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'We Didn't Lose Control Of Our Personal Data -- It Was Stolen From Us By People Farmers' (ar.al) 147

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the worldwide web, wrote an open-letter over the weekend to mark the 28th anniversary of his invention. In his letter, he shared three worrisome things that happened over the last twelve months. In his letter, Berners-Lee pointed out three things that occurred over the past 12 months that has him worried: we do not assume control of our personal data anymore; how easy it is for misinformation to spread on the web; and lack of transparency on political advertising on the web. Cyborg rights activist Aral Balkan wrote a piece yesterday arguing that perhaps Berners-Lee is being modest about the things that concern him. From the article: It's important to note that these (those three worrisome things) are not trends and that they've been in the making for far longer than twelve months. They are symptoms that are inextricably linked to the core nature of the Web as it exists within the greater socio-technological system we live under today that we call Surveillance Capitalism. Tim says we've "lost control of our personal data." This is not entirely accurate. We didn't lose control; it was stolen from us by Silicon Valley. It is stolen from you every day by people farmers; the Googles and the Facebooks of the world. It is stolen from you by an industry of data brokers, the publishing behavioural advertising industry ("adtech"), and a long tail of Silicon Valley startups hungry for an exit to one of the more established players or looking to compete with them to own a share of you. The elephants in the room -- Google and Facebook -- stand silently in the wings, unmentioned except as allies later on in the letter where they're portrayed trying to "combat the problem" of misinformation. Is it perhaps foolish to expect anything more when Google is one of the biggest contributors to recent web standards at the W3C and when Google and Facebook both help fund the Web Foundation? Let me state it plainly: Google and Facebook are not allies in our fight for an equitable future -- they are the enemy. These platform monopolies are factory farms for human beings; farming us for every gram of insight they can extract. If, as Tim states, the core challenge for the Web today is combating people farming, and if we know who the people farmers are, shouldn't we be strongly regulating them to curb their abuses?
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'We Didn't Lose Control Of Our Personal Data -- It Was Stolen From Us By People Farmers'

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  • What's the case for trusting big anything else?

    The less data we put out there, the less they can steal. That, and proxies.

    When I was a little kid I left my bike out and it got stolen. So I never did that again. That strategy worked.
  • Not Stolen (Score:5, Interesting)

    by thegarbz ( 1787294 ) on Monday March 13, 2017 @11:49AM (#54030031)

    Bought. Silicon valley bought the data from us. For the most part every company that is collecting data on users made this clear in their terms of services. In the vast majority of these cases the product they are supplying is also free and thus paid for through the collection of data.

    Furthermore, users don't care. Providing the data is anonymised and the value of what they are receiving is worth the cost of the data users will continue to use it as a barter.

    The government steals data. We have no contract with them to provide it and we are unaware they are collecting it. Silicon valley trades services and features in exchange for data.

    • by fish_in_the_c ( 577259 ) on Monday March 13, 2017 @11:55AM (#54030105)

      It was 'bought' from the native American for a pile of beads. The fact that the actual value was of the exchange was inequitable and one of the parties in the contract didn't even understand what property ownership meant, is of course irrelevant? Isn't it?
      The fact the native Americans believed you could no more own the land then the sky really has no bearing on weather or not they contractually obligated themselves or the other party was being honest about the value of the exchange?

      A very similar situation here, the customer basically doesn't understand what they are giving away or what it's value is, so to them they are seemingly 'getting something for free'.

      • by tomhath ( 637240 )

        It was 'bought' from the native American for a pile of beads.

        Pffft. A group of Europeans handed a group of Native Americans some beads. The Natives took the beads from the nice visitors and went on their way. Nothing was bought or sold.

        • by pnutjam ( 523990 )
          Actually, It's more like someone came over and gave your neighbor some beads to buy your house. The neighbor that hates you.

          That's basically what many "explorers" did.
      • The fact the native Americans believed you could no more own the land then the sky really has no bearing on weather or not they contractually obligated themselves or the other party was being honest about the value of the exchange?

        There are two sides to this story you know. While the native Americans certainly did get screwed, it's not quite so innocent. They didn't believe that you could own land, yet they took payment for it believing that those who paid them were fools for giving them something for the land. In their minds it would be no different than someone today paying me for the naturally occurring rain on their property.

        • They didn't believe that you could own land

          So if someone came up to you and offered you a nice tidy 8-digit sum of money (verifiably legit) for your Immortal Soul, you, not believing there is any such thing, would sign on the dotted line in your own blood, and take the money, and you'd never even wonder if your belief (or lack thereof) was correct or incorrect?

