The Hydra’s Heads – Secrecy

BIG_DATA_Prob_byKamiPhuc

It seems self-evident to us that we cannot look behind the scenes anywhere.

We do not know what is added to our food (additives below a certain threshold do not have to be indicated), nor is its pricing made transparent.

We cannot determine from where raw materials are acquired or what transport routes are used. Whether a product was unnecessarily dragged through several countries to make individual production steps cheaper – and thus how large the ecological footprint and true costs are (For sooner or later the time will come when we all together must hastily try to repair the harm we have caused).

We cannot compare how much other employees within a company earn. The fact that it does not need to be this way is shown by a few praiseworthy exceptions, which have stepped up and tried a different approach, but this type of change is often countered by precisely those decision-makers who are most likely to be hard-pressed to justify their salary.

As the world of business and politics holds onto secrecy as if for dear life, our private life, in contrast, does not seem to be held sacred at all. Should it not be the other way round?

No more business secrets

At first glance, the concept of general disclosure sounds naive, like so much that could make the world a fairer place. How should this work, would every small businessman not go bankrupt if they had to share their painstakingly gathered experiences with everyone. Of course, the information would not be so difficult to gain if they too had the advantage of simply looking up, for instance, which manufacturers are buying from which suppliers, from the outset.

As long as everything is designed for competition – and indeed the poisonous, fear-driven kind that now prevails – hardly anyone will be easily inspired to accept more openness.

Cui bono? Who benefits from the status quo?

In reality, however, it is not small companies already struggling for survival who benefit from the status quo, but rather the giants in the economic landscape.

They can obscure their oftentimes unethical practices in order to impose a large part of the true costs of their products to the general public – mostly in the defenseless countries where the production facilities are located and where people are living in new slavery.

We are, however, mistaken in thinking that the devastation of our fellow human beings and the environment will never circle back to us, but in the first place we are often not even aware that we are participating in it at all – precisely because there is no obligation to reveal the costs involved in production.

The issue of tax evasion could also be dealt with by a system of disclosure. What little money can be squeezed out of small businesses is but a drop in the budget’s ocean, but for those concerned, it can mean the difference between the already modest success a small-scale entrepreneur may still hope for, and a consequential crash into private insolvency.

The most likely explanation, as always, is the simplest: competition is prevented from above by a combination of excessively high duties and an abstruse amount of additional work and costs, which cut the ground from under the small-scale businessmen’s feet. In contrast to large companies, for which this effort is only one item among many, individual entrepreneurs are robbed of a huge part of their largest resource, namely their own time and energy, without any return.

What kind of progress in efficiency and environmental awareness could we expect if the wheel did not have to be reinvented by everyone? How would it affect consumer behavior if we could see the true cost of a product as well as the complete list of ingredients? What new businesess would be fired from the ground, filling market niches  and trying out innovative ideas?

Cartels, agreements and unclear ownership

Much of what looks separate at first sight is not. More and more power over the most elementary items (food, energy, communication, media, pharmaceuticals) is concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. The danger posed by the Molochs, who are regularly called out by globalization opponents, is still comprehensible, although quite a few people seem oblivious even to that.

Their impact makes the range of products increasingly narrow and causes the number of alternative supply possibilities to shrink.

In the background, however, there is another problem: it is no longer possible to determine which companies are ultimately owned by whom, due to their transnational legal structures.

In how many hands does this immense power coalesce? We simply do not know.

Licensed to legal offense

But the business world is not the only place where the principle of secrecy does not do us much good:

In global politics, which of course is closely interwoven with the economy, it is not working in our favour either. Have you ever stopped and thought about the enormous powers of intelligence services – undemocratic and deeply shady institutions by definition?

We get our picture of their activities from the countless films and series that assure us over and over again that they only exist for our best, working in our interest. Some threats, we are told, can only be averted in the shadows.

Would this really be the case in a world of sharing and openness?

The only reason for the existence of all these evils, arms race, espionage, influence – in matters both big and small – is that others also do it. This is the famous tiptoe effect – if the second row in a concert goes on their tiptoes to see more, everyone behind them has to do the same until the whole stadium is uncomfortable yet does not see any better.

Secret services may take actions which no-one is allowed to observe, for reasons which they are not obliged to explain and ultimately they do not even have to admit to their deeds. The methods employed, which, if at all, only come to light a long time after the event, speak a clear language.

Military secrets and the business secrets of weapon manufacturers

In how many hidden labs are we experimenting with pathogens that could completely extinguish us? With chemicals that make an enemy or their land unfruitful? With the genome of animals and humans to breed hybrids? With artificial intelligence, which is either already superior to us, or soon will be, and which is not directed towards protection, but destruction of man?

Pure science-fiction, you say? Fiddlesticks! If something is technically feasible, then you better believe that it is being done somewhere. Our knowledge has surpassed our reason by far. Think of the tiptoe effect … the others do it too, so we must not lag behind.

