Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst for the ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project, is doing a series of posts on the IoT. The first piece, ‘The Coming Power Struggles Over the “Internet of Things”,’ contemplates the extension of corporate power into more and more personal and intimate spaces. He begins with this example:

When I stick a movie into my DVD player and try to fast-forward through some of the annoying preliminaries that are at the front of the disc, I get an error message: “This operation prohibited by this disc” […] First of all, it’s not “the disc” that is prohibiting my attempt to forward through trumped up FBI warnings and Hollywood anti-piracy propaganda. It’s the Hollywood studios that have programmed my technology to prohibit my “operation.” […] The message is: “There’s no power play going on here, it’s just how the objective technology works!” What’s actually happening is the movie studios have decided to program technology (or pressure hardware manufacturers to do so) to take away your control over your time and what you watch, and force you to view content that they control, in order to advance their own interests. More broadly, this annoying little example highlights the power struggles we could face as computer chips come to saturate the world around us—the trend often called “the Internet of Things.”

It’s an interesting and important point (though I do wish it was a little less shrill). Questions of power inequity rarely surface in public discussions of data collection and system control, so I’m happy to see Stanley address it. His next piece, “The Internet of Kafkaesque Things,” is a thoughtful if rarified discussion of the similarities and differences between computers and bureaucracies. Stanley worries if those similarities will transmit the inefficiencies and rabbit holes of bureaucracies into ever more personal spaces as devices become more connected:

The bottom line is that the danger is not just that … we will become increasingly subject to the micro-power of bureaucracies as computer chips saturate our lives. There is also the danger that the Kafkaesque absurdities and injustices that characterize bureaucracies will be amplified at those micro levels—and without even being leavened by any of the safety valves (formal or informal) that human bureaucracies often feature.

Both pieces are worth a read and I’m looking forward to the third piece in the series.

Intimacy Power