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.

It’s Hopeless, Jordanian Censorship is Here to Stay

The day the incredibly repressive ban on online news outlets was implemented in Jordan, as I was driving back home, I was listening to a radio interview with the head of the Press and Publications department. A ridiculously asinine comment by him triggered a horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach, and I knew starting then that this law is here to stay. In the next couple of weeks I tried to dismiss this feeling as a single instance of pessimism, but an entire month, and two public debates later, I’m sure that this is the first time I have a fairly accurate assessment on the situation of freedoms in Jordan.  I’m no longer depressed, I’m angry, and I’m not going to be nice. If you’re looking for the kind of constructive debate, and indecisive pragmatism, you won’t find any here. This is purely a personal rant and should be treated as such.

This law is here to stay, and here’s why. The government is full of asinine and repressive officials. The head of the press and publications law is an example. They view freedom of speech as a personal freedom, something you do within your own personal sphere. They see no place for it in public discourse, and they still believe they can control that. For them, press should only have two point of views, one that carries the official government line, and one that carries the official government view of what opposition should say. Anything that deviates from these two poles is chaos. I have never seen another country that views press and journalists as a utility, comparing them to taxi drivers and doctors. Of course you need a government licence to operate as a journalist, otherwise everybody and their mother in law will start saying what they think about the country.

Then come the people who are responsible for ensuring such an infringement should never occur, our esteemed members of the Parliament. Lets not forget that they passed this law as part of their own personal vendetta against some of these websites, that continually attack them, when they deserve it and when they don’t. And since the parliament is really unpopular for many reasons, people tend to believe anything these websites say. Rather than work on gaining the trust of the people, by doing their jobs as elected officials, they would rather abuse their powers and repress the voices that come out against them. This is the parliament that couldn’t convene for the past two days and many more, because not enough parliamentarians bothered to attend. Counting on them to re-appeal the law is just equally foolish. Lets not forget that our current prime minister was one of the most vocal voices of opposition against this law when he was an MP, but he managed to do a flip worthy of an Olympic gold medal.

Which brings me to the community of people who are standing against this law, including myself. We’re stupid to believe the government when it said it won’t implement this law, or when it said it will implement it in good faith. I warned others but failed to take heed of my own warning when I said we should prepare for this ban. We were also stupid when we believed they wouldn’t censor blogs, but failed to realize that our government doesn’t know what blogs are. When I’m wearing my civil society hat or my Internet freedom activist hat, I tend to be as toothless as a new born. We’re few, and we’re outnumbered and we’re fighting an incredibly unpopular cause. Because other than a few respectable journalistic institutions that took a brave stand against this law, the rest of the ‘respectable’  institutions either capitulated to the government’s will, or are seedy yellow press that will never be popular for their dirty tactics. Let me be clear that my personal opinion on these websites doesn’t mean that they deserve any less freedom than anybody else, but it’s a really difficult cause to sell, because this country at large is incredibly good at justifying repression.

I’m really tired of continuing this charade of pretending that this law is a case of eroding freedoms. Freedom of the internet in Jordan was never a guaranteed thing, and the only reason it took 18 years for the government to finally censor the Internet is purely a byproduct of the fact that the repressive elements in our society and government are lazy, inefficient, and most of the times, stupid. The enemies of the free Internet in Jordan have finally showed their faces, and they are many, and they run this entire establishment. While I still believe in his majesty the King’s commitment towards reforming Jordan into a democracy, I sometimes wonder why these repressive elements continue to be sponsored and entrusted with a task that they are fundamentally against. I’ve honestly reached a point where I’m starting to question whether it’s all worth it to try and be part of this system, my commitment to Jordan isn’t a commitment to it’s sand or it stones, it stems from my believe in the values of our constitution, and if this constitution is reduced to just ink on paper, I am left with no choice but to seek another country that gives a damn about freedoms and democracy.

