Week 140 + 141

While we are busy churning away multiple projects, Igor takes a closer look at an aspect of how to deal with the revelations made by Edward Snowden’s leaks.

Busy two weeks. We are dealing with multiple concurrent client projects and planing new ones. When a project got postponed, we used to fall out of productivity rhythm. Now, we just turn our head to the next big todo. We like how things are working out these days.

What didn’t help to stay on track where the revelations about the NSA. Those kind of stories are right up our alley. They a broad, many people provide valuable perspectives and we are very keen to understand it all. So here is our take on what is happening right now.

Revelations about the scale of the surveillance state have been making their rounds on every media channel. The leak by Edward Snowden seem to have started something that should have been going all along: real reporting on the issues. We’ve been seeing multiple articles emerge that look deeper into what seems to be an extraordinary setup by the US government to spy both on its own citizens as well as on the rest of the world.

We live, once again, in times in which the future that we’ve used to read about in science fiction books is not only upon us, but is even scarier.

But I want to focus on one specific aspect in this situation. Not many years ago, the most convincing argument why companies like Google can’t screw with privacy too much was: it’s very easy to switch from one service to another. Especially when it’s a search engine. As we can see today, this is not the case anymore. Many of the big players in the technology business managed to integrate themselves into our life in a similar manner as the financial institutions did. Technology is now also too big too fail. To switch away from Gmail, Dropbox and Facebook means severing oneself from an ecosystem that many other, small vendors use to make their product work. The APIs that we hailed as saviors of the open web, those who helped create those ecosystems in the first place, are now coming to hunt us.

There are, of course, alternatives to all those services. Open source alternatives and ones that provide the user with a lot more security and privacy. And yet, convenience and the existence of those proprietary ecosystems make it very hard for people to make the switch. This is both because the lock-in mechanisms have been designed to keep user in, but it also because the open, more secure alternatives aren’t making their argument in the most effective way.

For a long time, I have been a strong supporter of the open source movement, used to run my machines on Linux and kept away from proprietary solutions as much as possible. That changed a couple years ago. Not because my views changed necessarily. I just discovered that for this stage in my life, I want convenience and “just works” more.

The same applies to security. As an informed user, I can take care of quite of few precautions. I’m mostly only going online through a VPN, I have a Tor browser installed and I could reactivate my GPG key. But this is not a scalable solution. Even after the revelations about the extend of NSA’s capabilities to tap into our data, we will not see mass adoption for those security measures.

We obviously can not rely on our governments to protect us. We also can’t rely on the companies who host and own our data to prevent governments on accessing it as they see fit.

In a world in which we still need to fight arguments like “I don’t have anything to hide”, who will be able to provide both new questions and the ways to answer them that are adequate to the world that we live in?