The Destiny Machine

22nd May, 2015 — Laura Kalbag

Notification on iPhone: “Marketers would like to use your location to spam the heck out of you”

It’s back to business as usual for this week’s roundup. We’ve got the latest in the world of Spyware 2.0, and some fun ways that people are challenging the system.

The latest episode of Do Not Track is ‘The Spy In My Pocket.’ Do you know how much your phone knows about you? And how much the local café’s WiFi network knows about you? Do Not Track’s latest interactive video is another great addition, and well-worth sharing with all your friends and family as it’s so easy to understand.

Society of the Destiny Machine and the Algorithmic God(s)

Over on the Mediamocracy blog, our friend Gry Hasselbalch has written a fantastic essay comparing the surveillance business model to the idea of destiny, and how the owners of the algorithms have become gods, collecting our data at their wills.

“Have faith. Our last stand as humans is to seek unpredictability, to seize free will and rejection of produced destinies.”

If you like Gry’s essay, you’ll also enjoy her short talk on Influencing Policy and Awareness from the Summit last year.

Diversity and harrassment

In a week where a study has shown that companies drain women’s confidence and aspirations in just two years, we need to see some positive action in the tech community. The Women, Action, & The Media (WAM!) group have done just that with their report into reporting, reviewing, and responding to harrassment on Twitter. Whilst the WAM! report looks at Twitter, and their shortcomings, harrassment isn’t limited to Twitter, and any other service dealing with social media would benefit from WAM!’s recommendations.

An update on the Privacy International campaign

In our second roundup, we recommended people join Privacy International’s case to help people find out if GCHQ illegally received information about them from the NSA. People who joined the petition got an email this week with an update from Privacy International: unfortunately the UK Investigatory Powers Tribunal has refused to let Privacy International “act as a go-between, consolidating the thousands of claims into one.” Instead, the Tribunal insists each potential claimant file his or her own complaint individually. But that doesn’t mean the campaign is over! Privacy International are now working on a “technical mechanism” to help individuals file their complaints easily. Over 25,000 people have signed up so far, proving to the UK government that people really care about their privacy and government surveillance.

If you’ve not yet signed up for Privacy International’s campaign, you can sign up on their website. The need for this campaign was proved recently as Privacy International caught the UK sneaking in new legislation that exempts GCHQ, police, and other intelligence officers from prosecution for hacking into computers and mobile phones. Privacy International have suggested that this amendment to the Computer Misuse Act was in direct response to the complaint they filed with the Investigatory Powers Tribunal last year.

What have those cheeky corporations been up to this week?


Have you ever seen the following text at the bottom of your search results?

Some results may have been removed under data protection law in Europe. Learn more

It only affects EU-based searches. Jon Baines explains in his article on ‘Google’s Innuendo’ that this disclaimer isn’t based on your search at all, instead it’s a political gesture from Google towards the EU. The phrase is designed to undermine the Court of Justice of the European Union’s ruling that “Google is a data controller for the purpose of search returns containing personal data, and that it must consider requests from data subjects for removal of such personal data.” Jon has an interesting solution: writing to Google to request that the message be removed when searches are performed on his name, as it mistakenly carries the innuendo that he has requested content to be removed. We await Google’s reply with bated breath.

Google’s trouble in the EU continues, with both Facebook and Google now seeking to employ public policy and government relations analysts to influence law-makers in Brussels. You might remember a recent roundup where we shared the amount of money these corporations have spent lobbying lawmakers in the US. Worryingly, the huge amount of power they exert is also made clear from an article in Buzzfeed showing how a Google lobbyist in Washington pushed the Federal Trade Commission to issue a statement to combat negative press Google had received from an article in the Washington Post.


The Belgian data protection agency has demanded that Facebook stops its tracking of users without explicit consent, including through social plugins. It’s a huge move, as an estimated over 13 million sites use these plugins, such as the Facebook Like button, on their pages. Facebook is resisting, claiming that the “applicability” of the Belgian regulator’s efforts are “unclear,” as the privacy of its EU users is already regulated by the Irish Data Protection Commissioner.

Facebook doesn’t want the world having privacy from Facebook, but Mark Zuckerberg really wants his privacy from the rest of the world. Despite saying “the age of privacy is over,” Mark Zuckerberg has just spent $100 million on 750 acres of land, the majority of which will sit undeveloped in order to provide a buffer between his private retreat and the public who might want to pry into his life.

Facebook is also being hit by more and more backlash against an open letter from 65 advocacy organisations in 31 countries has been sent to Mark Zuckerberg, calling for Facebook to address concerns about privacy, security, zero-rating and net neutrality.

News sites are covering Facebook’s experiments with news media in great depth, which isn’t surprising as it threatens their own businesses. The New York Times looks at how Facebook’s focus on standalone reports removes editorial control. As Facebook uses algorithms based on your existing interests, rather than the traditional editorial curation, people are starting to question who designs the algorithms that control the content you consume? Our friend Hans De Zwaart, from Bits of Freedom, looks at this in his excellent re:publica talk, Demystifying the algorithm: who designs your life? (Audio podcast recording of talk).


Twitter isn’t having a good quarter. Jacob Silverman’s article on The Baffler explains that “Twitter announced lower than expected earnings growth, investors freaked, and the stock price wilted.” Jacob goes on to look at how Twitter hopes to monetise the interactions on its site, and how those interactions might not turn out to be so valuable after all…

And now for some religion…

At re:publica, Peter Sunde told us about the Missionary Church of Kopimism, a “a congregation of file sharers who believe that copying information is a sacred virtue.” In 2012, Peter mused in his blog post on Kopimi as Religion, that religious movements are generally afforded a lot more protection than political movements. It’s a very creative way to look at protecting our rights!