[Plura-list] K-Zombies; Privacy is not property

Cory Doctorow doctorow at craphound.com
Fri Feb 26 12:15:11 EST 2021


This is the last Pluralistic installment until March 15; I'm taking a
couple weeks' stay-at-home vacation/email sabbatical. I won't be reading
messages of any kind from close of business on Friday, Feb 26 until 9AM
Pacific on March 15. Any emails/DMs, etc that come in between now and
then will be deleted unread. Talk to you in a couple weeks!


Today's links

* K-Zombies: Zombies conquer Korea.

* Privacy is not property: Interests, not exclusive rights.

* This day in history: 2006, 2011, 2016, 2020

* Colophon: Recent publications, upcoming/recent appearances, current
writing projects, current reading


🦺 K-Zombies

When you and your friends put your fingers on the ouija board planchette
and it starts moving around, there's a chance your friends are just
yanking your chain - but just as possible is that your friends are
experiencing the ideomotor response.

That's when your unconscious mind directs your muscles without your
conscious knowledge. The movement of the planchette doesn't tell you
what's going on in the spirit world, but it does tell you something
about the internal weather of your friend's psyche, fears and hopes.

Our narratives are social-scale planchettes, directed by mass ideomotor
response. When a fake news story takes hold, it reveals a true fact:
namely, the shared, internal models of how the world really works.

Fake news is an oracle, in other words.


There's no spirit-realm directing planchettes. Supernatural phenomena
are nonsense, in all their guises. Mediums are fraudsters or deluded -
and so are soothsayers who claim to be able to predict the future. That
goes for fortune-tellers and futurists alike.

A shocking number of self-described "rational" science fiction writers
share the delusional view that they can predict the future. These pulp
Nostradamii point to "predictions" of sf that have "come true" and claim
to have an inside line on the world of tomorrow.

Sf *has* an important relationship to the future, though! It can be a
planchette: all the futures imagined by all the sf writers are a kind of
mutation-space, and the fitness factor that determines whether a story
thrives or sinks is whether it captures public imagination.

Sf writers and readers are a means for society to reflect back, amplify
and examine our unarticulated hopes and fears about our *present*
technology. Sf doesn't predict the future, but sf readers and writers do
an excellent job of predicting the present.

And since the present is the standing wave where the past is being
transformed into the future, knowing about the present can be a source
of insights into what's coming - and not just because sf reveals what's
going on in the present, but also because it influences it.

People who are captured by imaginative, futuristic parables about the
problems and possibilities of technology acquire a set of
intuition-pumps for coping with the future when it arrives, reflexive
views and actions about what the future demands of us.

Gene Rodenberry didn't predict the Motorola flip-phone. Rather, when a
generation of Motorola designers and engineers were asked to make a
mobile communications device their minds immediately flew to the Star
Trek communicators they grew up with.

Thinking of fantastic fiction as measurement device and influence
machine is a productive way to pick apart the meaning of literary trends.

As I wrote in my intro to the bicentennial re-release of FRANKENSTEIN,
the rise and fall of Shelley's book tracks to the rise and fall of fears
related to the book's various themes:


So what are we to make of K-zombies? Korean pop culture is experiencing
a golden age of zombie movies, games, comics and other media.


Zombies have a lot of different themes, of course, and some are easy to
map to the current situation: the fear of contagion and the need to
distance yourself from loved ones who have become infected. The
parallels to covid hardly need explaining.

But the K-zombie phenomenon predates the pandemic, and zombie stories
aren't merely contagion stories - they're often stories about the
lurking bestiality of nearly everyone around us.

That's behind stories like The Walking Dead, about the propensity of all
our "normal" friends and neighbors to transform into an insensate,
rampaging mob. These zombie stories are a throwback to the "cozy
catastrophes" of John Wyndham and co:


These are stories of racial and class anxiety, of xenophobia and the
literal othering of someone who *seems* to be just like you but is
actually a secret monster. Again, on a divided peninsula, it's not hard
to see how stories of lurking otherness would catch hold.

Zombie stories are also stories about the fragility of social cohesion:
stories about how we're never "all in this together" and how, when the
chips are down, it'll be "the war of all against all." That, too, feels
very zeitgeisty given recent South Korean politics.