          • by Anonymous Coward

            If someone offered me $10,000,000 for my soul, I would take it as a) the first real, solid evidence that souls are tangible and provable, and b) a fantastic arbitrage opportunity. I'll bet I could buy a lot of souls from people on the street at $20 a pop. Flip those suckers for a cool $5 mil each, and laugh all the way to the bank.

            Of course, I'm probably going to hell for thinking like this, but... fuck it, we already knew that's where I was headed.

          • by lgw ( 121541 )

            Most people will sell their soul for a candy bar or nice homemade cookies. I've seen the experiment performed.

            • 'Most people' are demonstrably dumb, I'm sorry to say. I don't believe in 'gods', the supernatural, the 'afterlife', or any number of other nonsense things, but if someone came up to me and offered me millions of dollars in exchange for a signed document giving them ownership of my 'soul', I would not become a 'believer' -- but I would certainly know Something Was Up, and I'd tell them to bugger off. If nothing else, it could be some nutjob with tons of money, who would think they could do anything they wan
          • by Altrag ( 195300 )

            Maybe not. But if you handed the average person an 8-digit sum of money for acknowledging that a 78 page document full of legal ramblings that you don't understand and probably won't actually matter to you personally anyway exists (whether you read it or not).. the question becomes a little murkier.

            • by Altrag ( 195300 )

              I definitely let my pronouns there get away from me there. Hopefully my point comes through though.

            • I have this annoying habit of reading things before I sign them, and if I don't understand it (or someone is trying to hurry me to sign it), I will not sign it. Because I'm not dumb. ;-)
              • by Altrag ( 195300 )

                You and an irrelevantly small number of other people.

                The vast, vast, vast majority aren't in that category unfortunately, including myself. Nobody's got time for that shit, and the people who write that shit are counting on such.

                And we won't do anything about it because we're all trained to trust the company and besides if you get suckered its your own fault for not taking several hours to read through every 50+ page EULA and other piece of intentionally-difficult-to-read, one-sided crap that gets thrown y

      • by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Monday March 13, 2017 @12:53PM (#54030623)
        Oh, people understand exactly what's happening. For over a decade I ran my own private mail and web server, on server space I paid for. I explained the privacy issues to friends and offered to give them a free email account and web space. They still signed up for Yahoo, Hotmail, Gmail; Geocities, MySpace, and Facebook instead.

        Here's how the average person values things:

        1. Easy to use
        2. Free
        ...
        187. Protects your privacy

        That's the problem with what the privacy advocates are preaching. People tend to assume others think and behave as they themselves do. So the privacy advocates all make the incorrect assumption that if The People just knew what was happening with their private data, they would be horrified and rebel against the data farmers like Google and Facebook. That they don't know the true value of their privacy.

        News flash: The People don't care. They value their private data so little that they think that trading it for free email and web services is a great bargain for them. If you want to attack this, it's going to have to be via another angle that people actually do care about. Maybe the financial impact of identity theft.
        • It doesn't help that the non-free services became so degraded that they weren't worth paying for.

          ISP email: Full of SPAM, crappy low limits, and - guess what - they're likely spying on your too!
          All those "free" sites that survived on ads etc. Yeah they even went to selling your information or dropping you with spyware/malware, etc, or they're gone completely.

          It's not that people don't care, it's that there isn't much in the way of alternatives. Hell, the US Gov is happily changing laws so that your mobile c

      • The fact that the actual value was of the exchange was inequitable and one of the parties in the contract didn't even understand what property ownership meant, is of course irrelevant? Isn't it?

        Whether the value exchanged is "equitable" is for the parties to the contract to decide. The fact that some outside party thinks the exchange was "inequitable" is not sufficient cause, by itself, to void the contract.

        Of course, if one party doesn't believe that land can be owned then any contract which involves them turning over title to land is void. How could they sign over something they don't believe that they own? Either the contract is fraudulent or it lacks the essential element of "meeting of the mi

      • A very similar situation here, the customer basically doesn't understand what they are giving away or what it's value is, so to them they are seemingly 'getting something for free'.

        I disagree. Value is what you make of it. The same object can have different value to different people. The same object can have a different value depending on it's context. They are getting something for free, because they value their information lowly.

    • Never had control (Score:5, Insightful)

      by tomhath ( 637240 ) on Monday March 13, 2017 @12:11PM (#54030235)

      We didn't lose control; it was stolen from us

      The WWW never provided a way to control our personal data. Its goal was to make all information available everywhere.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Providing the data is anonymised...

