I've found that I rarely agree with Evgeny Morozov, one of a small group of techno-pessimists who like to blame the world's problems on technology (and, oddly, those who innovate with technology). However, I have to admit that his latest piece on Slate gave me a good laugh. In the tradition of Jonathan Swift
, he suggests a way to kill two birds with one stone. Both the problem of all that data the NSA has collected on all of us and
the fact that Google and Facebook have grown to be quite big based on the "social graph" info they have about all of us -- information that would be hard for an upstart to replicate. The answer? Obviously: open up all that metadata the NSA has on all of us
to the public, and let anyone build their own social network on top of it. After all, the NSA and its defenders keep telling us that it's "just metadata" and there's nothing privacy violating about that
Now that Edward Snowden has blown the whistle on the extensive spying operations of the National Security Agency, this question seems obsolete. Take the NSA's much-discussed collection of metadata—the seemingly benign (or so they claim) information about who calls whom and when. It's precisely this kind of metadata that is needed to build a better publicly run social graph. In fact, the NSA has probably already built it—and not just for America but probably for users in many other countries as well—often with tacit cooperation from intelligence services and telecommunication providers of those countries....
[....] The NSA has all this data, and it's not going away. (If anything, the much-discussed data storage center that the NSA is building in Utah suggests otherwise.) It would be a colossal mistake not to come up with a global institutional arrangement that would make at least chunks of that data available for public use. At the very (utopian) minimum, it should be possible to produce a rudimentary social graph and make it globally available—to be supervised by a civil agency, perhaps within the United Nations. The United States, which has always preached free markets to the rest of the world, can, perhaps, take the lead in making markets for search and social networking more competitive.
You might say that all this data should be private, but, hell, Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook took a ton of data that you thought was private as well, and flipped a switch to make most of it public, so why not the NSA? Jonathan Swift, eat your (poor childrens') heart out.