Passion

In Which Eben Moglen Like, Legit Yells at Me for Having Facebook

eben moglen In Which Eben Moglen Like, Legit Yells at Me for Having Facebook

(flickr.com/andwat)

Yesterday afternoon, this reporter was scrambling to finish reporting a forward-looking story about how banks are exploring the possibility of using social media data to judge loan and credit applicants. My editor wanted a quote from a privacy advocate, so I immediately thought of Eben “Spying for Free” Moglen, a militant digital privacy advocate, founder of the uber-secure personal server FreedomBox, and the inspiration for the decentralized social network Diaspora. In hindsight, perhaps I should have just called Cory Doctorow.

Mr. Moglen, a law professor at Columbia University, was not particularly interested in talking about banks using social media to spy on their customers.

Everyone who uses Facebook, Twitter and the like shares the blame for the serious and ongoing global erosion of privacy enabled by the internet, he said. Banks aren’t the problem, he said; the users tempting banks with their Twitter and Facebook postings are the problem.

As are reporters who write about privacy issues with social media without first closing their Facebook accounts.

(I call Mr. Moglen’s office at the end of the day and explain what I’m working on. Mr. Moglen starts out sounding like a patronizing but ultimately kind-hearted professor. He reminds me of my patronizing but ultimately kind-hearted uncle, who works in IT. Emphasis mine)

Me: I’m looking for… like, whether this is a privacy issue?

Mr. Moglen: I don’t understand what that means.

The data is a privacy issue because we have an enormous ecological disaster created by badly-designed social media now being used by people to control and exploit human beings in all sorts of ways.

That’s the consequence of social media structures which encourage people to share using centralized databases, and everything they share is held by someone who is no friend of theirs who also runs the servers and collects the logs which contain all the information about who accesses what, the consequences of which is that we are creating systems of comprehensive surveillance in which a billion people are involved and those people’s lives are being lived under a kind of scrutiny which no secret police service is the 20th century could ever have aspired to achieve. And all of that data is being collected and sold by people whose goal it is to make a profit selling the ability to control human beings by knowing more about themselves than they know. Okay? That’s true of all this information all the time everywhere. The thing you’re working on is simply one of 100,000 implications of that disaster.

Me: Right.

Mr. Moglen: Okay, so have you closed your Facebook account and stopped using Twitter?

Me: Have… I?

Mr. Moglen: Yes, you!

Me: No, I can’t!

Mr. Moglen: (getting agitated) Of course you can, if you don’t want to be in a situation in which you are more heavily surveilled than the KGB or Stasi or Securitate or any other secret police ever surveilled anybody (indistinguishable) and what do you mean you ‘can’t’? I can, how come you can’t?

Me: Well, everyone else is using it.

Mr. Moglen: That’s not true. And besides, if everybody else is using them then I couldn’t be doing what I’m doing. I’m not using them. You’re quite wrong.

Me: Right…

Moglen: Right. But you’re not going to do anything about that. So you’re using them and every time you tag anything or respond to anything or link to anything, you’re informing on your friends. You’re part of the problem, you’re not part of the answer. Why are you calling up to ask me about the problem you’re creating?

Me: Well, I was hoping you might be able to help me think about this particular—

Mr. Moglen: I have helped you. And you have refused to help me back. I’ve told you this is an ecological problem created by people doing a silly thing.

Me: I think the problem is, people have trouble understanding why, like what the real dangers are—

Mr. Moglen: But that’s not the problem! You know what the problem is. The problem is, even though you know what the problem is you’re continuing to make it worse.

Me: It just doesn’t seem like the consequences are that bad.

Mr. Moglen: The problem isn’t people who don’t know! The problem is people like you who do know and go on making it worse. Right?

Me: Well I think for me personally—

Mr. Moglen: Well, now you know. So you should stop now. And not only should you stop, you should get the people around you to stop. If you get the people around you to stop, they’ll get the people around them to stop and we’ll fix the problem. It’s like littering. Why are you calling me up to ask me about the social consequences of your littering without stopping doing it? And then when you tell me a fatuous thing like you ‘can’t,’ it’s perfectly clear that whatever you do here, it won’t be civic journalism because it won’t result in a better world.

Me: Uh, okay. I hear what you’re saying.

Mr. Moglen: No, you don’t actually. You just want to claim you hear what I’m saying.

Me: Well just for me personally right now, the utility seems to—

Mr. Moglen: Oh, no, no, no, no, no, no! You see that’s not true. You injure other people today also using social media. You’ve informed on them. You’ve created more records about them. You’ve added to the problems not of yourself but of other people. If it were as simple as just you’re only hurting yourself I wouldn’t bother pointing it out to you. See, that’s the difference, okay? The reason that this all works is that even when you know you’re hurting other people, you’re too selfish to stop. And there are hundreds of millions of people like you. That’s why it works.

Me: What’s the damage?

Mr. Moglen: Well you called me, you know what the problem is. People lost their homes. People lose their money. People lose their freedom. (??? -ed.)

You know because you saw it, because you’re following this, that Facebook now acknowledges what we said for a long time and they didnt acknowledge, that every single photograph uploaded to Facebook is put through facial recognition software they call PhotoDNA which is used to find people for whom any law enforcement agency in the world is looking. You understand? So every time you upload a photograph to Facebook or put one on Twitter for that matter you are now ratting out anybody in that frame to any police agency in the world that’s looking for them. Some police agencies in the world are evil. That’s a pretty serious thing you’ve just done. But you do it all the time. And when I asked you to stop you tell me you can’t, which is an antisocial thing to say.

Me: That wasn’t a totally serious answer.

Mr. Moglen: Of course it was a totally serious answer. It’s the truth. You’re not going to do anything about fixing this problem. You’re going to claim that it’s just something you’re reporting and then you’re going to go right back to making it worse.

And if you ever call me up again to ask me about yet another one of these things you’ll still be making it worse, because although you can report the problem you can’t take social responsibility for your part in causing the problem.

That’s why I tell you it’s like littering. You should stop doing it before you write in the newspaper that there’s too much garbage on the street.

Me: Okay. Well thanks for your help. I appreciate it.

Mr. Moglen: No it wasn’t helpful, it was hurtful because I told you the story you’re working on is the story of your own anti-social behavior and that of people like you. It’s not helpful.

