Privacy and Purpose

Fred Wilson made a mention of this talk by Maciej Ceglowski on his blog, and it is well worth checking out:

What Happens Next Will Amaze You

It is a two-part talk, each interesting for a different reason.

The first part is a bit more straight-forward and tackles the hot topic of Internet privacy. At its end, Maciej proposes his own fix-list to address the issue:

  1. A right to download – You should have the right to download data that you have provided, or that has been collected by observing your behavior, in a usable electronic format.
  2. A right to delete – You should have the right to completely remove their account and all associated personal information from any online service, whenever they want.
  3. Limits on behavioral data – Companies should only be allowed to store behavioral data for 90 days.
  4. The right to go offline – Any device with embedded Internet access should be required to have a physical switch that disconnects the antenna, and be able to function normally with that switch turned off.
  5. Ban on 3rd-party ad tracking –  Sites serving ads should only be able to target those ads based on two things: 1) the content of the page itself 2) information the site has about the visitor
  6. Enforceable privacy promises – a legal mechanism to let companies make enforceable promises about their privacy behavior.

I’m far from being an expert on this topic, but if you haven’t fully given up on privacy just yet, these seem to resonate with me and I would definitely suggest giving his talk a more thorough read.

The second part is harder to summarize and perhaps the more intriguing one. It’s a critique of founders, VCs and the tech sector, trying to explain why we, as a society, have mostly failed to capture the benefits of technological change. Rather than attempt to summarize, I’ll share a few memorable quotes:

For the rest of you, if you visit San Francisco, this is something you’re likely to find unsettling. You’ll see people living in the streets, many of them mentally ill, yelling and cursing at imaginary foes. You’ll find every public space designed to make it difficult and uncomfortable to sit down or sleep, and that people sit down and sleep anyway. You’ll see human excrement on the sidewalks, and a homeless encampment across from the city hall. You’ll find you can walk for miles and not come across a public toilet or water fountain.

If you stay in the city for any length of time, you’ll start to notice other things. Lines outside every food pantry and employment office. Racially segregated neighborhoods where poverty gets hidden away, even in the richest parts of Silicon Valley. A city bureaucracy where everything is still done on paper, slowly. A stream of constant petty crime by the destitute. Public schools that no one sends their kids to if they can find an alternative. Fundraisers for notionally public services.

You can’t even get a decent Internet connection in San Francisco.

The tech industry is not responsible for any of these problems. But it’s revealing that through forty years of unimaginable growth, and eleven years of the greatest boom times we’ve ever seen, we’ve done nothing to fix them. I say without exaggeration that the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989 did more for San Francisco than Google, Facebook, Twitter, and all the rest of the tech companies that have put down roots in the city since.

Despite being at the center of the technology revolution, the Bay Area has somehow failed to capture its benefits.

Our venture capitalists have an easy answer: let the markets do the work. We’ll try crazy ideas, most of them will fail, but those few that succeed will eventually change the world.

But there’s something very fishy about California capitalism.

Investing has become the genteel occupation of our gentry, like having a country estate used to be in England. It’s a class marker and a socially acceptable way for rich techies to pass their time. Gentlemen investors decide what ideas are worth pursuing, and the people pitching to them tailor their proposals accordingly.

The companies that come out of this are no longer pursuing profit, or even revenue. Instead, the measure of their success is valuation—how much money they’ve convinced people to tell them they’re worth.

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Privacy and Purpose

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