      How can you possibly think that the data is ever anonymized?? Any company asserting that is flat out lying. For years and years, it's been stated that the holy grail of advertising is personalized advertising, i.e., ads aimed at you and no one else. Ads based on anonymous data can't be any more effective than ads on TV.

    • It's not the data that I supply on the site that bothers me, I tend to watch that I'm not posting anything that I value as secret. It's the other data they're collecting through little 1px GIF's, like buttons, or other people's posts that has me the most concerned. Where's the ToS on that?

    • Given away. It is BS to say the use of personal information as currency is "clearly stated" in the terms of service. The Big Five make ZERO effort to ensure users have read and understand how they are paying for the services they offer for "free". They write long form legalese, and they present a little Web link labelled " as have read the terms of service" next to a checkbox in the sign up and there is no mechanism whatsoever to ensure a person has read it.

      It is partly our fault for lying by checking the b

  • This story was posted earlier today by someone else.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Letter spacing strikes again!

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Pirates take Corporate data claim it's fair.
    Corporations take data, pirates claim it's not fair.

    Let's call it like it is, there are no rights in life.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 13, 2017 @11:51AM (#54030061)

    >We didn't lose control; it was stolen from us by Silicon Valley
    >Let me state it plainly: Google and Facebook are not allies in our fight for an equitable future -- they are the enemy.
    >These platform monopolies are factory farms for human beings; farming us for every gram of insight they can extract.

    The whole problem with the internet - the whole problem with our very language is... hyperbole!

  • by gatkinso ( 15975 ) on Monday March 13, 2017 @11:55AM (#54030095)

    WE give it away freely.

    This should be obvious,

  • by turp182 ( 1020263 ) on Monday March 13, 2017 @11:55AM (#54030097) Journal

    The day a person was first hired to be a "Cyborg rights activist"

  • I read headline as, "Personal Data Stolen By Farmers Insurance."
  • ... or explain what a 'Famer' is.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Preaching about privacy is nice and all, but reeks of hypocrisy when the preacher has no qualms whatsoever with embracing DRM on the web and making up excuses for it.

    DRM ultimately also hurts your privacy because it requires your machine to conspire against you and keep things hidden from you, or to poke holes through your OS to gain privileged access not usually granted to applications (like some game DRM like Starforce). DRM does not work unless your system actively undermines your freedoms, like for exam

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Facebook CEO Called Trusting Users Dumb Fucks [tomsguide.com]

    Zuck: Yeah so if you ever need info about anyone at Harvard

    Zuck: Just ask.

    Zuck: I have over 4,000 emails, pictures, addresses, SNS

    [Redacted Friend's Name]: What? How'd you manage that one?

    Zuck: People just submitted it.

    Zuck: I don't know why.

    Zuck: They "trust me"

    Zuck: Dumb fucks.

  • by Rick Schumann ( 4662797 ) on Monday March 13, 2017 @12:20PM (#54030311) Journal
    I think it's even worse than just plain old garden-variety theft of our personal information. There has also been for some time now a systematic indoctrination of the general public, the younger generation in particular, that the desire for 'privacy' is either a symptom of some sort of mental illness, or evidence of criminal intent, and that 'sharing' of everything with everyone (even if you've never met them in person, only ever online) via so-called 'social media' is what's normal and natural. Then there's the fact that ubiquitos mobile devices (smartphones, tablets, etc) lack what I'd consider even a basic level of data security, as well as 'apps' intentionally harvesting data (GPS coordinates, browsing habits, etc) without the knowledge of the end-user. Add to all this the harvesting of all Internet traffic of individual users by ISPs and wireless companies, plus actual criminals and criminal organizations actively exploiting security holes and weaknesses to outright steal people's identity and banking data, both over the Internet, and in real life via hardware devices like card skimmers (both activities are, relatively speaking, rampant). No one is particularly interested in fixing any of these situations, either, because actually giving people the means by which to secure their digital devices and their personal data to a reasonable degree would mean the end of the monetization of end-user data by so-called 'people farmers'. Of course none of this even begins to touch on what 'law enforcement' agencies and 'government intelligence' agencies are getting out of this Wild West of Internet data rustling; they all have every reason, in their natural mode of over-reaching and obsessive need to control everything and everyone, to allow it all to continue, because it makes it that much easier for them to grab any and all data on any and all persons they care to. Meanwhile it's only the ever-thinner patina of actual rule of law and basic human and civil rights that keep all of this in check to any extent -- and those aspects of our society are weakening, especially in the most recent major change in our socio-political landscape here in the United States. At this point in time, the only way to protect yourself at all from further intrusions is to leave the Internet behind entirely and go back to the old ways of doing things: write paper checks for your bills, pay cash for everything, use a landline phone, stay off the Internet entirely, or just stop having Internet access altogether. Of course the situation has degenerated to the point already where if you 'go off the grid' like that, you raise all sorts of red flags, sparking even more intrusions of your privacy, as our so-called 'law enforcement' investigates you for suspected terrorism. All in all it's a dark time we're currently living in, and I'm afraid it's going to get darker before it gets better. The only advice I can give anyone is to hold on; these things tend to go in cycles. Eventually, there will be a revolution of sorts, and reforms to roll back all the intrusions into people's lives. The younger generation may, for the moment, believe that 'privacy' is some sort of sickness, but as they get older, they'll understand what it is they gave away -- and they might well fight to get it back, if not for themselves, then for the next generation.
    • I do not think that privacy is mental illness or anything similar, I do, however, that privacy is becoming more and more impossible. I think that the correct solution is to legally enforce transparency in ALL layers of society, maybe even to change technology so that secrets become impossible for EVERYONE. Guess I may be brainwashed, but can you give a batter solution?