What you want to know is that somewhere there’s a regulator who might stop the bank. But you don’t want to hear that the regulator we really need to call upon is you, yourself. Right? You don’t want to write that in the newspaper. I guarantee you whatever story you file will treat this as a problem caused by everyone except the readers at The Observer and that will be false. The problem is caused by people who would like a little help spying on their friends. And in a genteel way, that’s what the social media offers. They get to surveil other people. In return for a little bit of the product, they assist the growth of these immense commercial spying operations. The commercial spying operations are used to empower people who have lots to get more from people who have less. They lead to a more unequal society. More unequal in economic terms and more unequal in political terms. The users, as with most stuff that’s dangerous that’s sold to people, the users are the victims and even the stuff you write which purports to be critical will do everything except telling people the central fact, which is they have to stop using.

Me: I think that’s totally relevant and will definitely put it in. (N.B.: In the end, I did not put this in the story for several reasons, not the least of it was the fact that it was late and over word limit.)

Mr. Moglen: Well, we’ll see what gets past your editor. That much there’s a test for. I can see what The Observer publishes. Now, assuming all that, and assuming you’re actually going to give even an instant’s consideration to your own part in creating this ecological nightmare, what else do you want to know?

(At this point, Mr. Moglen seemed genuinely amenable to answering my questions. However, this reporter was a little shook, to be honest.)

Me: Honestly, that’s good. That covers it.

Mr. Moglen: Take care.

Me: Thanks a lot.

Securitate
Follow Adrianne Jeffries on Twitter or via RSS. ajeffries@observer.com

Comments

  1. Mike Caprio says:

    By this same line of reasoning, any web page anyone posts on the World Wide Web about anything is also a target for scrutiny & police involvement.  In other words, any time anyone posts information publicly, privacy is eroded, because clearly everyone’s information is private now as long as they don’t post anything on the Internet?  Now THAT is clearly untrue.

    Everyone’s credit card & SSN is up for sale somewhere.  Cameras monitor people everywhere.  Cell phones are tracked.  Should we give up all electronics and become Luddites?  Because all the same arguments about privacy being eroded hold for practically every aspect of modern society, regardless of whether or not any people use the Internet.  In fact, the Internet may be the only thing keeping us from entering into a dark Orwellian age, BECAUSE of the very fact that we are posting everything we can publicly (Wikileaks, OWS, et cetera).

    1. Ben Popper says:

      But there is a culture of “friction-less sharing” being pushed by Facebook that encourages people to share absolutely everything. It turns tagging photos of your friends online into something people feel compelled to do. 

      1. Anonymous says:

        I don’t feel compelled. Honestly, I hardly use FB for anything other than spamming people my articles.

      2. Mike Caprio says:

        Same here – I literally only go to Facebook to see what my less technically inclined family has to say to me, since they’re not using much else.  It’s the new AOL.  I wonder how many of them even use email any more?

      3.  Yes! This is exactly right: It is the new AOL. That’s why we need federated social networks now, just as much as we needed the internet then. This is one of the main things the FreedomBox Foundation works on.

      4. Mike Caprio says:

        BitTorrent and MuTorrent clients now have a social dimension with their latest alphas. Encrypted P2P can replace most file sharing (share pictures/video with your friends/family directly instead of on Facebook). All MuTorrent needs to do is add more features for sharing status messages, links, and long-form messages, and Facebook is irrelevant.

      5. jack harkness says:

        >need federated social networks now
         
        Identi.ca anyone?

        Youre right about the new AOL!!!
        People keep pushing Facebook on me and I ask why. They say to communicate to which I give them my email and phone number which are universal and you can use without anybody without forcing them to sign up for something.

        If you cant reach me by email and phone during the day, chances are you never will.

      6.  Yes, I talk about Identi.ca in the link in my comment. Since you like Identi.ca and don’t like Facebook, I’m pretty sure you’ll enjoy that article, so please have a read! :)

      7. Mike Caprio says:

        I’d say that cell phone tracking without people knowing is about as frictionless as it gets.  As new electronic tools come into play, authorities find new ways to use them to spy on everyone, that’s just the reality of the world we live in.

        The truth about tagging photos is that it’s ultimately an exercise in narcissism, which Facebook realizes is inherent in many people.  Facebook’s success is simply that it gives people a way to exercise their very human behaviors of stalking people they’re sexually attracted to, bragging to others about their achievements, and filling their free time with games.  It’s all about sex and ego, and FB figured out make a buck on it.

        But the real problems are not that companies like Facebook and Twitter give people information age tools to process their data more effectively (be it the email and relationship status of the hot girl I spotted, or the latest sports tweet).  No, the root problem is that many governments and corporations feel they have license to do whatever they want to people, and too many people don’t have enough programming ability to fight back and use those tools against bad governments and corporations.

        If more people became better at programming, they wouldn’t be programmed.

      8. Facebook offers a honeypot: Here you can do all that.

        People then fail to see the catch: And we will own all you did.

      9. Facebook offers a honeypot: Here you can do all that.

        People then fail to see the catch: And we will own all you did.

  2. Nitasha Tiku says:

    ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥ is how I much I enjoyed living this interview, vicariously.

  3. Vanessa Waite says:

    So in addition to the pull of narcism that makes us create social media accounts, we also allow the monsters of the world to feed on our narcism and publicly commit suicide or let others know they will commit murder and where to find the bodies, scarring all others for life but making a juicy news piece! Yet, no changes are made and like sheep we blindly follow the herders like Zuckerberg to our social and sometimes physical death.

  4. Display Name says:

    Interesting write up, and very amusingly told.

    I was a bit shocked/disappointed with this: “Me: I think that’s totally relevant and will definitely put it in. (N.B.: In the end, I did not put this in the story for several reasons, not the least of it was the fact that it was late and over word limit.)”

    1. Anonymous says:

      Part of the reason why I posted this interview in full.

      1. cjkcjk says:

        What a lame defense for a lame act.

      2. dantynan says:

        first: nice pseudonym dude.

        second: she’s a reporter. you have no effin clue what that means. I do. so I totally understand why this guy never made it into her piece, and I respect her decision to publish this interview instead. 90 percent of the information a journalist gathers never makes it into the story. this was the right way to treat it. 

