordanians made that clear with the 7oryanet campaign in 2012, and the Online Press Freedom Tent, yet the government insists on increasing it’s censorship powers. It infringes on our constitutional right to the free access to Information, and our right to free speech. It infringes also on our right to secret communication by forcing ISPs to monitor our Internet usage to make such censorship feasible.

Speaking of feasibility  such censorship is highly impractical, as we have learned from our neighbors in the region, and it’s counter-intuitive. Jordan has benefited greatly from having a free and open Internet for the past 17 years. Jordan’s web industry are some of the more prolific content creators on the Arabic web. And we are just beginning to realize the full power a free Internet has on innovation and the exchange of ideas and opinions. Jordan will no longer be attractive to foreign investors looking to invest in the many digital start-ups in the country.

This article will deal a blow to all of that. Holding ISPs responsible for content, and giving the government unchecked powers to censor the Internet will ultimately lead to over-censorship. Holding ISPs responsible for content they cannot control, and cannot easily censor will cause more overhead on ISPs, which will ultimately raise the price for Internet access, which will make the Internet less affordable. These are costs that Jordanians do not need in this economic slowdown.

I was looking forward to a more progressive Telecommunications law, one that guarantees digital rights,  fosters innovation, and promotes accessibility to the Internet. Article 6 (b) alone is regressive on all of those counts. Centralized censorship, and censorship in general, has no place in our laws.