Digital realms, digital fascism

On the rise of digital fascism.

Digital realms

Corporations provide digital (or cyber) realms where people can create digital entities, communicate and engage in commerce.

Examples

Google provides Gmail, which millions of people use for electronic communications. To most people, Gmail provides a fantastic, free service - e-mail that can be accessed from any Internet connection with a great user interface.

Similarly Youtube provides a place to store videos. Flickr provides a place to store pictures. And Facebook provides a social communications network. I will focus on e-mail and use Gmail as an example, since that is presently the most important service, however the conclusions apply equally well to all other large digital realms.

Corporate digital realms invade real life

E-mail communications is now an almost mandatory part of western life. You give your e-mail address to countless businesses and government offices. You receive important documents by e-mail (travel tickets, bills, contracts) which you usually leave on your mail service provider's servers. Unlike your storage devices, these servers are professionally managed and redundantly backed up.

You are therefore trusting Google to store a very important part of your life. However, Google is a giant corporation and, you have no contract with them.

Corporate digital realms provide no digital human rights

Google can and does examine and read your correspondence, and share the information with other corporations. Google can terminate your account, censor your communications, alter your e-mail or selectively delete your files, and you have no recourse. Google has no obligation towards you.

You don't have any obligation towards Google, but your are leaving your important data hostage on their servers.

Consequences of digital death penalties

What if Google just suspends your mail account? That is the equivalent of a death penalty in the digital realm of Gmail.

You will first have to find an alternate e-mail provider. Then think of the countless persons and institutions you gave your e-mail address to. You will have to contact every institution that's important to you to have your e-mail address updated. You will often have to do this by telephone or in person. If you have lost or forgotten your password on some web site, then good luck getting that account back without your original e-mail..

Thus Google and any entities that may influence Google, such as governments and other large corporations, now yield great power on you: life and death in their respective digital realms.

You have less rights in digital realms than serfs in the Middle Ages.

But you are free to use Gmail!

Yes, you made a conscious choice to start using and continue to use Gmail. This is the equivalent of choosing to immigrate to a new country. Except that it's not a democratic country, but a totalitarian police state.

The right to leave

Some totalitarian police states allow their citizens to leave the country - if they have the means to. Cuba is an example.

Digital realms cannot lock people up, so people may leave whenever they want. Some digital realms make it difficult for people to leave. A notorious example is Facebook, where there is a waiting period.

The right to bring property

Very few digital realms allow their citizens to easily take their data with them.

Note that the lords of each digital realm exert absolute control and have no obligations towards their subjects. They may arbitrarily deny any previously available facility. Also, if you get expelled of the realm (account suspension) you usally can't access your data anymore.

Seizure of property and the digital virtue police

The digital lords can seize or destroy property they deem inadequate. Think of a social networking web site such as Facebook removing links, comments or pictures they don't like. You can't link to thepiratebay.org from Facebook, and you can't post breastfeeding pictures.

Mobile devices

Mobile devices and their operating systems, such as Apple's iOS, extend digital realms into the physical world. The mobile phone is the hardware gateway to the realm. While anyone can start a web site to start a presence in the Web domain, you usually can't do anything in mobile phone realms without paying, signing forms and being policed.

In most places, you have to sign up for a plan to access these digital realms. In other words, you can't just go and buy an iPhone with cash, then plug in your SIM card. You have to have a plan, and devices are not sold to customers to begin with and SIM locked to prevent people from switching carriers.

Now, if you want to create applications and distribute them (even for free) for a particular mobile platform, you must register with the authorities, pay fees and have your applications monitored and possibly revoked with no appeal.

A digital charter of rights?

We therefore need a digital charter of rights enforced against the corporations by the states we are living in. But that's not going to happen because of the increasing collusion between corporations and the government. Unfortunately, it seems that digital fascism is just a prelude to actual fascism.

2012-03-09