      3. Anonymous says:

         That’s the prime reason why the so-called ‘journalism’ sucks so hard … thank you for an opportunity to hear it from the horses mouth ;)

        Kudos for publishing the interview in whole at least online but that’s no excuse for the sorry state of the printed ‘journalism’ – that’s why the momentum is shifting towards online news, there is no excuse of ‘there is a word limit so I could not report the most relevant parts of the interview, so sorry’ … oh yeah, sure ;)

      4. dantynan says:

        I invite you to try and write a story as good as the one adrienne wrote about facebook and banking. Find the sources, get them to talk to you, boil down possibly 30 or 40 minutes of conversation from each source into a few cogent and coherent sentences, weave them into a narrative that attempts to be fair to all parties while still taking a point of view, and then add a memorable lead and a smart conclusion — and oh yeah, do it on a tight deadline with an editor breathing down your neck. Go on, I’ll wait. Then we’ll have a nice long chat about the sorry state of print journalism.

      5. Anonymous says:

        Thank you! Yeah. Journalism has a lot of moving parts, Anonymous Internet Commenters.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Eben goes straight to the heart of the matter :-) I also find it strange that those who continually investigate facebook privacy matters are able to continue having an account. It’s like a cancer surgeon continuing to smoke.

  6. decora says:

    reminds me of vegan arguments. white sugar? honey? traitor!

    1. Anonymous says:

      ‘digital veganism’

      1. mulherselvagem says:

        and how is veganism not valid when there are millions (billions?) of starving people in the world. it is just another thing you wanna turn a blind eye to, as evidenced by your dismissive comment.

      2. dantynan says:

        I’m now starting  new group: Vegans Against Facebook. if you want to join VAF, please send me $50 via paypal. thanx.

        dt

        ps: I’m kidding. but if you still want to send me $50, feel free.

      3. Andrew says:

        If you’d consider starting up a vegan steakhouse (your previous comment got me thinking) I’d consider throwing some money your way =)

        Located in Australia is preferable!

      4. dantynan says:

        Veganburgers, made from 100% vegans — yumm!

  7. Phred says:

    He’s right. You (the reporter) are part of the problem.

    Also slightly concerning that you genuinely don’t seem to understand his answers. Perhaps English is not your first language?

    1. Not pulling punches says:

      Perhaps the writer is an idiot

      1. Anonymous says:

        I understand his answers and agree with much of what he says. I’m familiar with his opinions, have liked him ever since a friend showed me a lecture he gave that was on YouTube. 

        But I disagree that I need to quit Facebook in order to report a story that involves Facebook + something some people would consider a privacy violation. It’s not as if I’m writing a blog called FACEBOOK VIOLATES YOUR PRIVACY. I am a tech reporter and sometimes I write about Facebook and sometimes I write about privacy violations. The other thing that surprised me was how aggressive and angry he was about it. As soon as I said I use Twitter and Facebook, it became a hostile interview.

      2. Ted Lemon says:

        You were false-teaming him. Implicit in your question is the preceding statement: “we agree that Facebook ought to protect our privacy.” In order for him to answer the question you asked, he had to agree to that.

        But he doesn’t agree to that. He believes, correctly, I think, that if we care about privacy, we have to protect it ourselves. We can’t ask some faceless regulator to protect it, because we’ve already violated it so profoundly that that regulator is really powerless to do anything substantive to protect us anymore.

        I think his reaction was a bit inarticulate, but I think the reason he reacted that way was that he wanted you to hear his real position, and simply pointing out that you were false-teaming him wouldn’t have accomplished that.

        In any case, the outcome was good: you published what he said, and that’s really all we can ask of you—it’s not your responsibility to *agree* with him. Thanks for doing that—I appreciated reading his take on this, even though it was somewhat orthogonal to the question you were trying to get him to answer.

      3. Anonymous says:

        I did not mean to imply that I think FB ought to protect anyone’s privacy. I asked him if banks using FB data is a privacy issue — regardless of whethe the responsibility is on the banks, on Facebook, or on users.

      4. Anonymous says:

        Banks using FB data is obviously a privacy issue, you didn’t even need to ask him that. If your story was to find out what could be done about it, he told you, close your FB account. Facebook and the banks are faceless entities that make money off of you. They aren’t going to stop squeezing every nickel out of your personal information until you stop giving it to them. 

      5. Anonyzeb says:

        I also wanted to thank you for posting your entire conversation with Moglen.  The man is a hero.

        And I appreciate your work Mr. Jeffries, but to ask a man like that the question you did is nearly an insult due to the brutal obviousness of the answer.  Duh yep, FB + Banks = privacy problem!  Any 5 year old could say that my friend.

        So your question was a bit naive to be honest; you would have been better served by him if you delivered a more thoughtful inquiry upfront.   Maybe also without the …. like..  hesitant pause in the middle of the question.  :P

        Just teasing.  :)

      6. Anonymous says:

        I needed him to articulate the privacy problem. It’s not obvious. Can you tell me exactly what the problem is? Banks using FB data — so what? They already have piles of data on you. What is the damage done by FB collecting big piles of data? I have a personal opinion about it but it’s not obvious, and many privacy advocates seem to have a knee jerk reaction to questions like this.
        The vast majority of FB users never think about this stuff. And it’s better for my story if I can get a smart and authoritative person like Eben Moglen to say exactly what the problem is.

      7. TheQuietAmerican says:

        Other than the fact facebook activities are massively irrelevant to what the bank is supposed to be doing? They might as well ask for medical records since it offers nothing substantive about your ability or lack there of to pay off a loan. It’s profiling for the sake of it, If you had a tough time figuring that you probably couldn’t have asked the right questions.

        It would be a privacy issue had you kept that information to your self, but on the basis of publishing it in a public place, you be fucked yo.

      8. Anonymous says:

        See to me, the danger is in what could happen to the database after FB builds it. Employers could buy access to it. Governments. FB could go under and be bought by an insurance company. And so on. Minority Report type shit.

      9. Andrew says:

        “Can you tell me exactly what the problem is? Banks using FB data — so what? They already have piles of data on you.”

        I believe a good answer comes down to a single word: scale.  There is a lot written on the concept of ‘Big Data’ that may be worth relating to this if you want to explore it further.

