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In a new article for Kaspersky, I argue that data was never “the new oil” – instead, it was always the new toxic waste: “pluripotent, immortal – and impossible to contain.”

https://www.kaspersky.com/blog/secure-futures-magazine/data-new-toxic-waste/34184/

Data breaches are inevitable (any data you collect will probably leak; any data you retain will definitely leak) and cumulative (your company’s data breach can be combined with each subsequent attack to revictimize your customers). Identity thieves benefit enormously from cheap storage, and they collect, store and recombine every scrap of leaked data. Merging multiple data sets allows for reidentification of “anonymized” data, and it’s impossible to predict which sets will leak in the future.

These nondeterministic harms have so far protected data-collectors from liability, but that can’t last. Toxic waste also has nondeterministic harms (we never know which bit of effluent will kill which person), but we still punish firms that leak it.

Waiting until the laws change to purge your data is a bad bet – by then, it may be too late. All the data your company collects and retains represents an unquantifiable, potentially unlimited source of downstream liability.

What’s more, you probably aren’t doing anything useful with it. The companies that make the most grandiose claims about data analytics are either selling analytics or data (or both). These claims are sales literature, not peer-reviewed citations to empirical research.

Data is cheap to collect and store – if you don’t have to pay for the chaos it sows when it leaks. And some day, we will make data-hoarders pay.

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My latest Locus column explores what copyright expert Rebecca Giblin calls “The New Copyright Bargain” – a copyright system designed around enriching authors above all, rather rather than treating authors’ incomes as an incidental output of enriching entertainment or tech corporations. The column is called “A Lever Without a Fulcrum is Just a Stick.” Copyright is billed as giving creators leverage over the corporations we contract with, but levers need fulcrums.

https://locusmag.com/2020/03/cory-doctorow-a-lever-without-a-fulcrum-is-just-a-stick/

In an increasingly concentrated marketplace, any exclusive rights that are given to creators are simply appropriated by corporations as a non-negotiable condition of the standard contract. Think of how samples could originally be used without permission (in the Paul’s Boutique/It Takes a Nation of Millions era), enriching old R&B artists who’d been burned by one-sided contracts.

(Image from Kembrew Macleod’s “Creative License” https://www.dukeupress.edu/creative-license)

Those artists experienced a temporary enrichment when paying for samples became the norm, but today, all contracts simply require signing away your sampling rights. The fight to require licenses for samples merely gave the labels yet another right to demand of their artists. Which means that anyone hoping to sample must sign to a label and pay for a license either to that label or one of the other three. Giving new rights to artists in a monopolized market is like giving your bullied kid more lunch money. It doesn’t buy the kid lunch, it just gives the bullies the opportunity to take more money from your kid.

After the “Blurred Lines” suit, labels have begun to fret about being sued over artists’ copying the “vibe” of another artist. It’s easy to feel smug about copyright maximalists being hoist on their own petards. But the end-game is easy to see: just make selling your “vibe” rights a condition of signing a record deal, and you transfer ownership of whole genres to the Big 4 labels.

What would a copyright look like that protected artists, rather than practicing the Magic Underpants Gnome method of:

  1. Enrich entertainment corporations;

  2. ?????

  3. Artists get more money

Any new bargain in copyright centered on artists needs to take account of the concentration in tech and entertainment, and create rights for artists that aren’t just creator’s monopolies to be scooped up through non-negotiable contracts. Measures like reversion (which lets artists in the USA claim back rights they signed away 35 years ago), blanket licenses (designed to pay artists regardless of whether they’re “rightsholders”), and restoring unionization rights are the key to paying artists.

Merely expanding the “author’s monopoly” does no good in a world of industrial monopolies: it just gives those monopolists more ammo to use in the fight to shift revenues onto their own balance sheets, at the expense of working creators.

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In my latest Locus column, Inaction is a Form of Action, I discuss how the US government’s unwillingness to enforce its own anti-monopoly laws has resulted in the dominance of a handful of giant tech companies who get to decide what kind of speech is and isn’t allowed — that is, how the USG’s complicity in the creation of monopolies allows for a kind of government censorship that somehow does not violate the First Amendment.
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The editors of Canada’s Globe and Mail asked me to reflect on what science fiction can tell us about the 2020s for their end-of-the-decade package; I wrote about how science fiction can’t predict the future, but might inspire it, and how the dystopian malaise of science fiction can be turned into a inspiring tale of “adversity met and overcome – hard work and commitment wrenching a limping victory from the jaws of defeat.”
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Sidewalk Labs is Google’s sister company that sells “smart city” technology; its showcase partner is Toronto, my hometown, where it has made a creepy shitshow out of its freshman outing, from the mass resignations of its privacy advisors to the underhanded way it snuck in the right to take over most of the lakeshore without further consultations (something the company straight up lied about after they were outed). Unsurprisingly, the city, the province, the country, and the company are all being sued over the plan.
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