Thoughts on “A Cypherpunk’s Manifesto”, part 2


If two parties have some sort of dealings, then each has a memory of their interaction. Each party can speak about their own memory of this; how could anyone prevent it? One could pass laws against it, but the freedom of speech, even more than privacy, is fundamental to an open society; we seek not to restrict any speech at all. If many parties speak together in the same forum, each can speak to all the others and aggregate together knowledge about individuals and other parties. The power of electronic communications has enabled such group speech, and it will not go away merely because we might want it to.

This paragraph exposes one of the roots of the problems we now face regarding our information on the internet and social media in particular: once you are no longer the sole owner of your personal data, you have no control over its dissemination anymore.

The most glaring example of this is of course your data on the servers of third party corporations, but it also extends to your sharing of information with relationships on social media or even the fact that social media allow for the sharing of your data is you are for instance a “friend of a friend”.

This is what is meant here when the Manifesto speaks of “each has a memory of their interaction” in a digital setting.

Of course, it works the same way in daily life: if you tell a relationship something about yourself, they can share it. We are relatively used to it in that setting. If you don’t know someone that well, you are not that likely to share sensitive information which could hurt you.

But it is no different from the people who shared their nights out on people’s timelines and who were subsequently fired because they were supposed to be at work. If their boss had access to that timeline, this is the form digital and automatic “gossip” takes.

It’s this kind of automatic “gossip” that is what we need to become much more aware of and which we cannot solve by simply not speaking or communicating. It’s an automatic process that is almost impossible to stop when using digital media.

The Manifest goes on to discuss possible remedies in general after this.

Bas Wisselink
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