      • I think that the correct solution is to legally enforce transparency in ALL layers of society, maybe even to change technology so that secrets become impossible for EVERYONE.

        There's a reason that would never work: rich and powerful people would make themselves exempt, by one means or another, just like they do with so many other things. In the end it would only apply to the 'commoners', and as such would at best be no better than things are currently, and at worst it would feel like orders of magnitude worse, with most people feeling like their entire lives are splayed open like a frog on a dissection tray.

        • Considering the fact that if you're rich enough you can kill and rape and get away with it, I really think that them having a bit more privacy is negligible. If the lives of all "normal people" were out in the open, it would still prevent all the witch hunts that we have going (i.e. let's pretend that it's completely wrong and rare to be attracted to someone 16) and would reduce the ability of many people up the chain (not its top) to spy on us. I am not saying it's the best option, I just feel that with ho

          • Inequality is inequality. If some people can be above the law because they have money and power, then that is flat-out wrong and needs to be corrected. Same with privacy. Otherwise the law means nothing, and if that's the case then we have anarchy.
            • Well, I guess we have anarchy then... Or maybe, not everything is black and white and we can't have heaven on earth and just need to try and make things a little better bit by bit.

              • .. and just need to try and make things a little better bit by bit

                Sure. Right. I totally agree. And we start to do that by not ignoring inequality, especially when it comes to THE LAW, CIVIL RIGHTS, and HUMAN RIGHTS. They need to be applied equally.

                • Well, in that case, i have to wonder, I'm sure that if you'll look for it a bit, you'll see many cases of rich people getting away with obvious crimes, cases that are much more easier to solve (just arrest the fuckers) than somehow making all our computers automatically secure. Why focus specifically on what seems to be technically impossible?

                  • What makes you think I'm NOT talking about non-internet, non-data-theft related crimes too?
                    All laws need to be applied equally or not at all, regardless of whether you're a homeless person, Bill Gates, or the President of the United States.
      • ". I think that the correct solution is to legally enforce transparency in ALL layers of society, maybe even to change technology so that secrets become impossible for EVERYONE"

        Cosmo: I might even be able to crash the whole damn system. Destroy all records of ownership. Think of it, Marty: no more rich people, no more poor people, everybody's the same. Isn't that what we said we always wanted?

        Martin Bishop: Cos, you haven't gone crazy on me, have you?

        Or a more recent example, trolltrace.com

    • by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Monday March 13, 2017 @01:05PM (#54030723) Journal
      Apparently they stole newlines from you. That paragraph is intimidating to read, a solid block of text.
  • Their statement sounds a lot like a Trump tweet.

  • You all agreed to use these services and volunteered your information. Nobody is forcing any of you to do these things. If you don't like it then stop.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Nobody is forcing any of you to do these things. If you don't like it then stop.

      I know I'm replying to a troll, but here's a serious answer anyway.

      That may just barely be true for highly technically literate people, perhaps under 1% of the population who can stay on top of the ever exploding set of tracking techniques. It certainly is not true for the vast majority of the public, even if they try hard not to give away their private data.

      Hell, I am a technically literate person who is strongly motivated to avoid that tracking, I spend considerable time learning about browser fingerprin

  • by Koreantoast ( 527520 ) on Monday March 13, 2017 @12:44PM (#54030551)
    We traded our privacy and personal information for "free" content. In the early days of the web, we wanted Social Media, but we didn't want to pay a subscription for it. We said we were okay with advertising, even targeted advertising, to pay for their services. We wanted a web of free content and told them to figure out how to make money on it. So they grasped at the one thing they could find, our identities as consumers, and it was so lucrative, it re-shaped the way the web operates.
    • and it was so lucrative

      I'm still not convinced that information is a major intangible bubble ripe for popping. The eyeballs of people seem like they are worth a lot, but with the ineffectiveness of online marketing ... let's just say I wouldn't invest in Facebook anytime soon.

