‘Hack The Planet’ The Ethics of Hacktivism

In this week’s lecture I was introduced to ‘The Conscience of a Hacker’ a manifesto written by hacker called +++The Mentor+++ in 1986. Reading it I couldn’t help but be reminded of the ‘The Cyberpunk Manifesto’ written by Christian Kirtchev in 1997. I took the liberty of chopping a few bits of each to highlight their similarity.

This is our world now, the world of the electron and the switch, the beauty of the baud… We make use of a service already existing without paying for what could be dirt-cheap if it wasn’t run by profiteering gluttons, and you call us criminals. We explore and you call us criminals. We seek after knowledge and you call us criminals. You build atomic bombs, you wage wars, you murder, cheat, and lie to us and try to make us believe it’s for our own good, yet we’re the criminals…You may stop this individual, but you can’t stop us all- after all, we’re all alike.

We are the ELECTRONIC MINDS, a group of free-minded rebels. We live in Cyberspace, we are everywhere, we know no boundaries. We are those, the different. Technological rats, swimming in the ocean of information… We are the student hacking computer systems, exploring the depth of his reach…Our society is sick and needs to be healed. The cure is a change in the system… We fight for freedom of information. We fight for freedom of speech and press…. We are a unit. We are Cyberpunks.

This was my first time reading ‘The Conscious Hacker’ but ‘The Cyberpunk Manifesto’ is something that I have read countless times before as I am obsessed its anarchist undertones and the idealistic sense of freedom it promises. After looking at the two comparatively it really made me notice how hacking is so closely tied to cyberpunk ideologies. In cyberpunk novels the outcast anti-hero inevitably breaks all the rules in order to take down the evil establishment and save the world from its villainous clutches. While this is an epic perception of hacking that after watching films like Hackers and shows like MR Robot I so desperately want to be true, I have to ask myself, can the act of hacking ever be as justified as it is in cyberpunk works of fiction? Can the real world be broken down into black and white simplifications of heroes vs villains? Is there really such a thing as Hacktivism?

 

So this week I set out to determine what the ethical perspectives of hacking are. There are those that see hacking as a way of standing up for injustices and liberating people from imposed censorship. This act of hacking is seen as justified by the perpetrators as they believe the censorship is unfairly enforced and therefore a law that deserves to be broken. An example of this would be the collaboration between The Cult of the Dead Cow and The Hong Kong Blondes who launched attacks against the Chinese government to protest government censorship of Internet content. They compromised a firewall system in China, allowing Internet users in that country unrestricted access to the Web for a brief period of time and they also defaced several Chinese governmental websites.

hacktivistswithanoblecause

Hacktivism is often confused with cyberterrorism but a boundary between the two can be drawn depending on one’s definition of ‘damage’. It is important to remember that not all hacking involves breaking into systems, spying or even damaging data. Hacktivisim can be as simple as a denial-of-service attack where all that occurs is a mass volume of people generate so much traffic on a website that it crashes and no legitimate users can access it. This type of hacking is seen as a mere extension civil disobedience into the internet realm. “Civil disobedience entails the peaceful breaking of unjust laws, it does not condone violent or destructive acts against its enemies, focusing instead on nonviolent means to expose wrongs, raise awareness, and prohibit the implementation of perceived unethical laws by individuals” (Manion & Goodrum). In this instance the hackers see no difference between this and picketing in the street to deny people access to a building. “Activists here are attempting to bring about social change through non-violent means; whereas activists in the past trespassed and blockaded physical positions of power, hacktivists now would seize control of the new positions of power—cyberspace—and without all those nasty guns, water cannons, dogs, billy clubs and tear gas” (Julie Thomas).

There are those however who believe denial-of-service attacks to be against the hacker code because they themselves are a form of censorship and violate the right to free speech- which in the true roots of the hacker culture is a fundamental law that must never be broken (even if it is against your enemies). One of the world’s most famous hackers who believes whole heartedly in this ideal is Julian Assange, he has no qualms about sneaking into closed systems and revealing private information but does not believe in the destruction of information in any way. Assange is practically a pure personification of the old school hacker mentality in that he is a utilitarian extremist who promotes the total transparency of information. To him, his actions are justified because as all information should be free regardless of consequence. What people chose to do with the information does not change the fact that it should not be kept hidden. Absolute truth is the only moral decisional direction.