        Basically, there is a lot more information on people available.  But that’s not in itself the issue.  The scale of information, and the technologies we use to store it, make it much easier to ‘link’ relevant datapoints together.  Banks can find out things about you like they always could, but they can now also find out things that were once too difficult (not feasible) or impossible (insufficient data).  The sudden jump in personal data available to corporations makes us feel uncomfortable.  “They can find out the credit ratings of my friends and children?!  How dare they?!”  Etc.

        What Facebook does – and it does this well – is facilitate these connections.  It collects so much data that you can find out almost anything about a person, as long as you can think of a good algortihm.  (If you claim to be an advertiser, getting access to personal data isn’t as hard as it should be.)

        Facebook is a very popular hub of personal data, much bigger than we (at least, countries that use it) have ever seen before.

      10. Andrew says:

        To clarify my above comment, the ‘privacy issue’, as I see it, is that we’re used to a certain level of assumed privacy, even when we’re in public.  Recent innovations in digital technology, and Facebook in particular, has strongly (putting it lightly) challenged this assumption of privacy.

        Society is struggling to catch up to the quickly evolving technologies we rapidly upgrade.

      11. Bbhack says:

        Banks not using available information to make decisions would be a violation of their fiduciary duty. Remember, they’re not asking for the information, your putting it out there, and then asking whether they should look at it. Do you play poker with all the cards showing?

      12. Anonymous says:

        You could apply the same logic to FB: not using info ruthlessly would be a violation of their fiduciary duty to their shareholders.

      13. Bbhack says:

        Right, and being so ham-handed about it makes many think “hmm”.

        Only if they are not fooling people with their TOS is it “OK”, and not changing it all the time either.

        My fair warning was the second I created an account, and about 200 people I should know popped up, mostly accurate. I hardly ever go back.

      14. mulherselvagem says:

        are u implying in here that the shareholders of fb are entities other than the banks?

      15. Anonymous says:

        Yes. FB has other investors that represent a diversity of interests, including angel investors and venture capital firms that represent institutional investors as well as high net worth individuals. Also, it’s slated to go public this year.

        FB’s investors listed here: http://www.crunchbase.com/company/facebook

      16. Vicki Brown says:

        Which, oddly, none of the commenters here seem to have noticed.

      17. Anony Mous says:

        “But I disagree that I need to quit Facebook in order to report a story that involves Facebook”

        That’s not what he told you. He said you need to quit FB because using it causes problems for others. He outlined some of them (not all by any means.)

        FB — between the data mining, the involuntary presence and archiving of third party data, the odious terms of service — is exactly the wrong way to go about social media. There’s no actual privacy, and that’s by design.

        If you don’t care that you are hurting others, and further, encouraging yet others to go on hurting yet others, then FB is the place to be.

      18. Anonymous says:

        The littering analogy was, don’t write about littering unless you first stop littering

        ie

        don’t write about Facebook and privacy unless you first stop using Facebook

      19. Anonymous says:

        Thank you for putting up the transcript. I think his analogy was broader than that. Littering is obviously bad, if you can’t see that and do it yourself then you shouldn’t be writing about littering. 

        i.e. 

        “Facebook sharing your information with the banks” is obviously bad, if you can’t see that and allow it with your information then you shouldn’t be writing about “Facebook sharing your information with the banks”. 

        The funny thing about this whole thing is that in order to post here, betabeat asked me to login (facebook, twitter, etc.).

      20. PeterisP says:

        Moglen’s point is that there is no such problem as “Facebook sharing your information to banks” – the problem is that “average guys like you are sharing your and other people’s information to banks and police agencies”. I.e., facebook is just involved, but the guilt lies with the users who are harming other users by publishing everything.

      21. Mike Caprio says:

        By this logic, everyone needs to completely stop what they’re doing on the Internet.  You posting the comment above is no different than publishing information using Facebook, and me responding to it gives the same kind of “connection” information as if we were connected on a social network.

        Everyone on the Internet publishing anything is guilty.

  8. 0x00b014f0 says:

    I totally have to agree with the crazy screaming guy on this one. I closed my FB account for the same reasons he’s outlining. There isn’t a way around the information collection — which is presumably what you were calling him looking for. The only way of avoiding it is to avoid things like FB all together…

  9. 0x00b014f0 says:

    I totally have to agree with the crazy screaming guy on this one. I closed my FB account for the same reasons he’s outlining. There isn’t a way around the information collection — which is presumably what you were calling him looking for. The only way of avoiding it is to avoid things like FB all together…

  10. APai says:

    Mr. Moglen is right on the money! facebook can never ever be trusted. twitter at least does a bit more but people giving out information will end up in all the countries relying on social networking to create the perfect police state. unless poeple stop giving all their info to a few corporations.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Sorry, but the guy is right on this one. Social Networking should never be what it is at it’s current state. The cost outweighs any possible profit.

    1. Mike Caprio says:

      The same can be said of using Google’s search engine.  Replace the words “social networking” with “Internet Search.”

      1. LibreWorld says:

        Yes, exactly! And Eben would tell you that the same exact thing he said about FB applies to Google which he has been speaking about as much often as about FB so I do not get what is your point if you mean what you said in a sarcastic tone … if not then point taken, yes it does apply to Google’s search engine as well – that’s why I’m using DuckDuckGo, there are solutions if you care to look for them and truly care about solving the problem instead of finding convenient excuses not to and engage in what Eben rightly calls anti-social behavior – just like the ‘reporter’ writing this article.

        Eben was even right about him not putting what he promised in the printed article! And he came up with such a silly excuse, it’s so transparent … Moglen obviously knows 100x more of how the world actually operates. He said the reporter exactly how it is and as directly as he could … and he obviously didn’t get it! I do not believe he realizes it or is consciously a ‘bad person’ but it’s exactly that kind of people that cause this world to be so f*cked up… a little self-reflection wouldn’t hurt.

      2. LibreWorld says:

        I see that the reporter is a woman – I used “he” in previous comment so just replace it with she, sorry ;) although she genuinely seems to not understand his answers as others have pointed out … that’s baffling to me. It’s really not a good sign that there are so many people with so superficial understanding of the world completely oblivious to deeper issues and the actual *causes* of things rather then symptoms.