  • by ilsaloving ( 1534307 ) on Monday March 13, 2017 @12:45PM (#54030559)

    Oh, this has been going on for much longer than Google and Facebook had even existed. Loyalty points cards, Newspaper readership lists, etc.

    The only thing that's change is the sheer scope, both in terms of number of people, and the varying kinds of data being amassed.

    And the single biggest factor in this is no one else but the average person. The average person doesn't *care* that their personal data is being hoarded. They don't *care* that their privacy is being obliterated. Hell, if anything, they're *encouraging* it because of the whole "Only criminals have something to hide" attitude. If not that, then they can be very easily swayed to give up their data for minor benefits like saving a couple percent on a given purchase, etc.

    IMO the defining moment was when Snowden made his revelations public. What was the response? Worse than no change. The people who were already concerned about their privacy had their fears validated, but everyone else simply didn't care. But a sizeable percentage honestly believes to this day that Snowden was in the wrong for doing what he did, and not the agencies for unlawfully collecting and hoarding all that data. The same people that scream "No big guvmint!" are somehow perfectly satisfied to have every subtle aspect of their daily lives recorded and analyzed by not just the government but by countless corporations as well.

    The majority of the citizenry either doesn't care, or actually wants this to happen. The few who can (even if just vaguely) see the direction all this is going, are already taking what limited steps they can by closing social media accounts, etc. (For all the good that does at this point. :P) . But we're basically screwed, and those who don't want it are being dragged into it kicking and screaming by the majority who happily do.
     

    • by Kjella ( 173770 )

      And the single biggest factor in this is no one else but the average person. The average person doesn't *care* that their personal data is being hoarded. They don't *care* that their privacy is being obliterated.

      I care. I still carry a cell phone around pretty much 24x7. I still love e-tail over retail, despite there'll be a record with my name and address on it. If I pay by card my online bank gives me a good breakdown of my expenses for free, much easier than receipts and spreadsheets. If it was only people, awareness would help. But I feel it's an uphill battle against technology, even though I don't want my life broadcast on Facebook they keep coming up with smart conveniences that makes me want to sacrifice a

  • We can fix it, it just takes some guts - and regulations.

    The following laws would work:

    1) Any service that tracks private information, must, by law offer a more expensive version that does not retain said information beyond minimum neccessary billing information. They can price it however they like - as long as at least 10% of their customers agree to pay that price. Should they mistakenly track said information, they owe their victims ten times whatever they were charged, dating from the time they began

  • Tim says we've "lost control of our personal data." This is not entirely accurate. We didn't lose control; it was stolen from us by Silicon Valley. It is stolen from you every day by people farmers;

    Rubbish!

    People gave it freely. They do not (still) consider it to have any value - maybe because a lot of it is completely fictitious. Whether that turns out to be mistaken or not has yet to be determined. Apart from the few cases where there has been actual theft, everyone who filled in their personal details for access to social media sites did so without duress. The overwhelming majority seem to have gone far beyond volunteering the bare minimum and some of the stuff that people post is startling in it

  • We can feed the monster to suit our needs. Why not feed it things we want to be known for and also include lots of bullsh*t .Post the word diaper shoes Kardashian Hillary trumpydoo puppies kittens Kim Jung etc.. the populace can say thank you, but stop sucking my life data . Here is what I want to know about
  • We have met the primitive tribe, and they are us.

    We've all seen stories of how primitive tribes get sugar, or whiskey, or drugs, or other trappings of modern society and proceed to ruin themselves even more than we do because they're not accustomed to those things.

    Submitted for your consideration, that this time the tribe is us, and we have done it to ourselves.

    Imagine if Mars had a slightly more advanced civilization than Earth, and they contacted us in 1950. Let's say they had no interest in hostility, b

  • People will compromise with them, and the compromise will be to put them in charge of us.
    I don't see any non-radical solution to these problems.
  • This article itself is a perfect example of misinformation through misrepresentation. The title is a unattributed quote and the first three sentences only mention Tim Burners-Lee. Its misleading. The article should first state its a quote from Aral Balkan and then explain its a reaction to Burners-Lee. In its current form it implies that Tim Burners-Lee said, 'We Didn't Lose Control Of Our Personal Data -- It Was Stolen From Us By People Farmers' which he didn't.

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