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Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Strategic CSR - Privacy

The debate around spying in the U.S. that has been generated by Edward Snowden has touched on many issues, such as the limits and oversight of government agencies. While important, the article in the url below argues that a more important debate about what this affair says about contemporary capitalism has been largely overlooked:

"… it is not just the NSA that is broken … too many governments, strapped for cash and low on infrastructural imagination, have surrendered their communications networks to technology companies a tad too soon."
In particular, while the abuses by the U.S. spy agencies are condemned, the author highlights what he terms:
"… the much more disturbing trend whereby our personal information – rather than money – becomes the chief way in which we pay for services – and soon, perhaps, everyday objects – that we use?"
In contrast to the general ignorance of the public about the listening and data gathering activities of the government, the author argues that we are willing accomplices when it comes to surrendering our private information (and, therefore, our privacy) to for-profit firms:
"No laws and tools will protect citizens who, inspired by the empowerment fairy tales of Silicon Valley, are rushing to become data entrepreneurs, always on the lookout for new, quicker, more profitable ways to monetise their own data – be it information about their shopping or copies of their genome. These citizens want tools for disclosing their data, not guarding it. Now that every piece of data, no matter how trivial, is also an asset in disguise, they just need to find the right buyer. Or the buyer might find them, offering to create a convenient service paid for by their data – which seems to be Google's model with Gmail, its email service."
In being willing to surrender our data, we are blind to the long-term consequences for capitalism and democracy of this new form of payment (substituting money for private data, which is then monetized by firms):
"The benefits to consumers are already obvious; the potential costs to citizens are not. As markets in personal information proliferate, so do the externalities – with democracy the main victim."
While new laws might quieten the debate in the short-term, the author presents a compelling case that we are missing the bigger picture that communication technologies are re-structuring our society:
"Unfortunately, these issues are not on today's agenda, in part because many of us have bought into the simplistic narrative – convenient to both Washington and Silicon Valley – that we just need more laws, more tools, more transparency. What Mr Snowden has revealed is the new tension at the very foundations of modern-day capitalism and democratic life. A bit more imagination is needed to resolve it."
Take care
David Chandler & Bill Werther
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The Snowden saga heralds a radical shift in capitalism
By Evgeny Morozov
December 27, 2013
Financial Times
Late Edition – Final