This is to our generation. To the people who grew up in the digital information age. Many of us are building businesses that might solve problems or even turn whole markets upside down. This is good. It means someone is questioning some kind of status quo and addressing a problem. This is the beautiful dynamic of the tech economy.
Recently I’ve been spending more and more time on looking at the frameworks and socioeconomic dynamics around information technology and how we use and shape it to serve our individual an collective purposes. One first observation which seems to become an increasing problem is that we tend to think in business and product terms only. At the same time we’re becoming blind towards the underlying systems we use to serve our customers as long as it serves our superficial commercial interests.
When I talk about systems I don’t exclusively refer to technical systems. A system in this context covers, besides information technology, a wide variety of factors including - but not limited to - legal and regulatory questions, social structure, systems of participation and intellectual property.
Freedom Of Speech Is Crumbling
Looking at how the NSA and their allies (also European agencies) collect, bucket and label our digital identities we already crossed the chasm towards a significant limitation of our freedom of speech. Often before I post something online I think “Is this gonna get me on some NSA list?”.
Having these kinds of thoughts crossing your mind before you post political opinions effectively means that oppression mechanisms start to work. Now we have even learned that using TOR, to simply protect your online privacy can get you listed. Creating fear when it comes to voicing political opinion is an instrument we all know too well from history.
Encryption Is A Tool, Not A Savior
Encryption is absolutely necessary because data is valuable and there will be always entities who will try to mine it for their personal gain. But a technological effort in the field of encryption cannot be successful alone. It must be accompanied by efforts to drive organizational and regulatory changes to our political system.
The purpose of a government and all it’s branches (including intelligence) is to serve their citizens. With the unprecedented access to potentially incriminating information about their citizens, many of our governments have turned against the people and misuse information.
In the context of privacy we should be living in a world where we can trust the government to do the obviously right thing: Protect it’s citizens and allow the sovereign to monitor and control it’s actions. Protecting our information and our digital identities from short term corporate interests and digital predators should be on of our governments primary interests.
Let’s Save The Information Age
We’re facing the biggest challenge since the rise of the internet. An open and distributed system intended to make information access open and transparent increasingly gets misused for short-term commercial and government interests that are harmful to society at large.
To save the internet - the ecosystem and infrastructure that allowed us to turn markets upside down, to revolutionize human interaction and to share cat pictures - we must focus on protecting digital identities and allowing everyone unlimited access to the troves of public and scientific knowledge to make informed decisions.
With its talented and creative heads, the startup ecosystem is in a unique position to tackle some of these challenges. However there must a paradigm shift from using common business models to extract money for short term gain to being open for new, alternative business models and embracing political participation. The revelations of data misuse, privacy violations and intransparencies in corporate data handling should be a wake up call to us all.
My fellow startup folks, hackers and scientists, we’re uniquely positioned to shape our society and to turn the internet into a better place that benefits all. The only thing that remains: Are we willing to question and shatter the common paradigm?