In the end the ethics of hacking all comes down to the age old question of does ends justify the means? While different hackers have different codes of ethics and different definitions of damage, every act is circumstantial and instead of being broken down into wright and wrong should be judged in term of what was stood to be gained and at what cost?

Advertisements

Controlled Convenience or Chaotic Freedom?

Steve Jobs was responsible for revolutionising the computer age. When Apple released the Macintosh in 1984 it was the first time consumers were given a user-friendly means of interacting with a computer. The Macintosh introduced the first graphical user interface and was the first mass-market computer to be networkable. But while Apple brought us into the personal computer era their business model has practically reversed and seems hell bent on taking us out of it.

Apple products such as the IPhone have stopped being computing devices and have become simplistic information applications. They are incapable (by design) of operating anything outside of their designated software and they prevent users from accessing any internal elements; creating this shell of a computer that runs entirely off of face level applications. All content and the way you can interact with that content is controlled. You don’t own applications only pay to use them, you cannot change anything, install anything, transfer content and all the apps you can download have come from a centralised network that have gone through an intensive approval process.

9bfmgaf

“It was easy to use, elegant and cool – and had lots of applications right out of the box… but the company quietly dropped a fundamental feature, one signalled by the dropping of ‘Computer’ from Apple Computer’s name” (Johnathan Zittrain).

“The fundamental difference between a PC and an Information Application is that a PC can run code from anywhere while Information Appliances remain tethered to makers desires, offering a more consistent and focused user experience at the expense of flexibility and innovation” (Jonathan Zittrain again).

While your phone not being a computer isn’t necessarily a bad thing as Steve Jobs himself proclaimed “You don’t want your phone to be like a PC. The last thing you want is to have loaded three apps on your phone and then you go to make a call and it doesn’t work anymore”. It is important to keep in mind though that the mobile phone has actually replaced the desktop as the primary mode of access to the internet. For millions of people, particularly those in developing nations their phone is their computer.

The Alliance of Open Handsets offer the polar opposite to Apple with their free Android operating system that can run on any device, can be completely rooted or moded and grants users access to both an official app store and unofficial ones. Plus you are allowed to upload your own aps. Originally Apple dominated the smart phone market but Android has now captured 85% of it, just going to show that a long tail of many small units will inevitably always out preform a lesser number of large ones.

xaqfen7

When Google first announced the alliance and the concept of Android, Steve predicted that the fragmented nature and uncontrollability of the idea would be its demise “I think it hurts them more than it helps, it is just going to divide them”.  While he was right about the division he was wrong about it being a negative. Eric Raymond believes networked systems always beat hierarchical ones because you can accomplish more and faster. He compares Cathedrals to Bazaars noting that if you release content early and often problems are resolved quickly by the sheer many. “Given enough eyes all bugs are shallow”. While Apples system of having a selected few make something perfect before release makes the task slow and monumental.

But in the end it all boils down to personal preference, Apples system ensures you are only buying something that has been carefully designed to ensure everything runs smoothly and easily whereas the Android system gives you everything good or bad; you have the power the chose and therefore the responsibility. It is just a question of if you want controlled convenience or chaotic freedom.

I Feudalisation more like Mein Fuhrerisation

Feudalism is a specific type of relationship between Lord and vassal organised around property and allegiance. In the traditional sense it was where the economy ran off the providing of land in exchange for goods, labour and protection. At the top of this economy there was the king who owned and controlled all of the land. He would loan this land out to lords, knights and peasants and in return they would work and swear allegiance.

feudalism-pyramid-explanation

So why am I bringing this all up? Well it’s because although this is an extremely dated monolithic paradigm it is one that is still used today and no I’m not talking about a communist nation like North Korea; I’m talking about right here and now and I’m talking about you. If you are reading this off of an iPhone, if you have a Gmail account, Netfix, Facebook, Amazon, if you have ever used an app, then you are actually the metaphorical peasant of this feudal relationship and I bet you didn’t even know it.

