[-empyre-] Search, privacy, data - the abuse of encapsulation

Rob Jackson robertjackson3900 at gmail.com
Tue Feb 28 08:08:26 EST 2012

Hi All,

It's a sincere pleasure to be having this discussion with like-minded people. A thousand thanks to Gabriel for the invitation. 

I'll follow on from Tero's wonderful introduction and Andy's fantastic follow-up with ten quick points (technical, historical and theoretical) of my own concerning the unsettling privatisation of platforms. 

1.) Platform applications have become the primary mode of accessing online information and communication in recent years. However, they are increasingly characterised by the forced removal of complexity implemented through the logic of encapsulation that closes off access to source code. This is an old story.

2.) In Object Oriented Programming, 'encapsulation' is defined as a paradigmatic logic which programmers use to conceal functions and methods which in turn restrict a user's access to the program's units. Although it didn't originate with OOP, it's original purpose was to prevent a computer program from bugs, exterior abuse, and it's environment. As computers (especially personal ones) became increasingly more complex, encapsulation methods were required to 'encapsulate' that complexity so the user need not be concerned with the inner workings of the program in question. Think of a cashpoint machine; when we wish to take our money out of the machine, we're not expecting to witness the nefarious complexities of someone transferring numbers, hardwiring physical money to our hand, understanding the interest gained on that account, etc ; the interface closes off certain functions that do not need to be made public, so that the user has a simple experience and saves time in the use of that program. This is why the rise of OOP is linked with GUI's.

3.) In the last 25 years or so the logic of encapsulation has been fundamentally and consistently abused for the sake of proprietary benefit. This is a major problem.

4.) The problem here is not encapsulation per se (even open source software is encapsulated) but the abuse to which it is subjected. Paraphrasing  Dymtri Kleiner, an artist many of you may know, the issue isn't technical but political. Whilst others disagree, I am of the opinion that computing is an independent real process: it is not the logic of encapsulation which is the issue, but its proprietary use and abuse which should worry the masses. Don't blame the algorithms themselves!

5.) Tero's introduction highlights a major update of this abuse. Proprietary interfaces are incredible ideological pieces of machinery, designed to conceal necessary methods and functions away from the user. It doesn't matter if Google start spouting off self-congratuatory throws of "This stuff matters", the abuse of encapsulation for proprietary benefit already puts the user in a lower ground position in the technical sense, It's been going on for years. Making the interface more personable and user friendly like most other functions of encapsulation, is designed to save the user time and direct attention away from their abuse.

6.) Following Zizek, the worst part about this entire level of abuse is that, most of the target market already know they are being abused. Human animals in the Western world are very sanguine creatures. We must never forget that, nor start beating ourselves up about it. There is an even more fundamental theoretical reason as to why ideology works so well in this forced removal of complexity, but suffice to say this is a philosophical conversation best left elsewhere (unless someone wants to know - in essence, the interface isn't just a technical feature of human existence).

7.) The forced removal of complexity works for the proprietor (and never the consumer) and this occurs in three main principles which need attention (I'll end on these three issues).

8.) Data mining: The first principle concerns the production of public data; the public 'waste' so to speak. Private data is purged from the ideological interfaces we deal with day in, day out, because the logic of encapsulation is to conceal the private as per the programmer's intention. One way of making the consequences of this abuse visible to users, is to highlight what will happen when such large private databases are made public. This is always some danger attached to large companies holding private data of ours, not so much in the proprietary abuse, but the heightened fallout when that data is unexpectedly released in public, or has become lost. The impact of private data (and it's sheer volume) is becoming more and more insecure, and this should worry us. But again this is linked to our sanguine nature.

9.) Infrastructure, complexity and use: The problem with iPhones is that they aren't shitty enough. Again, this is linked to the logic of encapsulation, and the ability to save us time, as per the Western infrastructure of career enforcement and obsession with social attention 'sharing'. Platforms are part and parcel of this simplification; I believe that the expected success of iPhones, iPads, Androids, even the ubiquity of Cloud Computing all work on this logic of forced complex removal. Witness the steady demise of I.T departments all across the working world, as businesses and starter companies remove the complex production of I.T management and leave it to a hosting company of some sort.  Platforms purchased today are always-already limited right out the box (consider Google's Chrome OS platform). The functional aspect of simplified use need only be turned on 'somewhere' for someone. Platforms embellish an almost obscene level of private encapsulation. I'm being grossly unjust to the technical details here, but in summary complexity is worth fighting for. (This ties into Andy's point on the oppositional character of glitch - my view would be this is a genuine form of computational complexity, where information is irreducible to a user's 'understanding' - i.e corruption or overload).

10.) Rentier profit: By far the biggest profit gain in the last ten or so years has arisen from the use of rentier capital in software itself. Most private software companies make enormous profits not from consumer purchases, platform devices, nor patents (although this is increasing too, especially Apple), but the rentier logic of purchasing licenses to use software in business use. Microsoft for instance make most of their money from enforcing concurrent CAL business licenses to use Windows Server 2003 or SQL Server 2005. Other software companies follow suit abusing encapsulation with license agreements for the sake of profit. But this also extends to other 'forced choice' factors of software and 'web apps' which require license keys or T&C's as a precondition of user agreement. Software rentier capital is the biggest form of profit generation seen, outside of investment banking. And it's arguably the worst sort, because powerful technology is blocked from use simply because one would not have access to funds required to purchase the licenses (which means you never own the thing anyway).

all the best

On 27 Feb 2012, at 13:19, Tero Karppi wrote:

> Hi all,
> I'll start with a theme that is loosely related to privatization of the web & related platforms. 
> On March 1st, Google will implement its new, unified privacy policy. This policy will affect data Google has collected on you as well as data it collects on you in the future. Until now Google Web History has been isolated from its other services. However with the new privacy policy in action Google will begin to combine information across its products. According to Electronic Frontier Foundation Google search data is particularly sensitive since it can reveal "information about you, including facts about your location, interests, age, sexual orientation, religion, health concerns, and more." Hence they have urged people to remove their Google Search History before the policy takes effect. 
> Google, however, sees the new privacy policy as an improvement of their search; "Our search box now gives you great answers not just from the web, but your personal stuff too. So if I search for restaurants in Munich, I might see Google+ posts or photos that people have shared with me, or that are in my albums." In addition, the search will be able to better predict what you 'really' are looking for and target ads more accurately. 
> Now, what interests me here, at a more abstract level, is the change we are witnessing in relation to data mining. Until now, more or less, the data we share in various platforms (browser, search, social media, iOS/Android etc.) has been mined, combined into statistics and potentially sold onwards but we haven't really seen it in action except in some more or less accurately targeted ads. However, now we are witnessing a throwback of our own data; Google begins to make the search more personal, Facebook has the frictionless sharing to name a few examples.  
> What are the implications of this change? Is the 'social' media becoming now more 'individual' and 'personal'? What should we think of these algorithms that predict what we want?  
> References
> https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2012/02/how-remove-your-google-search-history-googles-new-privacy-policy-takes-effect
> http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2012/01/updating-our-privacy-policies-and-terms.html
> Best,
> Tero
> --
> Tero Karppi (MA)
> Doctoral Student | Media Studies | University of Turku
> http://www.hum.utu.fi/oppiaineet/mediatutkimus/en/tero_en.html
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
> http://www.subtle.net/empyre

-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au/pipermail/empyre/attachments/20120227/4424111e/attachment.htm>

More information about the empyre mailing list