ON THE SURFACE, the global digital rights landscape is a depressing and forbidding place. US technology giants have commodified the whole field of human social interactions and are performing large-scale extractive operations on their user bases. The phrase ‘data is the new oil’ captures this ethic perfectly: our collective private lives are now assets to be stripped, refined and sold. The so-called Five Eyes alliance – the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand – continues its reign of driftnet surveillance and corporate espionage, and here in Australia, on the last parliamentary sitting day of 2018, we suffered a bipartisan assault on the cryptography standards that underpin privacy and security. Further down the curve, Chinese authorities have unleashed a deeply dystopian surveillance and behaviour modification regime against a sixth of the world’s population. Social networks have been deployed to tilt whole electorates in the US and to fan ethnic cleansing in Myanmar.
Anchored by these dramatic expansions of state and corporate power, the truth remains as it was set out in journalist and essayist Quinn Norton’s memorable 2014 piece for The Message, ‘Everything is Broken’: ‘Your average piece-of-shit Windows desktop is so complex that no one person on Earth really knows what all of it is doing, or how.’
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