All Your Memory Are Belong To Us

Anybody else get forced to agree to a new Terms Of Service for iCloud just now and actually read them? It’s kind of amazing the Orwellian power we have voluntarily ceded to massive corporations to erase our lives when it suits them.

As our digital histories continually lengthen and the local storage of our personal artifacts fails to keep apace we rely ever increasingly on cloud storage. Certain such cloud providers, meanwhile, may see fit to nuke your existence over content unilaterally and opaquely classified as vaguely and subjectively as “obscene”, “vulgar”, “hateful”, “racially offensive”, or “ethnically offensive”, and if that isn’t worrisome enough even the catch-all “otherwise objectionable”. They can even jam you up on vague claims of IP infringement or NDA violations.

Imagine the scope of such powers in the hands of any of the various stripes of religionism, activism, or other authoritarian thuggery.

As certain flavors of compute become as commoditized as any of the clearly recognized necessities of modern civilized life, such as water, electricity, and fuel, they gain the property of being weaponizable against individuals and populations to exert control, and as a society we must be extremely suspicious of such assumption of power.

Never has it felt more visceral to me that who controls the present controls the past and who controls the past controls the future. It’s not just our ability to post contentious content to social media that is under threat but also our ability to maintain our personal, even private, digital legacy in a world of continually churning public opinion and institutional power.

You might say that I didn’t _have_ to agree to the new terms and, in a narrow technical sense, you are right, but perhaps in a sense similar to someone in a secret detention center not having to sign a confession. These matters are not simple or binary but rather many-faceted and taking on a range of values, the salient higher order properties being leverage and symmetry. As a practical matter there isn’t much a single individual can unilaterally do against a multi-national corporation with a multi-trillion-dollar market cap. Individuals must rally to collectively counter-balance such forces.

It is a grave mistake and a huge distraction to be asking our governments to compel large corporations to rein in the free expression of their users. We should be demanding, instead, that entities who have attained the stature of utility providers adhere to certain guarantees of rights, and rather than looking to censor specific content on tenuous grounds of compliance with the orthodoxy of the day instead be taking an increasingly hard look at the _algorithms_ whose virality platform providers have weaponized for profit in a manner akin to drug dealers and that in turn have been weaponized by the PSYOPS practitioners of all stripes.

In a world where corporations have reached, and in some ways exceeded, the powers of national governments, it is toward them that the gaze of a free citizenry must turn when seeking “to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures”.

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