Posts Tagged ‘wikileaks’

PayPal Should Have Stuck With “the Government Made Me Do It”


Paypal’s General Counsel, John Muller, issued a clarification of PayPal’s position on restricting the Wikileaks account earlier in the week.  You can read it for yourself, but I was struck by his description of their Acceptable Use Policy and how he uses this to justify the action taken.

Specifically, Mr. Muller explains:

“PayPal’s Acceptable Use Policy states that we do not allow any organization to use our service if it encourages, promotes, facilitates or instructs others to engage in illegal activity.”

A few paragraphs later he explains why Wikileaks’ account was restricted:

“The account was again reviewed last week after the U.S. Department of State publicized a letter to WikiLeaks on November 27, stating that WikiLeaks may be in possession of documents that were provided in violation of U.S. law.  PayPal was not contacted by any government organization in the U.S. or abroad. We restricted the account based on our Acceptable Use Policy review.  Ultimately, our difficult decision was based on a belief that the WikiLeaks website was encouraging sources to release classified material, which is likely a violation of law by the source.”

What PayPal is saying is that a site that in effect provides a safe haven for people to reveal illegal activity, is actually encouraging people to engage in illegal activity.  The fact that someone broke the law in providing the most recent batch of cables does not mean that Wikileaks is encouraging people to break the law.  Certainly, none of the people who are providing the information are getting paid for doing so.  They are not seeking fame either.  So in what way exactly, is Wikileaks encouraging that people engage in illegal activity.  It’s like saying that a gun store is promoting that people engage in illegal activity because they sell guns which can be used for committing illegal activities.

Mr. Muller also does something strange in the last part of the sentence where he describes their decision.  Instead of simply saying that the released classified material “is a violation of law by the source”, he throws in the qualifier “likely”, as in the released classified material “is *likely* a violation of law by the source”.  In other words, PayPal is acting on a hunch since they clearly don’t know that it’s a violation of the law.  Saying it’s likely doesn’t make it so.

After reading this nonsense, I would suggest to PayPal that they leverage the opportunity provided to them by our ethically challenged legislators, and just go along with the excuse that they got a call from Senator Lieberman pressuring them like the other companies, and be done with it.  At least then we can just say that PayPal bowed to government pressure, rather than having to think that this company is represented by morons, which is the natural conclusion to reach from the excuse they’re trying to get us to believe.  Really PayPal, that’s the best you got?

End of Privacy

A little rambling on some thoughts that have been on my mind in relationship to privacy issues.  In saying the "end of privacy", I'm trying to imagine what the effect of loosing what we understand today as being control over our personal information.  Loosing control in effect means opening up the can of externalities that take place as soon as we can no longer determine who is seeing our information or what uses our information is put to.  Imagine that anything I write to anyone can be seen by everyone, any where I go can be known to anyone at any time, anything I say can make it into the public record, and as soon as someone believes they can actually map my thoughts, those too will be knowable to others.  If you think about it, many of the technologists working to make these things happen are moving us closer and closer to this new world.  Where it would be nice to have all of this coordinated by a rational independent authority so that we stay focused on the impact to the individual first, because there's no master architect it's unlikely to be the primary consideration.  The focus on the individual will be the sizzle not the steak.  All of the technologists behind the various services are busily making these things happen, each of course, is doing so with the best of intentions.  Not to mention, that I'm not sure I see the business in privacy, as a stated in a previous post, versus the economic interests aligned against it.

The impact of having comments shared that were meant for one intended recipient manifested themselves with email many moons ago, and we quickly realized that if it's written electronically it can easily be copied or forwarded and be shared with others.  Actually, email used to have another more devilish feature (which some email readers still support) similar to "Forward" called "Redirect" where you could redirect a document to another person, but any response from that person would go directly back to the originator of the email.  This created much confusion and more than one "faux pas" or snarky response intended for the person that redirected the email, actually going to the original sender…d'oh!…but I digress.

Facebook broke us down some more by creating an environment they purported as being safe for communicating with only people you know in the physical world, but then extending (exploiting) our use of their service by opening our comments and pictures up to people we didn't know and didn't necessarily want to share these with.  Eventually allowing more and more of our information, that which we might have considered to be private, to be shared with total strangers and making us more discoverable in the process, than most people had intended to be.  In Mark Zuckerberg's opinion, it's what we want, in the opinion of people who had legitimate concerns for their safety and security, or in some cases their job prospects, this was been disastrous.  There is a tinge of irony here since what we supposedly want also lines up with furthering Facebook's business model, but I'll leave that for another time.

