Pro-Privacy Viruses

The Silicon Valley conception of privacy isn’t working for anyone except Silicon Valley. We know that. Charlie Stross, who is one smart dude, points out that if you follow the corporate-driven push to overshare to its logical conclusion your phone becomes a handy-dandy genocide machine, or, in the near term, the perfect device for this year’s Rufie-carrying girl stalker. Moreover, this is not some bizarre side-effect of social software, but is a flaw built into to how the software thinks about you, the product it is serving up to others.

That seems shrill and alarmist, but lately I don’t think it is. There are a lot of benefits to sharing, but also a lot of drawbacks, as any college grad who has missed out on a job due to a red solo cup picture can tell you. And because we get our media from the entities that came up with this system, we tend to see the benefits as systemic and the downsides as localized. But think about that for a minute or two and you realize that that can’t possibly be right.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking how it all ends lately. I don’t think it ends with us all running our own open source servers, going off the corporate surveillance grid. I don’t think we’ll be switching to Diaspora. We’re locked into these services.

So what’s the next vector? I think what we’ll be seeing soon are pro-privacy viruses. Imagine a “benevolent virus” that, instead of keylogging your credit card number, resets all your Facebook settings to the most private settings and sets your homepage to instructions for reopening up permissions (if that’s what you want to do). Or a virus that sits resident in memory and corrupts cross-site tracking cookies in real-time. Or one that shows you every bit of information that is retreivable about you on the internet, and asks if you are good with that.

I don’t think these should be created — there’d be a lot of unforseen side effects. But I think they are coming, and I think they are more likely to have a broader impact on privacy than scattered DIY projects.

In the end, I imagine they will fail — but it will be an interesting phase of this drama…

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