South Korea has an ugly, authoritarian past that is at odds with its
founding myth as the "good Korea," the "democratic Korea." But the
post-war reconstruction of the country by the US elevated an elite to a
position of near-total authority and impunity.

They abused this power in ghastly ways, running forced-labor camps for
poor people and people with disabilities, with rampant physical and
sexual abuse. Families who lost their loved ones were traumatized to
learn that they'd ended up in the camps.


These forced-labor camps (which continue in a slightly modified form to
this day) supplied slaves to chaebols, the conglomerates that represent
the country on a world stage. Unsurprisingly, the leadership of these
companies is also grossly corrupt:


Korea is also riven by messianic cults, and the leaders of these cults
have close ties to the Korean political class, an incredibly politically
destabilizing fact that has caused recent Korean governments to collapse:


South Korea, in other words, isn't just haunted by the spectre of
aggression from the north - but also by the possibility of internal
rupture. It has a huge, authoritarian secret police force that has been
caught secretly meddling in electoral politics.

Far from reining in this spookocracy, the South Korean political class
has tried to hand them even MORE powers, with LESS oversight. Today is
the fifth anniversary of the Korean opposition's filibuster to stop the
worst of these.

(Seo Ki-Ho, a politician with the affectionate nickname "Milhouse" for
his resemblance to the Simpsons character read the Korean edition of my
novel LITTLE BROTHER into the record during the filibuster!)


This othering is also sharply illustrated in the country's culture of
misogynistic voyeurism, which goes beyond "upskirt" videos and includes
a roaring trade in videos captured with hidden cameras in toilets,
changing rooms and hotel rooms.

It's hard to overstate the reach of this practice, and its political
salience: it has provoked a vast mass-movement of women and allies
demanding an end to the practice and a reckoning with institutional sexism:


Zombies aren't ever just about contagion - they're also always an
expression of a deep anxiety that your neighbors aren't what they seem,
that in a pinch, they'll turn on you, and not just because they've been
infected, but also to protect themselves and their comfort.

US zombie booms always have an element of this: 1950s (reds under the
bed); 1980s (red menace redux); 2000s (immigration "crisis"), etc. It'd
be amazing if the only thing driving K-zombies' popularity was the
pandemic, or even less plausibly, a mere aesthetic coincidence.


🦺 Privacy is not property

When all you have is market orthodoxy, everything looks like a market
failure. Take privacy: giant, rapacious corporations have instrumented
the digital and physical worlds to spy on us all the time, so some
people think they should pay us for our data.

There's a pretty rich theoretical history explaining why this "data
dividend" is a stupid idea. First of all, private information isn't very
property-like. And not  just because it shares all the problems of
digital works (infinitely, instantaneously copyable at zero cost).

Private information makes for bad "property" because it is "owned" by
multiple, overlapping parties who generally disagree about when and who
to share it with. When you and I have a conversation, we both own the
fact that the conversation took place.

What happens if I won't sell, but you will? Tech companies are *really*
good at finding the cheapest seller of an information good, after all.
For example, whenever you visit a "quality newspaper's" site, there's a
real-time auction to bid on the right to show you ads.

Say there are 13 bidders for that right. One gets to show you an ad, but
the other 12 get something too: your unique identifier and the fact that
you read, say, the New York Times.

That fact is then sold on to garbage chumbox sites like Tabouleh, whose
pitch to advertisers is "I can show your ads to NYT readers at 15% of
the price that the Times charges." If the same fact is "owned" by lots
of people, it's a commodity.

Buyers will find the lowest, least-discerning seller. What's more, you
can't solve this by requiring consensus of all "owners" of a fact before
it is disclosed - who owns the fact that your boss sexually harassed
you: you or him? Does he get a veto over your disclosures?

Even if we could get property rights to work in privacy (which, for the
record, we cannot), all we'd manage to do is transform privacy into a
luxury good wherein poor people are coerced into selling their data for
pennies, as Malavika Jayaram reminds us:


Data dividends also require someone to set prices on data, and chances
are that price will be set by a privacy-invading tech company or a
regulator in thrall to them:


And whatever the price, it won't capture the true cost, as Hayley
Tsukayama reminds us: "Low-income Americans and often communities of
color should not be incentivized to pour more data into a system that
already exploits them and uses data to discriminate against them."

