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Digital Feudalism

In Cory Doctorow's early January LOCUS column, he discusses in considerable technical depth the surveillance and privacy (or anti-privacy) policies of Big Tech companies, mainly Apple but also others such as Facebook and Google:

Neofeudalism and the Digital Manor

He draws an extended analogy with the medieval feudal system. Private citizens besieged by cyberworld bandits have no practical recourse but to ally themselves with "warlords" who offer protection through powerful security measures unavailable to ordinary users. Behind the nearly impregnable walls constructed by the warlords—Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, Google, etc.—we can consider ourselves fairly safe from encroachment by predators. Safe from everyone, that is, except the warlords themselves.

Doctorow's example of Apple's "feudalistic" practices: "For more than a year, Apple has engaged in a covert, global surveillance of its users through its operating system, which automatically sent information about which apps you were running to Apple, and which gave Apple a remote veto over whether that program would launch when you double-clicked it." The corporation might claim this feature protects users from malicious software, but it doesn't prevent Apple from blocking any software it chooses, whether harmful or beneficial. Furthermore, Apple also locks out programs consumers might use to turn off the surveillance and blocking feature.

The article cites various examples from other major corporations. It also explores entanglement between big tech and government, with the state claiming the right to mine data collected by technology giants. How chilling to contemplate that "the US government viewed the Tech Companies as host organisms to be parasitized at will, a force that would mobilize market investments to erect a vast, expensive surveillance apparatus that the state could then wield at bargain-basement prices."

If the only thing that stops Apple or any big tech lord of the manor "from blocking you from running legitimate apps – or from gathering information about your movements and social activities – is its goodwill and good judgment," what can we peasants do? Doctorow, of course, has some suggestions, but they're solutions no individual or small group of consumers can implement on our own.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

This post first appeared on Alien Romances, please read the originial post: here

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Digital Feudalism


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