Open-source weapons in the privacy war

Open-source weapons in the privacy war

Summary: Futurist and open-source developer Mark Pesce has issued a call to action at Linux.conf.au 2011, telling developers, users and administrators to fight back against those who would use their personal information on social networks and in the cloud with all the weapons they can get their hands on.

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Futurist and open-source developer Mark Pesce has issued a call to action at Linux.conf.au 2011, telling developers, users and administrators to fight back against those who would use their personal information on social networks and in the cloud with all the weapons they can get their hands on.

Soldier

Futurist, inventor and open-source developer Mark Pesce wants YOU to fight against the privacy-pinching enemy! (Soldier rifle firing image by Gopal Aggarwal, CC2.0)

Pesce told attendees in his keynote that users were in a fight against an enemy which had dragged everyone into a war over their private information. That was the new enemy, Pesce said, the ones who strive to publicise and sell private data.

He added that attendees had been conned by big companies like Facebook, Apple and Google into giving up their information for the sake of convenience.

"You have friended Mark Zuckerberg, telling him everything about yourself that you have ever told to any of your friends," said Pesce.

Pesce said that feeding information to Facebook is necessary to make it work, meaning every user on the social network has fed their private data into a closed, black box network where the transmission and dissemination of their information happens behind the scenes, in an unsecured environment.

"The bulk of our communication occurs in the wide open. This is insanity!, Pesce exclaimed, saying it wasn't a user's job to make information easier to read for Google or Facebook.

"As a baseline, everything we do and say [online] must be transmitted with strong encryption," he said.

Pesce called on the open-source attendees to tell their friends about the privacy risks around social networks and cloud services, and to build software to help keep their information safe.

"When we use Gmail or Flickr or Windows Live or MobileMe, we surrender our security for a little bit of simplicity and this is a false trade-off. These systems are insecure precisely because it benefits those who offer those systems to the public."

Pesce told attendees to turn their back on services that don't operate in a secure and open environment and to get the message out that the networks offering up personal data to third-party buyers in non-secure environments are the enemy.

"Tell the ones you love who do not know what you know, that they must [turn their backs on these networks] and then go and build systems which are secure and present nothing … to prying eyes," he said.

The plight of Wikileaks having to constantly move its data from hosting provider to hosting provider at the whim of corporations served as Pesce's example as to why the internet isn't free.

"None of it is secure, none of it belongs to us, none of it is free," he added, saying that to fight the new enemy, users needed weapons in order to take back control of their personal information from social networks, cloud hosts and email providers.

Pesce's open weapon and the call to arms

Pesce said that software developers needed to create software with privacy design principles to fight the enemy.

"We need weapons. Lots of weapons. I'm not talking about the Low Orbit Ion Cannon. Rather, I'm recommending a layered defensive strategy, one which allows us to carry on with our business, blithely unmolested by the forces which seek to constrain us."

The developer presented his own weapon in the keynote — Plexus.

Plexus is free and open software, which, according to Pesce, acts as the "switchboard" for a user's social-networking feeds.

Pesce created Plexus after he left Facebook and found that his friends never left the social network to keep up with him on his Posterous blog. Plexus brings a user's social connections together in a secure, open-source environment and gives privacy controls back to the user.

"It's not just Facebook, but Twitter and Flickr and Foursquare and LinkedIn and Delicious and Posterous and WordPress and LiveJournal and on and on and on. People are coming up with great ideas for social sharing everyday. We need a way to manage that. Plexus does," Pesce said on his Plexus home page.

Pesce said that the last while had been a learning period for users of computers, software and the internet, and that they now knew what needs to stay and what needs to go for future generations to use the net with no fear.

"We've had our playtime, and it's been good. We've learned a lot, but mostly we've learned how to discern right from wrong. We know what to do: what to build up, and what to tear down. This transition is painful and bloody and carries with it the danger of complete loss. But we have no choice," he said.

Linux.conf.au closes today after having attracted over 650 attendees to discuss issues surrounding the open-source community.

Topics: Open Source, Privacy, Security, Social Enterprise

Luke Hopewell

About Luke Hopewell

A fresh recruit onto the tech journalism battlefield, Luke Hopewell is eager to see some action. After a tour of duty in the belly of the Telstra beast, he is keen to report big stories on the enterprise beat. Drawing on past experience in radio, print and magazine, he plans to ask all the tough questions you want answered.

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2 comments
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  • Are you saying that Facebook, Google, Hotmail, Box, Amazon don't always have my best interests at heart ? But they PROMISED ! And they do make regular backups don't they ? ... Gulp ...

    Remember that there is no SaSS (software as a secure service) without a RUB (relocatable user backup) ....
    chrisrobbo
  • I would never have considered social networking sites to be reliably secure in any case. After all, in order to find a friend on these sites you need to be able to search for that friend, using a name, e-mail address, school/education, employment or other details stored on the databases of these sites. In a truly secure world, you wouldn't be able to use these sites to search, because access to other users data would be restricted, rendering the concept of "social networking" unusable.

    Add business interests into this mix, and you have a targeted marketing platform that you can use based on people's interests, location or just about anything.
    dmh_paul