"Privacy is a human right, not a commodity."

It's not too late to end "pay for privacy," because, as Dipayan Ghosh
says, behavioral data is "temporally sensitive" - companies need more of
it all the time, meaning we can still push back.


To get this right, we have to stop pretending that data makes good
property and that therefore markets will solve data problems. And just
because data isn't property, it doesn't follow that it isn't valuable.

Far from it: the most valuable things we know of (human beings) are not
property precisely *because* treating them as property would cheapen
them. We humans are so valuable that we have a complex set of rules just
for us.


My daughter isn't my property, but I have an interest in her. So does my
wife, and her grandparents, and her teachers and school district, and
Child Protective Services...and so does she. This "interest"-based
system acknowledged the complex web of overlapping claims.

We have a whole discipline - one that doesn't intersect with markets at
all - that describes these relations, with specialized concepts like
"nurturance rights" and "self-determination rights" (thanks to Rory
Pickens for introducing me to these concepts).

All of these points and more are made in "Why data ownership is the
wrong approach to protecting privacy," a 2019 Brookings Institute paper
by Cameron F Kerry and John B Morris, who relate them to pending
legislation and relevant case-law.


"By licensing the use of their information in exchange for monetary
consideration, we may be worse off than under the current
notice-and-choice regime...A property-based system also disregards
interests besides property that individuals have in personal information."


🦺 This day in history

#15yrsago Midnighters: YA horror trilogy mixes Lovecraft with adventure

#15yrsago RIP, Octavia Butler, “genius” science fiction writer

#10yrsago TVOntario’s online archive, including Prisoners of Gravity!

#5yrsago Ghostwriter: Trump didn’t write “Art of the Deal,” he read it

#5yrsago Think you’re entitled to compensation after being wrongfully
imprisoned in California? Nope.

#5yrsago South Korean lawmakers stage filibuster to protest
“anti-terror” bill, read from Little Brother

#5yrsago BC town votes to install imaginary GPS trackers in criminals

#5yrsago NHS junior doctors show kids what’s they do, kids demand better
of Jeremy Hunt https://juniorjuniordoctors.tumblr.com/

#1yrago Clarence Thomas admits he blew it on Brand X

#1yrago Medicare for All would be the biggest take-home pay increase in
a generation


🦺 Colophon

Today's top sources: Schneier (https://www.schneier.com/), Naked
Capitalism (https://nakedcapitalism.com/).

Currently writing:

* My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and
reconciliation. Yesterday's progress: 515 words (115152 total).

* A short story, "Jeffty is Five," for The Last Dangerous Visions.
Yesterday's progress: 285 words (7561 total).

Currently reading: Analogia by George Dyson.

Latest podcast: Privacy Without Monopoly: Data Protection and
Interoperability (Part 2)

Upcoming appearances:

* Affordable Internet Day of Action, Mar 16,

* World Ethical Data Forum keynote, Mar 17-19,

* Launching "The Future You" with Brian David Johnson, Mar 19,

*  Balancing Worldbuilding and Narrative (with Karen Osborne and Kali
Wallace), Mar 24,

* Interop: Self-Determination vs Dystopia (FITC), Apr 19-21,

Recent appearances:

* Technology, Self-Determination, and the Future of the Future (CERIAS)

* Talking "Permanent Record Young Readers' Edition" with Edward Snowden

* Talking "Agency" with William Gibson

* Software Freedom is Essential to Human Freedom (linux.conf.au keynote)

Latest book:

* "Attack Surface": The third Little Brother novel, a standalone
technothriller for adults. The *Washington Post* called it "a political
cyberthriller, vigorous, bold and savvy about the limits of revolution
and resistance." Order signed, personalized copies from Dark Delicacies

* "How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism": an anti-monopoly pamphlet
analyzing the true harms of surveillance capitalism and proposing a
(print edition:
(signed copies:

* "Little Brother/Homeland": A reissue omnibus edition with a new
introduction by Edward Snowden:
https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250774583; personalized/signed copies

* "Poesy the Monster Slayer" a picture book about monsters, bedtime,
gender, and kicking ass. Order here:
https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781626723627. Get a personalized, signed
copy here:

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"*When life gives you SARS, you make sarsaparilla*" -Joey "Accordion
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