Let me clarify…

Since the introduction of Word Wide Web, content has been in abundance do to mass amateurisation and participation. As I explained more thoroughly in my previous post this has led to the decline in its value.  “The digital economy runs on a river of copies, these copies are not just cheap they are free” (Kevin Kelly). When content can be shared freely it no longer has value and as Stewart Brand states “information wants to be free but it also wants to be expensive”.

So how do you make money off of something that is free? You sort it, you package it and you make it uncopiable. This is exactly what aggregates like Apple were able to accomplish by instead of producing content found a way to tie it to their platforms. You can’t use an Apple app outside of an Apple product and like the peasants who did not actually own the land and could not share, use or sell it without permission from the King, you are granted access to content that you do not control. “The old Internet is shrinking and being replaced by walled gardens over which over which Googles crawlers cannot climb” (John Batelle).

So what are you getting out of this?

Predominantly convenience, in exchange for entering the walled garden you are promised quality information that is nicely sorted and tailored to you. You are also promised that everything works and because things run through a centralised system undesirable information (or anything deemed as such) can be weeded out.

But what are you giving up?

Well for one the internet itself, the decentralised free flowing system is gone and you are now paying a fee for what used to be free. That fee may be a monetary one such as the cost of a song on iTunes or a subscription to Netflix but it also includes your privacy. Everything you do within a walled garden is monitored and just as the peasants who had to work the land to cultivate goods, you are generating valuable data about yourself for ‘the king’ to sell.

mfkqctn

For example Gmail manages your emails for free and in return it compromises the privacy of not only yourself everyone who has ever had correspondents with you, by scanning your emails for your personal trends and habitual behaviours. Facebook, is even less subtle than this creating a share culture where we willingly divulge large amounts of data about ourselves. Convenience is one thing but why are we so willing to share so much of who we are on social networks?

(Bernhard et al) suggests a reason for this might just be that we ascribe risks to privacy invasion more to others than ourselves due to a  psychological mechanism similar to third-person effect. This coupled with high gratification and usage patterns creates a lax attitude towards privacy.

 

Normalising The Niche

“The Internet imposes no barriers to entry, no economies of scale and no limits of supply”(Clay Shirky).

There is an abundance of information literally flooding the net and media itself has changed from an organised stream of information created by legitimate providers, to a convergent mass of shared information created by illegitimate prosumers. Traditional media channels such as television and the newspaper lose their value when new media models grant users content for free.

Pirate Lyf

Legacy media channels with their high cost of entry are being undercut by “The people formally known as audience” (Jay Rosen) as everyday amateurs are able to create and share content without cost and without risk of failure. So what this means for the global media landscape is that in an age where content is in surplus, value comes not from being a distributor who controls data access but from aggregators who control attention.

The best example I can give of this is Foxtel vs Netflix. Foxtel is a distributor, it plays shows like Game of Thrones periodically at certain times. The value of these shows is evaluated by the amount of people that watch them. Netflix is an aggregator, a digital cloud of shows that people are free to choose from. The value of these shows comes from being chosen.

Traditional forms of ratings measurement no longer have the capacity to reflect modern viewing habits. Just because no one is watching a show on television does not mean it is not being watched and as a result of this miss-reflection thousands of loyal fans almost lost what was in my opinion one of the best shows on television. Community was cancelled due to low ratings until Hulu picked it up as a web only series allowing the fandom to continue. It just so happened that the show had a following, but its followers were all binge watching pirates who liked to stream at their own convenience.

GOT

Game Of Thrones Season Ratings SeriesMonitor.com

COMM

Community Season Ratings SeriesMonitor.com

What allows this viewing practice to happen is something called The Long Tail Effect, where our culture and economy is increasingly shifting away from a focus on a relatively small number of mainstream products and markets toward a huge number of niches (LongTail.com).

In the traditional media paradigm the mass market always beats the niche but as Chris Anderson explains “What matters now is not where customers are or how many are seeking a particular title but only that some number of them exist anywhere”.

Think Amazon, it is not confined by the physical space of each individual store and therefore does not limit itself to only the bestselling books. The digital search and demand environment allows them to stretch their operations to the extremities of niche culture and still remain profitable. Now you have access to all the obscure books your heart desires at the click of a button and a short wait on delivery.

