Thursday, June 23, 2011

be careful, what you say here may become public domain

I've asked Google: "How many contracts does a person go into during their lifetime?" I've got a link on "soul contract" and a Wikipedia article on "work-life balance" at the top of my search results. Of course, these results may have been different if someone else did the same search on Google or if I did the search on a different computer. Because, it is argued that Google feeds from the caches, cookies (and all other sorts of tasty-sounding technical terms) that hold fingerprint information on whatever you have done with your computer on the world wide web. You should try this same Google search and let me know what you actually come across.

World wide web, in its form that we understand today, has been around since late 1980's, early 1990's. As can be understood from its name, it is a global network of information that users across through the Internet. It is supposed to be world-wide and it is supposed to be accessible.

We were sat in a nice terrace bar of a hotel watching the Bosphorus as M., D., I. and R. started debating about touch-screen technology, Apple's software manufacturing, Facebook's privacy settings, etc... They all seemed to have complained about the facts that Apple would only release products compatible with (at that point of the discussion, a not so well defined) a range of Apple or Apple-supported-only hardwares and interfaces; and that Facebook's new auto-tagging technology was creepy and that one's permissions should be sought before they were tagged on a photo. All seemed to be relevant for those concerned with their personal privacies and the fact of life of consumerism. But what privacy are we talking about here? And in what kind of commercial business environment?

A few months ago, I had visited D. and G. at their house. D. was telling me about working on new technologies to set up a web-based platform whereby he could introduce the concept of micro-voting in Turkey. It was around the time of the controversial 12 September, 2010 Referendum on amendments to some of the articles of the Turkish Constitution. It was controversial because all of the changes were voted as part of one package although some of them were quite progressive changes, and others regressive when looked at a certain point of view. Many people had requested that certain articles should have been voted separately (like Italy did with the recent referendum on water, nuclear power and political immunity issues). What D. wanted to achieve was to be able to get people's opinions on each of the articles proposed to be changed in the referendum. This could help understand which of the proposed changes were more popular than others, as compared to the simple "Yes" or "No" we got after a referendum that covered it all. Obviously, there are polling companies who provide such services and newspaper articles are abundant with such analyses, but D.'s compelling idea was to make this share of information publicly available and accessible not only as a source of information but also a platform of interaction.

It was also D. who thought privacy settings on Facebook were rubbish.
"Can you imagine? We leave so much footprint with all the junk: texts, photos, notes, messages we share on the Web. That, some day, someone can just compile all of these and make a biopic (a biographical film) about anyone and everyone." One can even run a feature film on an anonymous person at their funeral, although of course you may not like that idea too much. Well, let's say, a wedding then...

So, what is, of this privacy that we are so much concerned with? That we've been tagged unexpectedly on an image that makes us look uglier than our social norms permit us? Or that a future employer will find out about a pot-smoking image and we'll lose our chance to get that amazing job we were after? Well, then why are you on Facebook? Why have you agreed to the terms that were set out right before you, which you probably have not read? There is a somewhat funny South Park episode on this subject worth watching for the fun of it.

Of course, you'll come back to me and start talking about all the international regulations that should protect people's privacies. Well, I am not an expert in them, so I'd rather skip that. The point of discussion here is merely on a grander scheme of things. The problem is, we often forget to think like those who we go into contractual agreements with. Of course, Apple will seek its benefit to give us an iTunes update that won't download unless you've upgraded your MacOS software (for which you'd have to pay even if you bought an original Mac at some point). And of course if you haven't updated iTunes because of that, you won't be able to upgrade the iOS of your iPhone neither. I mean, iTunes is after all a media player software, how up-to-date does it really have to be? Technically speaking...? Neither will Mark Zuckerberg care about asking for your permission before you are tagged on a photo? As long as he's tangentially legal... And, well, the regulators will bend themselves 360 whilst their happiest (read the wealthiest) customers are making big money.

When AKP (the Justice and Development Party of Turkey) came to power back in 2002, we all said "ohhh, they will even put a headscarf over men". Well, they haven't. Neither has Turkey turned into Malaysia. But, it is fast turning into China! A regional power in the making with an aggressive export-led economic development model within the framework of a semi-autocratic political system that knows no boundaries on the limitation of liberal rights. We've looked the wrong way to find our enemy, and a lot of us have agreed, whether you like it or not, to this agreement, as we feared from a worse outcome that was never to come.

A person goes into a contract with their nation-state at birth. Their passport (if they retrieve one) does not belong to them but to their State. Their name belongs to their family and all the social package that is to come with throughout their lives. Their identity belongs to a range of people, not least their family, with whom they go into another contract. A person goes into a contract with their society, their friends, their schools and school teachers. Then, come the consumer products, brands, more identities, lifestyles, and commercial consumerist agreements. Salaried or contracted employment, pension funds, favourite football teams and their hooligans, marriages and death certificates. Google has not given me any clear links as to my question on how many contractual agreements does a person get into? Jean-Jacques Rousseau had long thought and written about the idea of the Social Contract borrowing from his liberal godfathers John Locke and Thomas Hobbes. I don't know if he has ever come up with a number.

I have consciously agreed Google to publish this premature piece on its Blogger servers. I don't know what they will benefit from it, but at least I've got my ranting out of the way (not so aggressively, though, as I had enjoyed last night, albeit the frustration during that late conversation). I know that it will be a piece of a long long string, out there on the web, but that's fine. The more information, the merrier. As long as we know how to filter. And as long as we know what we are agreeing to. Well, for that, we've got to read the terms more carefully, don't we? And probably, just relax a bit and enjoy the ride. After all, best things in life come unexpected, just like a random tag on a photo.