Thus, anyone who is paranoid, power-hungry, or crazy enough to risk the world going up in flames feels justified in their actions. Individuals with obscenely immense wealth, corporations, sects, world churches, intelligence services – all these are likely candidates. Whether there are fifty, twenty or two hardly makes it worse. One is already enough. Nobody should ever be able to yield such power – the legal means of war are bad enough.

We are truly making it easy for the madmen of this world to burrow the money, to then secretly do the most terrible things we imagine in our worst nightmares. There is talk of abolishing cash – which would mean that none of us small folk would be able to conduct even the most tiny of business transactions in secret, and also to be dispossessed at any time at the push of a button.

Let us think instead of making the really huge cash flows visible, and see if the world is not suddenly a more relaxed place. You will be astonished at just how hard you will bang your head against the wall with this proposal.. And perhaps then you will ask yourself briefly, just why it is that we have no say whatsoever, while the entire fate of mankind is at stake in dozens of ways.

The transparent human

Software is a particularly sensitive product. Theoretically, a software company could install switches in any of their products to do very serious things. Virtually everything is operated and managed with products from a few manufacturers. If they decided to just stop everything dead in a hearbeat, they could do so.

If they wanted to pass on every key we hit, they could also do so without the average user having a chance to recognize that. They can influence our search results and help shape our image of the world. They are sitting in the middle of our homes and are constantly in our pockets, but de facto we do not know what is defined in their programming.

This is a profound situation. But, one may think, if everything were to be disclosed, would this not open the doors and gates to hackers? In the end, however, no more and no less than is already the case, only that many more people would have enough knowledge to occasionally check the code for abnormalities.

It has often been shown – especially in the world of software – that a release leads to a sudden flood of useful supplementary programs and quickly causes the product to improve because all humanity is working on it.

The reasons why such secrecy is applied are very likely not only of an economic nature. Also the lack of traceability of our data’s paths is a sad reality, which means that everything we have ever entrusted to anybody via email or chat is stored somewhere.

With ever more powerful search algorithms and artificial intelligence, the security that we used to have from the sheer impossibility of handling the mass of data becomes a matter of the past.

You can bet that somewhere there is a comprehensive profile of your person – complete with interests, beliefs, weaknesses and strengths, health condition and education. Even if someone never set foot in the virtual world, every time they apply for a job, buy from a mail order catalogue, or even whenever someone else talks about them online, the knowledge about their person grows by a few puzzle pieces.

Especially funny  – or shocking –  in this context are the many fun-personality tests on platforms such as Facebook, in which unsuspecting users reveal most private information about their psyche and soul, receiving in return the absolutely useless information about which TV show character they most resemble.

The transparent man has been a reality for quite some time. If you think you have nothing to hide, remember that the situation can change at any time – maybe at some point cigarettes or chocolates are declared illegal smuggling goods. Perhaps anyone who has ever watched pornography, had a profile on a dating site, downloaded films, or joined a party later declared undesirable will at some point be prosecuted.

Or, more likely and even more frightening, information can be extrapolated from your utterances and all that is known about your behavior as regards your future conduct – whether you would oppose certain things, whether you would refuse to cooperate with a certain regime.

We have allowed this fruit to ripen – how long will it take for someone to pick it? Provided that this tree was not planted with sinister intent from the outset. The possibilities for a virtually invincible monitoring state have existed for a while now, and this is five steps further than we should ever have allowed.

Forced Silence – Dark Family Secrets

On a much more private level, personal secrets are, on the one hand, a basic right, which has long since been trampled on and become meaningless. On the other hand, maintaining a facade outwards often means great suffering for the members of families who keep a great secret. Be it drug use (by the way, only a symptom and pressure valve for a deeper problem), violence, incest or economic need …

The taboo isolates the victims and deepens their despair. A good part of the traumatization is even due to this.

In short, more openness would be our salvation at every level. The constant sniffing, gathering, and eavesdropping is to be rigorously rejected, and I will never stop protesting. But let us face the facts: it will continue, with or without our consent.

We have to either back-paddle on a massive scale, or we should say goodbye to the idea of ​​privacy altogether – but then let us please do so with all the consequences. It cannot be that we citizens bare our throats all the time, while the rest of the world is getting ever thicker armor. We are the ones who lose out in every respect, who are hindered in our progress and exchange.

The power of human beings has always been our co-operation as a group, so to imagine that as small individual combatants we can hold the candle to the great conglomerates who use the work and mental power of hundreds or thousands of employees is preposterous.

We have to tear down the walls that separate us from each other – then we will find that we are not the ones who ever needed them, but rather criminals who want to lie to and steal from us. They want to make the world into a huge interrogation room, where, robbed of all secrets, we are sitting in the spotlight while they are beyond our gaze on the other side of the mirror. It is time to dismantle that damned mirror, laugh into the faces of those sad clowns on the other side, and then close the door behind us forever.

Credits

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BIG_DATA_Prob_byKamiPhuc BIG_DATA_Prob_byKamiPhuc KamiPhuc CC BY 2.0