  12. I need to share this article on Facebook. Ang G+. And Twitter.

  13. DieFacebookDie says:

    Mr Eben is soo right. I refuse to register on FB and twitter for the reasons he mentions.

    1. tada says:

      I’m on facebook for the reasons he mentions. It’s the only way I can remove content others post about me (removing tags in pictures, comments about me, refusing friends request, etc).

    2. tada says:

      I’m on facebook for the reasons he mentions. It’s the only way I can remove content others post about me (removing tags in pictures, comments about me, refusing friends request, etc).

      1. Anonymous says:

        I understand this point (and I do a similar thing) but understand that you have NO real control: you cannot remove content others post about you, you can only hide it away from sight. It’s still stored by Facebook and retrievable, if needed. Also, by carefully managing your friend requests, you are also giving more information about yourself to Facebook. In fact, they can infer things about you simply from your connectivity in the social graph that you might even not know about yourself, even if you (and others) don’t leak any more information about you. The more you try to make your “friends list” accurate, the more information you’re giving away.

        The only advantage of having a Facebook account is to have an idea of what _some_ people say and post about you (your facebook friends). You still have no idea if anyone else you don’t know posted a picture of you (which can be automatically tagged, even without human intervention) and you have no real control over availability of information.

        The problem itself is not sharing, but the fact that it is done in a centralized way. And this is not a theoretical threat model: this is real. But, of course, the journalist was more concerned about the fact that her precious little choices were being questioned than the underlying reason why they were being questioned. In the end, given what the journalist chose to publish, I’d say Eben seems to have had the correct reaction: why should he waste his time on people who are not interested in understanding or helping to end the problem? The journalist seems more interested in trying to paint Eben in a bad light than trying to explore and understand the underlying issues, as well as informing her readers on those underlying issues. I’d say it backfired: it just makes the journalist seem butthurt because Eben showed how ignorant she is about the issues she’s interviewing him about. Protip: a good journalist does research BEFORE an interview.

      2. Anony Mous says:

        Not only that — I don’t even *have* a FB (or Google+, or etc.) account — never even opened one, but I can’t stop *others* from posting information about me, pictures, etc. I do what I can to minimize that kind of invasion of my privacy, but there isn’t much that can be done.

      3. Anon says:

         You are aware that I can track your posts over several websites as you are using DISQUS login instead of creating different site log ins? You are not interested in privacy.

      4. Anonymous says:

        I understand this point (and I do a similar thing) but understand that you have NO real control: you cannot remove content others post about you, you can only hide it away from sight. It’s still stored by Facebook and retrievable, if needed. Also, by carefully managing your friend requests, you are also giving more information about yourself to Facebook. In fact, they can infer things about you simply from your connectivity in the social graph that you might even not know about yourself, even if you (and others) don’t leak any more information about you. The more you try to make your “friends list” accurate, the more information you’re giving away.

        The only advantage of having a Facebook account is to have an idea of what _some_ people say and post about you (your facebook friends). You still have no idea if anyone else you don’t know posted a picture of you (which can be automatically tagged, even without human intervention) and you have no real control over availability of information.

        The problem itself is not sharing, but the fact that it is done in a centralized way. And this is not a theoretical threat model: this is real. But, of course, the journalist was more concerned about the fact that her precious little choices were being questioned than the underlying reason why they were being questioned. In the end, given what the journalist chose to publish, I’d say Eben seems to have had the correct reaction: why should he waste his time on people who are not interested in understanding or helping to end the problem? The journalist seems more interested in trying to paint Eben in a bad light than trying to explore and understand the underlying issues, as well as informing her readers on those underlying issues. I’d say it backfired: it just makes the journalist seem butthurt because Eben showed how ignorant she is about the issues she’s interviewing him about. Protip: a good journalist does research BEFORE an interview.

  14. 6502 says:

    Eben was right.

  15. Ian Stoffberg says:

    Its pretty hilarious that you post this interview highlighting your lack of grasp of the situation.  Think of this guy who has to put up with a stream of journalists asking questions about a topic that they clearly misunderstand.  His analogy about litter seems like him trying to explain it to you and you still refuse to get what he is saying.

    I wish more people were like this guy, passionate about a cause and eloquent.

  16. AntiStasi says:

    Thank you Eben. To hell with facecrook and its Stasi ilk.

  17. kennethh says:

    So then if I understand correctly the ‘social internet’ is one giant spy-ring? Don’t get me wrong I agree that the majority of social networks are in fact used for such purposes, solely alone I might add, it just seems that the reporter did not do their job correctly. I still have questions. Like, can the same be said of telephone & cell networks and obviously the answer is yes but then why does Mr. Moglen use that service? So many questions, such bad reporting/interviewing. Don’t get me wrong I think Mr. Moglen make valid points and I also think highly of the freedombox and distributed social network inititatives.

    1. Björn says:

      Um, yes? Haven’t you heard the “you are not the customer, you are the product” line? Think about it. Every web site now has a Like Button, that means Facebook can trace you on every web site you visit. That is spying. Telephone networks can (and I think are used) to infer your social contacts, but I don’t think what you talk about on the phone is automatically logged (not sure if it would be legal, or would be possible with a warrant). With Facebook, everything you do is logged and you have given consent to the logging.

      1. Joseph Whitehead says:

        *without a warrant
        The story about the Panopticon should be read by every Facebook user.

  18. Ee says:

    The professor is right.

  19. Aswath Rao says:

    Decentralized social network like Diaspora may not address the professor’s concerns. My “pod” may be leaking information and you may not even know it. At least in the case of Facebook millions of eyes are inspecting “privacy violations”; will we have an equally effective mechanism when it has been decentralized like Diaspora has done. An effective alternate is to run “unsocial network” where your content stays in your server and your friends with who you want to share access your server upon authenticating themselves.

  20.  Facebook is making people transparent. It’s making people open up about themselves on a global scale. Yes, they WILL be judged for it by those who abuse power. This is what happened in Egypt. ** Yes, the very scenario that Eben Boglen fears happened in Egypt… and the result was nothing short of revolution. **Is this voluntary transparency by private citizens a good thing or a bad thing? … well that’s a philosophical conversation that may never be resolved, but as long as they’re aware of the risks, they are consciously accepting the possibility that they may be oppressed because they’re truthful with the world. There are many possible outcomes from this new paradigm of social interaction, but one of those possible outcomes is the awakening of the masses to the abuses of the powerful… something which has previously been much more difficult a task due to our most common kneejerk reaction of living a sheltered, private life out of fear of repercussion.