Oh, and if someone from the Press and Publications department is reading this, this is an example of a website that should be blocked under the law. But it isn’t, because you’re a bunch of inefficient and stupid censors.

"I can't access this website, must be an error with the system"
“I can’t access this website, must be an error with the system”


Oh Look, Another Crazy Sexist Fatwa!

Stop it. Stop sharing those crazy sexist fatwas from crazy obscure skeikhs. It doesn’t make you a liberal, it doesn’t make you a feminist, if anything, you’re doing extremism a service. Conservatives need to listen to this as well, because we’re failing terribly at doing anything constructive together. I’m not going to be apologetic, I am a liberal, and we’re not a minority by any means in the Arab world, even if it does seem so. Conservatives form the other majority, most modern societies are split along those lines. Another fact is that most liberals and conservatives share many common values, and some common sense. I’m sure most of you have had friends that you “respect” despite their opinions.

But that doesn’t sell views. Why else would you have all of these Egyptian talk shows running a battle royale between some irrelevant actress and some obscure extremist. Those things sell, and it’s our fault. For every stupid issue these shows focus on, many women face millions of other problems that people don’t want to see being discussed. How many people would like to watch a debate on the gender salary gap between two reasonable people? That’s bad TV. So we give more airtime to anuses that have been trained to speak, and eventually they become spokespersons of their camps, and the silly issues they share become major points of contention and other issues that deserve just as much attention if not even more, get the back seat.

It’s not only a matter of issues. A big issue in Jordan is harassment, and I’m not saying it’s not a big issue, and it should be discussed. I just don’t want to discuss it with trolls like Amjad Qorshe, we need to discuss it with people that have a bit of common sense. The more attention we give to this trolls will only cause more polarization. These trolls can take any issue and turn it into a sensational cesspool of misinformation, and I’m sick of how counterproductive we are becoming. It’s all a crazy trick designed to make sure we never find middle ground, because all you see is the crazy on the other side, and you sure as hell are not going to agree with that shit, so you stick with your own people, and all your support goes to them in whatever political/charity/commercial endeavor they have.

Let’s face it, despite all the communication tools we have in this new age, our conversation is broken. Issues aren’t real issues, reactions and scaring others is what counts. A huge number of people are not informed and scared shitless, and the people we’ve allowed to become our spokespersons are idiotic trolls that spew madness and lies out of every single hole in their bodies, and we listen to them because it gives us more joy. It’s easy to diss the crazy person, and it’s hard to have a frank and real debate with facts and science with other reasonable people who have differing opinions to ours. Our only hope is if we all collectively start to identify trolls, start ignoring them, and begin glorifying honest and productive debate instead.

#Blog_For_Freedom Free the Prisoners, Free the Prisoners’ Minds

For me it goes without saying that I want the prisoners of conscience released. Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right, and I fully believe in that. However, I would like to also take a moment and address an issue that’s been weighing me down for the past few weeks. Lots of the discourse has been focused on the fact that those prisoners in particular have a just cause, and it’s not right for them to be imprisoned for their particular demands, and that includes many of the articles written today by so called “Freedom activists”.

I’m not debating the justness of their causes, but I will not stand for lines drawn on freedom of expression. I will fight for the freedom of any prisoner of conscience. It worries me that I fear those people whose freedom I fight for. I do not fight oppression for a lesser or different form of oppression, and I want to warn both the government, and the people, and the prisoners of conscience that if they do not support freedom of expression, then they are all transgressors of human rights, and that they shouldn’t count on me being on their side.

Tarakiyee’s Gangam Style Steak Recipe

I’m not trying to cash in on the famous Psy song’s fame, I just needed an ironic name for my Korean cuisine inspired steak recipe. And even if I am, It’s an original way of cashing in on its fame. This recipe is perfect for a romantic dinner or a lonely night watching 30 Rock, pretending to be on a romantic dinner with Tina Fey (or Alec Baldwin. Or Tracy Morgan, I won’t judge. I mean, there’s bound to be someone with a crush on Pete).