Location-based services have been the next bastion of assault on our privacy.  In some cases these are "opt-in" in others they are "opt-out" (and in some cases you have no choice), and the applications use game mechanics to make them more fun, keeping us distracted from the data collection they are doing.  Many of these so-called "free" services are not free at all, they just monetize our data in ways not immediately evident to users.  Other methods used to get at this information have been through services offered by the wireless phone providers to protect "the children".  A friend recently explained to me how he busted his son for lying about his whereabouts and going to a party for which he had not received permission to attend.  I laughed and asked why his son hadn't figured out he would get caught, to which he explained that the phone is too integral a part of his son's life to be away from it, so he was willing to take the chance that his parents wouldn't check up on him.  If you can do this with your kids, it won't be long until friends do it (that's what Loopt and Google Latitude are all about).  Heck, why stop there, it shouldn't be technologically difficult to enable even acquaintances that sort of access, then it's probably just easier to open it to everyone.  This certainly follows the logic of the social networks.

So where am I going with this?  Well, in a world without privacy it occurs to me that we would have to become fully accountable for all of our actions.  There would be no hiding behind the veil of politeness, there would be no more little white lies for us to get away with, or tailoring of our conversation to the audience we're addressing.  We in effect become fully transparent.  Context of our statements and of our locations would be difficult if not impossible to incorporate which is a considerable down side, but for all of the discussion around this issue, I see no slow down in the adoption of services that dispense with our privacy or the feverish pace of new services emerging.  Clearly, lack of context is not holding anyone up to opening up our information.  Perhaps this is what's needed at a time when trust is at an all time low, call it the shock treatment of trust enabling.  A high level of trust is important to a functioning society, be it on an economic level or on a political one, and increasing transparency may force the matter.  People becoming trustworthy, not necessarily because they wanted to be but because they have to be.

For all of this redefining (or dismantling) of privacy, there are clearly some other benefits which is what is enticing so many people to use these services.  Knowing that my friends are nearby, looking for a product or service near where I am *now*, making a coupon or an offer available to me at the time I'm near the establishment, keeping the kids safe, and locating my lost phone, are all certainly valuable services.  The fact that these come at a price that has not fully been digested by most is what worries me.  But a part of me also feels that perhaps the transparency pendulum has to swing to an extreme so that we all become aware of the risks of too little privacy.  Already Facebook has been making some changes and enables users to post links, photos and status updates to user created lists rather than to everyone.  As of today, they are also apparently testing the ability to delete accounts (not just deactivate as is currently possible).  Perhaps we are going through the bumps in the road necessary to learn how to deal with these new issues.

This weekend's release of classified U.S. war related documents by Wikileaks demonstrates the potential transparency can have on accountability.  While this was about the transparency in government, I believe we are on the threshold of similar things happening to individuals.  Both Jeff Jarvis on his blog BuzzMachine and Jay Rosen on PressThink raise some very interesting points organizational transparency.  In the case of Jeff he discusses the struggle between transparency and keeping secrets when trust is low.  Jay talks more about the world's first stateless news organization and the impact it will have news reporting.  What was interesting about the Wikileaks document release, is that they made a lot of documents available, hence enabling some level of context setting to occur.  Had they just released a few choice documents, the context might have been blurred.

So the question I struggle with is, will the loosing of our individual privacy be part of the age of accountability?  Sure, people claim to be accountable but in the past two years seeing the happenings in government, the financial industry, the oil and gas industry and several other areas, it feels like our systems are so complex that responsibility has been diluted.  In other words, no one is singularly responsible for anything any more.  Take the recent economic crisis stemming from mortgage-backed securities.  There were so many institutional players (and individuals within each of these) involved and a system built around passing "the hot potato", that it's difficult to point to any single actor or organization as being guilty of fraud or any other misdeeds.  Even the homeowners who were sold on the harmlessness of the mortgages they were signing up for had a role to play.  Transparency in this system might have helped us better assess where it all started to go wrong and the relative roles all of the players in this Theater of the Absurd.

Anyway, lots to digest here and clearly a need to break down the issues further, but thought this brain dump might be an interesting way to get thoughts out of my head 🙂