    1. though facebook also censored the user-to-user messages and can follow chains of interaction, so it is the perfect tool to stop such a revolution in its track by finding and silencing potential leaders.

    2. though facebook also censored the user-to-user messages and can follow chains of interaction, so it is the perfect tool to stop such a revolution in its track by finding and silencing potential leaders.

    3. though facebook also censored the user-to-user messages and can follow chains of interaction, so it is the perfect tool to stop such a revolution in its track by finding and silencing potential leaders.

      1. Joseph Whitehead says:

        Much like what happened to the ex-Gestapo at the end of WWII.  All those files they collected came to bite them in the ***.

      2. but the ones in the US did not get their files disclosed that quickly. Because they won.

  21. Anony Mous says:

    So, DID you close your FB and twitter accounts?

    Seems to me that you were clearly and sufficiently informed about the damage you’re doing to everyone else… so, have you stopped?

    1. Gnarl says:

      Reading the interview and all the comments I still don’t see what damage having a FB account is doing. Especially when I don’t use it to post things, but even if I did I don’t see the real dangers with it.

    2. Mike Caprio says:

      You know, we’re all potentially damaging the human race by letting our electromagnetic signals leak off the planet into space. If an alien race with much more advanced technology detects us, we are likely to be abused by them in various ways.

      I’m actually not joking, but I’m also not certain how precisely we’re going to go about “going dark” electromagnetically for “galactic privacy’s” sake.

  22. Greg4 says:

    Moglen sounds like a complete jerk. If he or anyone does not care to use Facebook (or do any of the other myriad things that leave a record of one’s activities and associations), that’s his prerogative. But the rest of the world makes less absolutist decisions, based on personal preferences, about what to keep private and what to disclose. This includes what we allow our friends access to, whether on social media or through other means. He can screw off.

    1. Adrian says:

      Did you miss the part where your posts are creating more data, potentially, about your friends? This is without their acknowledgment or approval. It isn’t just about you or your prerogative.

      1. Greg4 says:

        No, I didn’t miss it. Their decision to have friends on a social network is tacit approval of being associated with the activity of those friends. Everyone has the prerogative to participate or not, including one’s social network contacts.

      2. Adrian says:

        Unfortunately, I can’t control stuff that’s associated with me on FB even though all I might wish to do is to have a list of friends I can contact. Their babbling and photo sharing, where it involves me, is something that gives FB more data on me, without my consent.

      3. gelatin says:

        And when your friends sign up for an app, the app developer can easily query some of your information. thanks you facebook! 

      4. Andrew says:

        There’s a major issue of consent here that isn’t casually diffused by claiming users are complicit by being part of the system.

        And besides, that argument doesn’t apply when people can post things about me on Facebook even if I do not have or want my own account.

  23. Foo says:

    if any of you folks have any friends on facebook, then eben is talking about you.

    find new friends otherwise you’re just as much as hypocrite as you say this reporter is.

  24. Fellow Traveler says:

    Moglen is right.

    Anyone using Facebook is worse than someone who litters.

    The worst nightmares of “1984” and other dystopian future visions, are made possible by Facebook and the iPhone, yet everyone contributes to their power with a smile on their face.  

    Our children will pay the consequences.

  25. Matthew says:

    By the same token, every person who owns a bank account should close it – because bank accounts can be seized and searched. Every time you accept or make a payment, you are informing possibly corrupt police states about this. The fact that you may be a free(ish) person in a free(ish) country is of no consequence because the bank can, at any time, decide to do business in a not-so-free country. So that payment you made to amnesty international? Well, thank you very much, you’re now funding terrorism. Think about that. You want to free a person that a corrupt government doesn’t want to be free. They get hold of your bank records, and decide to label you a terrorist.

    Look at yourself. Now back to me. Now back to you. You’re in chains, in a makeshift [enter middle eastern country name] prison. Bloodied, battered and bruised. Now back to me. Now back to you. Now you’re not (I hope). You are reasonably wealthy (by virtue of the computing device at your fingertips) and in a free(ish) country.

    There are people, like Mr. Moglen, who take the hard line, the extremist view of privacy. They are, or at least will be shown to be at some time in the future, scarily right. Because human beings are rubbish at maintaining freedoms and liberties and respecting the freedoms of others.These people are needed in society, because they show up those people who want to take our freedoms away. Without them, the societal norm inexorably shifts towards the side of bad, to the gain of the greedy and the cursed corrupt. Their advice is solid gold, but a solid gold set of shackles is still a set of shackles. Use your own judgment, and inform people of what they are letting themselves in for. Fight for the freedoms of others, not just your own. But don’t leave the uneducated on their own unprotected.

    1. Joseph Whitehead says:

      Still, you can use cash.

  26. Danny says:

    I see Moglen received his doctorate midway through the conversation but then immediately had it revoked.

    1. Anonymous says:

      Hah, thank you. Fixed.

  27. Sunda says:

    awesome interview.

  28. Björn says:

    Sorry, but you call somebody you describe as “militant”, then say things like “It just doesn’t seem like the consequences are that bad” (yeah right, that is why it seemed like a promising story to you), and finally ” In the end, I did not put this in the story…”. I think Moglen was very civil to you given the circumstances. You have just reinforced every bad prejudice about journalists. What you want is a nice story, not change something. And you got it, yelling activists are the perfect entertainment that will your readers make not take things seriously and continue to use Facebook. Congratulations!

    1. Anonymous says:

      He didn’t say what the real problem with Facebook having all this data is. When I pressed he said something nonsense about people losing their homes and foreign police agencies having access to FB data. People have a hard time understanding the implications of FB’s database (Minority Report). They think they’re just posting photos of their friends and it’s NBD. You have to spell it out for them. 

      1. Anonymous says:

        Somebody needs to spell it out for you too it appears as he said *exactly* what is wrong with centralized DBs like FB – it’s not his fault that you can not see the connections between the problems he outlined and FB … you call the profound problems mentioned by him “some nonsense”? Are you actually freaking serious? can anybody be this clueless … I’m honestly wondering, you say you follow his work – apparently either you’re actually not or everything he says flies right over your head otherwise you’d know exactly what he’s talking about.

