That smartphones allow us to imprison twice the number of people at half the cost is the kind of cutting-edge innovation that only management consultants and tech entrepreneurs would be excited about. Such breakthroughs would be worth celebrating if they didn’t distract us from the more radical (and simpler) solution to the problem of overcrowded prisons: incarcerating fewer people.
Smart technologies are not just disruptive; they can also preserve the status quo. Revolutionary in theory, they are often reactionary in practice.
Smart technology, thanks to its ubiquity and affordability, offers us the cheapest — and trendiest — fix. But the gleaming aura of disruption-talk that often accompanies such fixes masks their underlying conservatism. Technological innovation does not guarantee political innovation; at times, it might even impede it. The task ahead is to prevent our imagination from being incarcerated by smart technologies. Or should we settle for gamifying ourselves to death?
Evgeny Morozov, “Imprisoned by Innovation”
But in the long run that’s a problem for Google. Because we tend not to entrust this sort of critical public infrastructure to the private sector. Network externalities are all fine and good to ignore so long as they mainly apply to the sharing of news and pics from a weekend trip with college friends. Once they concern large swathes of economic output and the cognitive activity of millions of people, it is difficult to keep the government out. Maybe that deterrent will be sufficient to keep Google providing its most heavily used products. But maybe not.
Huh. This Economist article seems to be in favour of nationalizing the internet? And most other services?
I think that the focus was more on the services provided by private companies, as opposed to infrastructure itself (i.e. not the wires, but the stuff that runs on the wires). But I think The Economist has a point that governments could be involved if services that are perceived (note: perception does not necessarily correspond with empirical facts) as essential are threatened.
What really threw me in the piece was this paragraph:
But that makes it increasingly difficult for Google to have success with new services. Why commit to using and coming to rely on something new if it might be yanked away at some future date? This is especially problematic for “social” apps that rely on network effects. Even a crummy social service may thrive if it obtains a critical mass. Yanking away services beloved by early adopters almost guarantees that critical masses can’t be obtained: not, at any rate, without the provision of an incentive or commitment mechanism to protect the would-be users from the risk of losing a vital service.
I mean: I really, really, really use Google Reader. I use the shit out of it on a daily basis. I’m the definition of one of their power users, with hundreds of sites subscribed to - often ones that only get updates every month or two, but that are super helpful for my research - and so I’m far from impressed that Google’s shuttering the service. Reader lets me hold onto the long-tail of the Internet.
But: I’m not certain how a writer can clearly link ‘early adopter’ with yanking away Google Reader. I mean, it’s an older(ish) service. We’re not talking about something that was spawned a few months ago. I get that the write might have been obliquely referring to the social functions of reader that were stripped out a year or so back, but still: there’s no way (at the time of Reader’s social demise) that you can imagine those individuals as ‘early adopters’. The product was mature (as far as many Internet products go) and just didn’t have a lot of people using the service for social purposes beyond a pretty vocal minority.
I want to be clear that I’m already dreading the loss of Google Reader. Seriously dreading. But the article in The Economist is kind of weird insofar as it mixes what are arguably fair points with insider baseball and vaguely suggested ‘beware government regulators if you screw with the services your users really use.”
So even in the worst cases, free products don’t usually end too badly. Well, unless you’re a user, or one of the alternatives that gets crushed along the way. But everyone who funds and builds a free product usually comes out of it pretty well, especially if they don’t care what happens to their users.
Free is so prevalent in our industry not because everyone’s irresponsible, but because it works.
In other industries, this is called predatory pricing, and many forms of it are illegal because they’re so destructive to healthy businesses and the welfare of an economy. But the tech industry is far less regulated, younger, and faster-moving than most industries. We celebrate our ability to do things that are illegal or economically infeasible in other markets with productive-sounding words like “disruption”.
Marco Arment, “Free Works”
…nowhere does he raise the possibility that feedback loops produced by digital technologies might also be harming governance. Consider a 2011 survey by a British insurance company in which 11 percent of respondents claimed to have seen an incident but chose not to report it, worried that higher crime statistics for their neighborhood would significantly reduce the value of their properties. In this case, the quality of future data is intricately dependent on how much of the current data is disclosed; unconditional “openness” is the wrong move here—precisely because of feedback loops.
Evgeny Morozov, review of Future Shock
I would note that this failure to appreciate the social implications of novel monitoring technologies is something that is drastically unappreciated by public policy planners.
So, the takeaway from this post is that Industry Canada’s proposed modifications significantly expand the volume and types of communications that ISPs must be able to intercept and preserve. Further, the Department is considering expanding interception requirements across all wireless spectrum holders; it needn’t just affect the LTE spectrum. We also know that Public Safety is modifying how ISPs have to preserve information related to geolocational, communications content, or transmission data. Together, these Departments’ actions are expanding government surveillance capacities in the absence of the lawful access legislation.
Industry Canada’s and Public Safety’s changes to how communications are intercepted should be put on hold until the government can convince Canadians about the need for these powers, and pass legislation authorizing the expansion of government surveillance. Decisions that are made surrounding interception capabilities are not easily reversed because once the technology is in place it is challenging to remove; as such, the government’s proposed modifications to intercept capabilities should be democratically legitimated before they are instantiated in practice.