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Identity, privacy, big tech, censorship, NFTs, Covid, and more; Technometria - Issue #2
This past week, I taught my Distributed Systems class about distributed hash tables. But the real topic of the lecture was censorship and the weaknesses of systems that rely on centralized actors. I start by showing them this video on Napster, a story that unfolded when most of them were toddlers. We explore how Napster’s architecture, with a centralized directory and P2P sharing, led to their demise.
The Story Behind Napster
To some this is a story of privacy. To others a story of freedom. The video sets up a good discussion on the ethics of sharing copyrighted material and the technologies of decentralization–especially decentralized discovery.
Whether you see Napster, and similar services, as hero or villain, there are important questions about our future at play as we contemplate a world where digital technologies increasingly intermediate all of our relationships from the mundane to the intimate. Who can censor you? Who should be able to censor you? How do we decide?
Identity and Privacy
As usual, my reading list is full of stories on identity and privacy. Surveillance, by governments, companies, and even individuals is becoming increasingly easy.
“This requires governments to more carefully think through how they can reduce the need to store citizen data by empowering citizens to directly own and control that data.”
While the tools may already exist to solve the government’s identity crisis, real progress will only be made if governments significantly evolve their legacy approaches to digital identity.
MemberPass is a large-scale experiment in using digital credentials to transform the identity practices of an entire industry. In this case, credit unions.
While complex and sophisticated technology underlies self-sovereign identity (SSI,) clear basic principles guide it. The path forward to having control over our own identity information is clear and it’s way better than the alternative.
We typically associate proving things about ourselves with proving who we are. But minimal disclosure requires that we rethink that link and begin to be comfortable with knowing more what with less who.
The following was published as Chapter 5 of our series, The Seven Deadly Sins of Digital Customer Relationships. This chapter can be read by itself as a great introduction to the many privacy and data minimization benefits of zero-knowledge proofs (ZKPs).
We count on relative anonymity when we are in public. But this story points out that is merely a grace of people’s good manners in the modern age.
Kate Klonick asked her law students at St. John’s University to try to identify people they came across in public, based solely on what they said and wore. It was surprisingly easy.
More and more of our lives are being intermediated by just a few big tech companies. These stories show a few of the implications of that shift.
This is an important take on the disfunction of markets that are anything but free despite the lack of regulation.
Last autumn, I ran the most successful audiobook crowdfunding campaign ever, raising nearly $270k with ATTACK SURFACE, the third Little Brother book. As successful as the campaign was, the delivery was a nightmare.
Big Tech monopolies have too much control over what can exist on the internet. To preserve democracy, we need to break these monopolies up.
Its monopoly is costing public libraries e-books and audiobooks from Mindy Kaling, Dean Koontz, Dr. Ruth Westheimer, Trevor Noah and a whole lot more.
The big story in crypto for the last few weeks has been NFTs, or non-fungible tokens. There are many different use cases for NFTs. What sets them apart is the strength of the binding between the serialized token and the intellectual property that is the target of the NFT.
Using NFTs to create unique digital artifacts. A good analogy is to think of the NFT artwork as “autographed”, something we’re familiar with from the world of physical collectibles.
Digital art carrying unique blockchain-based ID tags that confirm authenticity is selling for big money, with even 255-year-old auction house Christie’s getting in on the action.
This remains, 5 years on, a critical article to understanding their power of BTC, ETH, & other public blockchain projects and to create cohesion.
There have been a lot of conversations about Bitcoin over the years. Is it a currency or an equity or a commodity? Is it a store of value? Is it a “settlement mechanism”? Is it not money at all, but…
This is an important step toward compute platforms we don’t have to trust to not store data, increasing privacy and security. h/t @humancell
When considering data privacy and protections, there is no data more important than personal data, whether that’s medical, financial, or even social. The discussions around access to our data, or even our metadata, becomes about who knows what, and if my personal data is safe. Today’s announcement between Intel, Microsoft, and DARPA, is a program designed around keeping information safe and encrypted, but still using that data to build better models or provide better statistical analysis without disclosing the actual data. It’s called Fully Homomorphic Encryption, but it is so computationally intense that the concept is almost useless in practice. This program between the three companies is a driver to provide IP and silicon to accelerate the compute, enabling a more secure environment for collaborative data analysis.
There’s plenty of reasons to think these kinds of passports will allow things to open up more quickly, but what is the long-term implication of a societal shift where we make it normal to have to show ID for common, everyday activities?
Europe’s tourist industry has taken a beating during this pandemic, spurring Denmark to introduce vaccine passports as a way to boost travel. The digital documents will provide proof of a traveler’s COVID-related health, eliminating the need to quarantine upon arrival in a new country. But opponents fear this could create billions of second-class citizens. Malcolm Brabant reports.
Proving we’ve been vaccinated doesn’t necessarily require we identify ourselves.
An oft-quoted statistic holds that one billion people worldwide―mostly in the developing world―have no official or “legal” identity. Some pundits see digital identity as essential for closing the digital divide; indeed, the digital divide is often characterised by that impressive stat alone. Digital identity discourse is dominated by ideas of self-determination, independence
This is a nice little history of major events over the past year of the pandemic. Especially interesting is how the virus confounded even the experts.
That virus would slowly reveal its secrets — and proceed to shut down much of the planet, killing more than 2.5 million people in the most disruptive global health disaster since the influenza pandemic of 1918.
That’s all for this week. Thanks for reading.
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By Phil Windley
I build things; I write code; I void warranties
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