Paul's Internet Landfill/ 2016/ The Pledge

The Pledge

So a bunch of Silicon Valley tech workers are worried that President Trump will evict Mexicans or Muslims from the country. They have created a pledge at that makes all kinds of nice-sounding points:

Who are these yahoos trying to fool? Themselves or us?

First of all, this is another transparent ploy by tech companies to try and earn back our trust. They need to earn back our trust because they were caught red-handed cooperating with the US government to track foreigners as part of the PRISM program, and in the process collected data about US citizens too. Before these companies thought they wouldn't be exposed, they were willing to comply.

Secondly, all these tech companies hate government regulation. They hate following rules that are inconvenient to their business models, which is why they skirt or outright break the rules whenever it is in their interests. Silicon Valley culture (and all tech culture that I know of) is steeped in libertarianism, and libertarians hate government regulation whenever it is aimed at them.

Thirdly, many of the companies on the list explicitly make their money in the surveillance economy. They actively collect information about people's race, religion, and national origin -- as well as information about people's income, locations, interests, psychological weak spots, purchase histories, social relationships... This is ALL part of the surveillance economy, and it is a fundamental part of their business model. You do not need to explicitly label people by race or religion to identify their race or religion.

Just look at the employers that are listed in this petition:

In what sense are these companies not data collection entities, making part or all of their money via the surveillance economy? In what sense are they not ALREADY collecting a lot of data that could be used to identify individuals by race, religion or national origin? In what sense are ANY of these jokers willing to quit their cushy jobs when their employers refuse to scale back this data collection in ANY way? They might argue that they don't want to share this information with the government, but as PRISM demonstrated, they will co-operate if the government forces them to, and very very few of these signees will quit or whistleblow because of this. A few people left Google after Snowden's revelations, but not many.

Of course, the pledge explicitly states that a signatory's reference to their affiliated organization does not imply endorsement by that organization, but I do not believe that either. It is in the best interests of these surveillance companies to have their employees sign such pledges; it is good public relations.

This blows my mind. I am so angry about this. Somehow I am the obsolete tinfoil hat unemployable dinosaur because I see the surveillance economy everywhere, and because I have some sense of how quickly this data can be abused as soon as it is collected in some database. But because these jokers signed their meaningless toothless pledge, I am supposed to trust them now? We are all supposed to be okay with them collecting as much data as they can about us?

These people are rich techno-geeks. They got rich by building the very surveillance systems that they are now pledging won't be used to deport people. These systems are built and will not be unbuilt. Most of these people are working hard to figure out how to collect MORE data and use it to target people MORE effectively.

Maybe the argument is that these people are pledging to avoid collecting data about a narrow band of demographics (religion, race, national origin) but everything else is fair game. I could believe that justification coming up sooner or later.

Here's a story: I went to a meetup recently where an engineer was bragging about installing wireless access devices in a public space. These wireless devices would provide "free wifi" in a way that would have been difficult to do so before. Hooray! Of course, nobody wants to pay for free wifi, so the company had to monetize its operations. They chose to do so by collecting data on their users, and by showing them targeted ads. Here are some of your data they collect:

But, of course, these people say they are very committed to privacy. When I pushed the presenter for details, he said that he couldn't answer data access questions ("What happens if the police want to track a user through your system?") and said that was the job of the lawyers -- he was just an implementor who was collecting all the data and making it accessible via reports and dashboards. On the one hand he claimed that the data was anonymized; on the other he said he was able to report to an ISP how many of their users were using his system. So which is it?

This person probably sleeps well at night. So do the people who signed this pledge. All of this data is being collected and analyzed. But as long as this data is "sanitized" or "anonymized", it is safe, right? As long as this data stays in the hands of private companies and does not get into the hands of the government, it surely cannot be misused, right? If you are a libertarian, I guess that you can sleep well, because the government is the only threat you really worry about.

Of course, because I have the rage to "raise awareness and ask critical questions about the responsible and fair use of data and algorithms" I have just ensured that I will never be hired by anybody in that industry, and I will end up destitute. So be it.