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?