        You wonder why he was agitated by your questions? Maybe it’s because in the context of what he was talking about for such a long time those questions are totally uninformed, superficial and incompetent – and you refuse to go any deeper and identify the real problems – that’s extremely irritating to people who actually do care and want to solve problems instead of just writing about them without any intention to actually do something about it ever.

        People who are in the business of trying to change the world for the better are not too sympathetic to such an opportunism.

  29. Davey says:

    Thank you for this article, it was the final push I needed to deactivate my facebook account, which I just did.

    1. Anonymous says:

      Congrats. Deactivate is different from delete, though.

  30. Dieter says:

    After reading the whole article, the title is good evidence that you still do not understand.  He did not get on your case for having Facebook.  He got on your case for having Facebook while writing about all the harmful consequences of everyone Facebook.

    The litter analogy is a good one.  If you as a reporter aren’t going to do anything about the situation after your research, then why should anyone else?  And if nothing is going to change, then why are you a reporter?  I would think that being able to research real problems with modern society and affect change would be the main point of being a reporter.  What else is there?  (Money?)

    I really don’t understand why you say you “can’t” quit Facebook.

    1. Anonymous says:

      The reporter’s responsibility is to report the truth. I’m not an activist or an advocate. 

      1. the title also was a good catch to get Facebook readers to look at it, I think. And once they get the information, some might start to think.

      2. the title also was a good catch to get Facebook readers to look at it, I think. And once they get the information, some might start to think.

    2. dantynan says:

      because you can’t write about Facebook if you’re not on Facebook.

      it’s like hiring a vegan to write about his favorite steakhouses. not very authoritative. 

      1. Andrew says:

        “because you can’t write about Facebook if you’re not on Facebook.”

        Actually, that’s not true.  I’m writing a thesis that frequently discusses Facebook and I’m not on there.  It totally depends on the content, and even then I can’t think of a story where it is necessary – unless it specifically requires a first-hand account, which could actually be obtained through interviews anyway.

        The interview above wouldn’t have produced the same result if the author wasn’t on Facebook, of course, but a discussion on Facebook, privacy and banks can be written easily without a first-hand account of Facebook usage.

      2. dantynan says:

        You can write anything you like, but it won’t be as well informed. Moglen isn’t on Facebook and he has some real misconceptions about how parts of it operate.

    3. Anonymous says:

      Also, the title is self-deprecating. 

  31. Anonymous says:

    Not sure how many people were killed by Stalin and Hitler. There were no social media back then.

  32. Perhaps I am out of line, but I really don’t see what the big deal about privacy is. If you are involved with anything that you don’t want to be public, you probably shouldn’t be doing it/saying it/supporting it to begin with… If the problem is that others are concerned about their privacy, then they too should rethink their actions instead of relying on their “friends” not to post compromising information on social media. 

    1. Anonymous says:

      The Eric Schmidt defense!

    2. Anonymous says:

      The Eric Schmidt defense!

    3. would you send me a photograph of your bedroom as it is right now? no renicing.

      Or to use something less sensitive: your kitchen?

      Or something worse: your toilet?

      And have it sent to your future employer with a note “rate of toilet cleaning below standard”?

  33. tony baldwin says:

    Funny how this was tweeted 400 times and liked on Facebook 400 times (at the time of my reading).

  34. shackra says:

    GTFO! XD
    Eben moglen is right, Richard Stallman too, so, I’m going to delete my twitter account now

  35. Gypsy says:

    so you still have facebook then, adrienne? :)

    1. Anonymous says:

      No, but I really only use it to spam people my articles. My true crime is Twitter. I’m on that shit all day.

  36. Anonymous says:

    So, did you delete your Facebook account? :)

    1. Anonymous says:

      Negative, I need it to spam people my articles.

  37. Anonymous says:

    So, did you delete your Facebook account? :)

  38. Actually I think that Moglen is right, though his approach might not be the most Efficient one.

    Considering that he got you to write this article, which shows the problem very clearly (I can still feel the emotion), his approach might not have been so bad after all. Thanks for the well written interview!

    What you missed is that there is an answer to what he said: These tools provide ways for speaking publicly and when used for that goal they are quite efficient.

    Though then it would be even more efficient to directly use a tool in which all content is legally available to the public and not owned by a single entity, namely identi.ca.

  39. xxxooo says:

    If he’s right then I had better just get rid of my computer entirely.  Definitely we should never use the internet at all, because it creates so many privacy issues.  It is even worse than social media, though, because people can more easily pretend that what goes over the networks are somehow private.

    1. Anonymous says:

      Privacy invasion is all over the web services we use for free.

  40. xxxooo says:

    If he’s right then I had better just get rid of my computer entirely.  Definitely we should never use the internet at all, because it creates so many privacy issues.  It is even worse than social media, though, because people can more easily pretend that what goes over the networks are somehow private.

  41. Eating less meat would suffice, too, so veganism is a too strong answer.

    On the other hand, not using Facebook is a good answer to the problem that facebook gets too much data.

    1. Anonymous says:

      What about putting fake data on Facebook? They rely on users to be honest. 

      1. Do you think they cannot correlate your data with the data of your friends? Have one friend upload his addressbook in a blunder, and all your fun lies are irrelevant. They only rely on a fraction of their users being honest. And they make sure that handing out your real data gets you benefits, so some of your friends will do it.

      2. Anonymous says:

        You’re giving them a lot of credit.

      3. I’m pretty sure I could do that myself.

  42. the alternative would be not using it for social interaction, but only for activism.

  43. moglenFan says:

    Eben Moglen is right. Always wondered why I had the account, this article pushed me to do something about it. Clossing my account is something I should have done a long time ago.

  44. Steven McDonald says:

    I wanted to Flattr this, just because you had the guts to publish this interview. But somewhat ironically, I don’t see a Flattr link, only options to share this on Twitter and Facebook.

    1. Anonymous says:

      You can always send Bitcoins. 1JjS8hiaPK1YEWPKdCvZTyG5Xko157qQEu

  45. Obvi says:

    Nice sour grapes. Immature girls like you are the reason I rarely reveal I’m female online.