Gangam Style Steak Marinated
This is how the steak looks after being well marinated.

So the recipe is pretty simple. I choose two Round Eye steaks, roughly around 500 grams together. For that I mixed 2 tablespoons of Sesame Oil with quarter a cup of sweet Soy sauce, a clove of crushed garlic, and one diced shallot. Add salt and pepper to taste.

You need to rub the marinate on to the steak, and then leave it to marinate for up to 12 hours. I was in a hurry, so I poked the steak a little with a knife, and added some vinegar. Vinegar helps break the proteins in the steak and helps it marinate faster, and it can also add flavor to the steak, depending on what vinegar you use. I used balsamic, because I think it goes great with this marinate. I figured all of this helps cut down the marinating time to an hour, but the more you marinate, the more flavorful your steak is going to be.

Gangam Style Steak Seared
This is how the steak should look after being seared in a pan.

Now for the cooking process, I heated the oven to 170 degrees Celsius (350 Fahrenheit). While it was heating, I put a pan on medium fire, with olive oil in it. Seared each side of each steak for two minutes. Then I put the steaks in the oven. It takes around 20 minutes to get the meat to my liking, but it can take from 30 to 40 minutes for it to become well done. You can always poke the steak with your finger to see how well done it is.

Gangam Style Steak Ready - With Coleslaw
The final product after broiling in the oven, served with some coleslaw. Cooked it a little too much, but thanks to the searing it was surprisingly juicy.



When will they get it? Municipal Elections Edition

I saw a poster for the municipal elections today. If I’m not mistaken, it’s the first batch of the new posters from the new government. The only thing new, however, is the first line on the poster, that says, “The First Change.” Then it’s an exact same copy of the posters that the Bakhit government rushed out in the extra-time of it’s duration. First of all, I thought the constitutional amendments were the first change, could this be a hidden message that they’re not over, and that his HE Khasawneh is going to re-amend some articles? He never really was clear on that.

And about the participate slogan. They just don’t get it. I don’t want to participate, and I’m part of a huge segment of society that does not in any way want to participate. I’ve been taught my entire life to steer clear of politics and focus on something more productive, like math or becoming a doctor, and now you expect me to participate with a slogan? We are the biggest segment of the population, we are the 99% who don’t really care about who gets elected for municipal elections, all we care about is that he does a good job. Our only demand is, “Don’t mess up the country while we’re busy doing other stuff” and that’s all I want out of politics.

A Reason to Wear Trousers in the Morning

Now that I’ve got your attention, fear not. I’m not going to be walking around tomorrow trouser-less, nor am I trying to convince some pantless acquaintance to change their nude ways. I’m just talking about a particular moment that occurs to me on an almost daily basis. I often pause while doing very mundane things, and I reflect on my life. One of those moments is after I wake up, and finish my everyday morning rituals. Coffee, drunk, face, washed. No more procrastination left to do, and I am left facing the overwhelming inevitableness of work or university.

It only really dawns down on me when I’m sat at the edge of the bed, staring at my jeans below me. Do I really have to do this? Why am I going to wear these? I know that my co-workers and friends appreciate it, even though they’ve never told me that. It’s just one of those favours you do that you expect nothing in return. Do it and throw it into the sea, my grandmother would say. Don’t get me wrong here, I like working. I hate university, but I like to think I’m mature enough to know it’s necessity. And there’s nothing I like more than hanging around with my friends, each in their own respective pants, even if we’re doing nothing of consequence.

I still wish I had a stronger reason, a particular person who would make this everyday morning chore a little less troublesome. You could argue that for most cases, that person I’m looking for is out there, trotting around in their trousers and I’m not going to find him if I stay pantless and in my bed. I’m just worried that one day I’ll just give up and decide it’s just not worth the effort. Just count yourself lucky if you’ve found that person.