The benefit of this is that people get out the habit of simply following the mainstream, they freely peruse their own interests and movies such as Juno and Like Crazy get watched as well as massive blockbusters like The Avengers. The negative is that this sometimes prevents us from stumbling onto new discoverers. Have you ever watched a movie you never heard of simply because it was TV? Alternatively have you ever not known what to search for online and just ended up watching something you have already seen? The abundance of information leads to the scarcity of attention and when we are faced with choice we often stick to what we know, whereas the dictation of information can force us to take notice of things we wouldn’t of otherwise.

Jaron Lanier and Eli Pariser argue that when aggregators such as Google sort us into categories based on the niche interests we express, we run the risk of being given back to ourselves through the filtering of content. But at the same time it gives us opportunity to further ourselves beyond mainstream culture. It is important we expand our attention past our own little bubbles, after all there is so much to explore in cyberspace.

Image2

Drinking Up Dat Liquid Labour

 

“As the use of mobile phones in public spaces is increasing, it is leading to the change in social order by blurring the boundary between public and private spaces. What one would typically call a public place is slowly becoming pockets of individual private spaces where people exhibit behaviors as if they were by themselves’” (Geiger 2013).

Untitled

What we are seeing is a world where people are always on, always connected to the decentralized global network and this is creating an environment where there is no barrier between real the world and online world. We take our mobiles everywhere, we work from home and we take our social medias into the office. Some of us don’t even have an office, working from companies that exist entirely in the digital realm providing services that run on the facilitation of information rather than the providing of physical products.  This is the liquid labour environment and I discuss in my podcast above it is extremely flexible and constantly moving.

Right now, convergence culture is getting defined top-down by decisions being made in corporate boardrooms and bottom-up by decisions made in teenagers’ bedrooms. It is shaped by the desires of media conglomerates to expand their empires across multiple platforms and by the desires of consumers to have the media they want where they want it, when they want it, and in the format they want. (Henry Jenkins)

We are both the consumers and the creators, the customers and the product.

Controlled Cyber Freedom

Significantly better than last weeks, now with 30% less tongue ties…

“Cyberspace, as Gibson imagined it nearly 30 years ago, was – or would be – a realm of total-immersion virtual reality…The hero of Neuromancer jacks in to the matrix, his inner eye sees a transparent 3D chessboard extending to infinity on which graphic representations of data re abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system” (Thomas Jones).

What happened to world Gibson envisioned? While we are close to this vision – living in a highly convergent, ultra technological, globally connected world – it is almost like we are running parallel to this vision never quite reaching it. While our current technology systems give us opportunity to connect and contribute to the virtual cyber world. we have sacrificed bits of our freedom for the sake of aesthetic coherence and convenient usability. You must agree to terms and conditions before using sites like Facebook, you must send your messages through them and adhere to their format limitations.

I remember when android phones first came about, Steve Jobs- the father of walled gardens himself- appeared on television saying something along the lines of “We define everything that is on the phone. . . . You don’t want your phone to be like a PC. The last thing you want is to have loaded three apps on your phone and then you go to make a call and it doesn’t work anymore. This is a perfect example of what I mean when I say we have given up our control and often our privacy for a sense of security.

 

Introduction To The Global Network

The moment when you attempt your first audio blog and realise you said PUGcast instead of podcast. None the less here are my thoughts on week two’s lecture topic and readings…

(ps promise to get better in future)

 

To elaborate further on my podcast the quote from the reading that really stood out to me was “Cyberspace is something more. Though built on top of the Internet, cyberspace is a richer experience. Cyberspace is something you get pulled into perhaps by the intimacy of instant message chat or the intricacy of  massive multiplayer online games Some in cyberspace believe they’re in a community; some confuse their lives with their cyberspace existence”.

This perfectly encapsulates the way the internet has created opportunity to create meaningful interactive relationships without physical interaction. The ability to do so has changed marketing forever. Gone are the days of the old school one way dialogue between a company and its customers. Today’s consumers want more, they want personal relationships, real time communication, opportunity to engage with the brand, to contribute to its culture and to form communities with like minded brand users . My textbooks call this Online Customer Relationship Management but I call it simply being a brand in the networked environment.

Here is a brief history of the evolution of marketing as it coincides with the trajectory of technology itself.