10 votes

Propaganda, censorship, and surveillance are all inherent attributes of information monopoly

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  1. dredmorbius
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    I'm noodling on notions, and some recent commentary by Cory Doctorow (at Pluralistic and in How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism, Tildes discussion) sparked much of this, or rather, gave cause...

    I'm noodling on notions, and some recent commentary by Cory Doctorow (at Pluralistic and in How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism, Tildes discussion) sparked much of this, or rather, gave cause to expand a recent HN comment.

    This is quite possibly wrong in parts or whole. Critiques welcomed.

    Though it seems fairly clear that the ills dominating recent discussions of the Internet and media aren't merely incidental to monopoly but integral to it. And that monopoly itself is fundamentally a control structure, from whence its economic and political characteristics derive.

    There's further prior art, discovered after writing the essay, from Tim Wu in 2013: "Why Monopolies Make Spying Easier" (New Yorker, 2013), which draws one of the relationships:

    These days, America has one dominant search engine, one dominant social-networking site, and four phone companies. The structure of the information industry often goes unnoticed, but it has an enormous effect on the ease with which the government spies on citizens. The remarkable consolidation of the communications and Web industries into a handful of firms has made spying much simpler and, therefore, more likely to happen. ...

    In the nineties, tapping the Web, if not impossible, was certainly a pain, which is not to say that the Web itself was better for users. We can concede that Google is superior to Archie-Veronica. But we will always face a trade-off: more centralization and concentration means convenience for consumers, but it also makes government surveillance and censorship easier.

    What we now call electronic privacy first became an issue in the eighteen-seventies, after Western Union, the earliest and, in some ways, the most terrifying of the communications monopolies, achieved dominion over the telegraph system. Western Union was accused of intercepting and reading its customers’ telegraphs for both political and financial purposes (what’s now considered insider trading). Western Union was a known ally of the Republican Party, but the Democrats of the day had no choice but to use its wires, which put them at a disadvantage; for example, Republicans won the contested election of 1876 thanks in part to an intercepted telegraph. The extent of Western Union’s actions might never be entirely known, since in response to a congressional inquiry the company destroyed most of its relevant records.

    The telephone is a similar story. Federal wiretapping of telephones wasn’t such a practical matter around, say, the turn of the twentieth century, when the United States had thousands of telephone companies (yes, thousands). In those days, the spying problem was the problem of eavesdropping by the operators who connected calls. In fact, operators would occasionally break into conversations and express their own opinions—taking sides in an argument, for example. Local police also wiretapped in the early days; in the nineteen-tens, the New York Police Department caused a scandal by tapping the phones of Catholic priests. ...

    Same reasoning, excellent examples.

    Also, for those keeping tabs, it's now three US phone companies with the Sprint-TMobile merger

    6 votes