Essential Reading

“Recall that advertising is when someone pays you to tell your users they’ll be happy if they buy a product or service . . . . Investor storytime is when someone pays you to tell them how rich they’ll get when you finally put ads on your site . . . . Most startups run on investor storytime. Investor storytime is not exactly advertising, but it is related to advertising. Think of it as an advertising future, or perhaps the world’s most targeted ad. Both business models involve persuasion. In one of them, you’re asking millions of listeners to hand over a little bit of money. In the other, you’re persuading one or two listeners to hand over millions of money . . . But investor storytime is a cancer on our industry. Because to make it work, to keep the edifice of promises from tumbling down, companies have to constantly find ways to make advertising more invasive and ubiquitous. Investor storytime only works if you can argue that advertising in the future is going to be effective and lucrative in ways it just isn’t today. If the investors stop believing this, the money will dry up. And that’s the motor destroying our online privacy.”

“We need to decentralize the data, you understand. If we keep it all in one great big pile—if there’s one guy who keeps all the email and another guy who does all the social sharing about getting laid—then there isn’t really any way to be any safer than the weakest link in the fence around that pile. But if every single person is keeping her and his own, then the weak links on the outside of that fence get the attacker exactly one person’s stuff. Which, in a world governed by the rule of law, might be exactly optimal: one person is the person you can spy on because you’ve got probable cause. Email scales beautifully without anybody at the center keeping all of it. We need to make a mail server for people that costs five bucks and sits on the kitchen counter where the telephone answering machine used to be, and that’s the end of it. If it breaks you throw it away. Decentralized social sharing is harder, but not so hard that we can’t do it. Three years ago I called for it. Wonderful work has been done that didn’t produce stuff everybody is using, but it’s still there: it can’t go away, it’s free software, it will achieve its full meaning yet.”

“As our desires conflict with the [intelligence community], we become less and less worthy of rights and considerations in the eyes of the [intelligence community]. When the NSA hoards exploits and interferes with cryptographic protection for our infrastructure, it means using exploits against people who aren’t part of the NSA just doesn’t count as much. Securing us comes after securing themselves. In theory, the reason we’re so nice to soldiers, that we have customs around honoring and thanking them, is that they’re supposed to be sacrificing themselves for the good of the people. In the case of the NSA, this has been reversed. Our wellbeing is sacrificed to make their job of monitoring the world easier. When this is part of the culture of power, it is well on its way to being capable of any abuse.”