  46. Ed says:

    I’m not sure why it’s seen as a binary issue here. All of your information stored vs. none. Am I the only one that uses Facebook but only posts what I am ok with people knowing? 

  47. T.L. Winslow says:

    All social media are potentially dangerous, but Facebook is the Beast, and is beyond dangerous.  Flee the ZuckerBeast!

    Why:

    http://boycottfacebookblog.blogspot.com/

  48. Nsbanzai9 says:

    I don’t know.. still.  I have an intuitional prejudice that a lot of the industrial revolution was a repetition of taking the benefits and avoiding the consequences or fooling ourselves into believing we avoided consequences.  I know that delusional optimism is a survival strategy.  I can’t understand why I should avoid public dialog since the risk goes both ways ie. down and up the hierarchy.  It seems that Moglen is asking us to stay away from the City Square because the mayor can’t be trusted.  I want it both ways.

    1. he asks you to stay away of the city hall, because the mayor put up a rule which says that everything you say there belongs to him – even when you only wisper it to a friend.

  49. Sarah Downey says:

    Haha, I love this guy.  And he’s totally right.  Now, onto closing my Facebook account…

  50. Dan says:

    addrianne: 

    the piece you ended up with was great, by the way. I blogged about it for itworld shortly after I saw it. really nice writing and reporting. bravo.this guy has a point, sort of. but he’s clearly also just a bit nutso. you can’t write about facebook (as I do) and not have a facebook account. plain and simple.

    and while people do volunteer too much data about themselves, the harm can be mitigated if the companies collecting that information (facebook etc) are ethical and follow basic privacy guidelines and don’t become a tool of the surveillance state. that is the rub. and the way to get them to do that is write stories like the one you did, not hole up in the digital equivalent of the unibomber’s cabin in montana. 

    finally: good way to keep your cool. I’ve had a few interviews blow up on me like that, and it’s hard to maintain a calm reportorial perspective instead of just ripping the guy’s head off. 

    cheers

    dthttp://www.itworld.com/blogs/6090 

    1. “if”, but facebook does not.

  51. Andrew says:

    Actually, if you’d consider starting up a vegan steakhouse (your earlier comment got me thinking) I’d consider throwing some money your way =)

    Located in Australia is preferable!

  52. user unknown says:

    So let’s call it Anti-social-networks from now on. 

  53. capt jack harkness says:

    First of all, please ask for a refund on english college classes which churn out students who write “..Like, Legit Yells at Me”.
    Like, really?

    Scary screaming guy is one of the most respected legal minds in the country and THE legal reference when it comes to Free Software-Open Source in the US.
    I could find about 5-6 ways to introduce him and none that the author used.
    Eben Moglen is the founde of the Software Freedom Law Center, THE reference point for free software, lawsuits and such. Before that he was the counsel and board member for two decades of the FSF. he was also the spearhead for the consultation process which led to V3 of the GPL.
    Which is why I thought the intro to be a bit weird: how do you skip his well known prior gigs and mention that he was ‘the inspiration for Diapora’?
    Its as if the writer was clueless about free software and read the last two parts of his Wiki page.

    I sometimes talk to high school kids about free software I can give a 50min lecture and the students will have a good idea of what it is, things it stands for (the 4 freedoms) and the reason why. So I have a good idea how someone sounds like when they seem a bit out of their element.
    The princinples of freedom that the FSF, SFLC and others defend are pretty easy to grasp but by the ???? at the mention of freedom you can tell the author isnt versed in this.
    This isnt meant to insult or demean. We all have different interests. Some people can spend days reading about their latest toy have a new function and drooling over the possibilities. While some people will see a consumer society out of control where a new phones every year is considered normal (and sooooo green because we have to push the meme of hte day.)
    Read the top ‘tech/toy’ sites around and the author wont seem out of place.
    its about instant gratification and the pop culture of consumerism with its own deities and altars and holy scriptures.
    The Raspberry Pi (or OLPC) isnt as sexy as another phone. its groundbreaking and a godsend to many but it wont produce sexy ads, cool presentations and make you a better person like cool toys.

    i dont blame the author for not being upt to date on everything but am always dismayed at the lack of curiosity than ‘tech’ writers have.
    maybe its the result of a system where nothing is debated, nothing that isnt regurgiated can and will become the official line of thought. science and technology is about advancement in learning, about discoveries and doing things that were unthinkable only a few years ago. instead, the ‘new geeks’ are nothing more than consumers informed about their purchases.
    Id be disappointed if this was the exception and not the rule.

    Btw, if you ever interview Michael Jordan, dont introduce him as a part owner of a franchise or an ex-baseball player. It is what he does and has done but Jordan will and should always be remembered as the greatest NBA player of his generation.

  54. Timmeh says:


    FOSDEM 2011 lecture:
    Why Political Liberty Depends on Software Freedom More Than Ever

    Btw, dont be insulted about Moglen, he publicly (verbally) bitch slapped Tim Oreilly a few years ago:
    http://radar.oreilly.com/2007/08/my-tonguelashing-from-eben-mog.html

    So youre in great company even if you came across as clueless and unprepared.

  55. Blue says:

    I feel like almost no one criticizing the journalist on this post string is acknowledging that journalism isn’t (or probably shouldn’t be, anyway), about preaching to the choir. A great, informative article can introduce people to ideas that are new to them, and make them aware of issues that haven’t come into the circles they usually run in. In order to do that, things need to be laid out clearly and simply.

    Most of the posters here are obviously in Dr. Moglen’s choir…I get it. But because you’re familiar with this, please remember that what seems offensively, patently obvious to you is probably not so clear to someone who has never thought about this (and that doesn’t make those people idiots and fools that you should verbally shit on). Journalists and interviewers sometimes ask questions they themselves may already know the answers to and/or have opinions about, because it’s helpful to their readers/listeners/whatever to see the answer.

    Journalism shouldn’t just be for the people who already agree with it, and if you think that anyone who doesn’t already agree with your point of view is an disdain-worthy idiot who doesn’t deserve your attention or respect, then you’re never going to convince anyone to listen to you. Get out of your bubble if you want to spread your word.

  56. Reblogged this on JC Lapointe on www and commented:
    Now that we know, what are we going to do about it ?