Hollywood Hill and Privacy

I just got back from a Hollywood Hill event called "Censoring the Internet", which featured a panel of Jonathan Zittrain (co-founder of Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society), Scott Moore (VP Content at Yahoo), Jason Calacanis (CEO, Weblogs Inc), Stephen Hsu (founder of Safeweb and Robot Genius). The panel was moderated by Wired senior editor Jeff O'Brien.

The conversation initially focused on censorship in China, but veered into personal privacy, and how it is ceasing to exist.

These guys live and breathe privacy, encryption, security, DRM, etc, and the common theme I heard from them was that consumers are willing to trade privacy for convenience, and that's the way it is. It's a philosophy I subscribe to, and have been having recent conversations about.

I came away slightly depressed, however, and it's because while the panel members agreed that consumers readily traded privacy for convenience, there were no effective suggestions about how to make the system work for you. There's obviously no silver bullet, as personal privacy is a complex political, social, and technological issue. But other than a brief mention of AttentionTrust by Calacanis, and a suggestion not to sign up for free webmail if you're not happy with the terms of service (where else would you get your email, if you're not a techie?!), nobody brought solutions to the table for the masses to thrive in a world where privacy doesn't exist and your data is locked up in silos that are not accessible by you.

Zittrain summed up the evening best when he answered a technophobe's question about what he could do about guarding his privacy: "Just because it's futile, doesn't mean we shouldn't try to do anything about it." (I'm paraphrasing.)

After the panel, I was talking to Ori Neidich, who co-founded Hollywood Hill. He made the point that throughout history, power in society has taken the shape of a pyramid, with a few haves at the top, and many have-nots at the bottom. Now, however, there's a separate set of geeks who can route around many of the technological barriers that companies (Apple's DRM) and governments (China's Great Firewall) have thrown up. These geeks don't fit nicely into the pyramid; some are rich, some are poor, some are connected, some are not. But today, they are the ones who are leading the way to bring solutions to the masses. And I guess that's why I left the evening unfulfilled: these guys think long and hard about this stuff, but had few answers. If they (hell, we) can't frame the discussion about how to succeed in such a world, what does that mean for those who rely on us to lead them there?

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Comments (Post | Latest)

1. Ori said on Mar 23 2006:

While you felt unfulfilled as most of the audience (who are not technologically savvy) felt empowered and inspired by the brilliant speakers.

I agree that this is an incredibly complex topic, but like Zittrain said, just because it is futile doesn't mean it isn't worth trying. If we left the future of our privacy up to the whims of mainstream media, there would be no one discussing this topic.

By bringing such far-reaching issues to HHill's membership we can begin the process of overcoming the obstacles. Just sweeping it under the rug or sticking your neck in the sand isn't going to make things any better for the average netizen.

2. kareem said on Mar 23 2006:

Ori,
I loved the speakers and thought it was an incredibly interesting and entertaining panel.

I'm not saying we should leave the control of our private data to corporations, or saying that we ignore the issue. Indeed, the reason I have these distributed conversations across the web is because I believe it's important to start talking about them.

The reason why I was depressed was because there were no good solutions offered by the speakers about either a) how to guard one's privacy (which I think is futile), or b) how to thrive in the so-called Brave New World. I distinctly recall Stephen Hsu say that he was pessimistic about the future of privacy...

By no means was my post a slam on Hollywood Hill--I had a great time and will definitely attend future events, and encourage others to attend as well. THe issues are important to think about and discuss, and hopefully such discussion will result in strategies to cope and/or thrive.

Thanks for organizing, Ori!

Kareem

About

Hi, I'm Kareem Mayan. I co-founded eduFire, an online video tutoring company.

I've done time at ESPN and FIM.

I advise WorldBlu, helping them build democratic companies.

I moderated a council for Creative Good.

And, I helped bring Barcamp, a technology un-conference, to LA, which is where I live. I am now living and working in cool cities around the world.

More about me.

Opinions stated here are mine alone.

Contact: blog -at- reemer

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