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Google & antitrust

Yesterday, on the 20th October, the US Department of Justice, joined by 11 US states, filed an antitrust lawsuit against Google. The lawsuit, submitted in federal court in Washington DS, accuses Google  of attempting to monoplize the marker for search-generated advertising, using contracts –  such as the agreement with Apple to put its search app on iPhones –  desgined to freeze out competitors. Google has already faced similar challenges elsewhere. In 2019, for example, the Europeam Union fined the company US $ 1.7 billion  for stopping websites from using  search results provided by its rivals. In these, and similar cases, Google can be said to be following simple business logic: its advertising revenue depends on eyeballs, and so it does whatever it can to increase the number of people using its services and looking at the advertisements served alongside them. Google’s ‘Classroom’ product follow a similar logic. It’s a free web service, which integrates other Google services (such as Docs, Slides, Sheets, Gmail and Calendar), and aims to simplify the process of creating, distributing, completing, and grading assignments. Usage of Classroom has grown quickly as a result of the current pandemic, reaching 100 million or so by April. Like Google

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Names: SSI &/or UCD ?

Naming things is hard. Names that mean one thing when first conceived have the alarming habit of acquiring different connotations as time passes, mostly unexpected and unwanted. I should know. Twenty years ago, I started my first company in the identity field. It was called Edentity. Back in those happy days, it was easy to acquire the necessary domain names and trademarks. But then we slowly realized that the word ‘identity’ meant different things to different people, and discussions about definitions took forever. Twice shy, we chose a clunky working title for Edentity’s successor, expecting that it would be changed before any public launch. But Personal Information Brokerage Development Ltd  is  still with us, now known (mercifully) by its initials, PIB-d. Which brings me to the main point of this post: the term “Self-Sovereign Identity”, or SSI. It’s a lovely image: the individual standing tall  in cyber space, controlling how she is known to all comers.  But it too is prone to misinterpretation. First it’s not really about identity. It’s about trustworthy personal data. Start with the idea of a secure and anonymous relationship over a network, a little like –  in real life – an individual approaching an organization

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Surveillance Capitalism

Sometimes, it can help – when explaining a set of ideas  – to describe their opposite. For UCD, this task has been ably accomplished by Shoshana Zuboff, a professor at Harvard Business School. In her 2019 book ‘ The Age of Surveillance Capitalism’, and various earlier articles,  Prof Zuboff explains how users of technology have become the raw material of a new paradigm of manufacturing and sales: a surveillance economy. In brief, and as we all know, individuals use online services provided by internet firms such as Google and Facebook. These services, apparently ‘free’, are – in fact – paid for in kind: the service providers harvest data about the individuals’ actions, use this data to create profiles, and sell these profiles so that merchants can target online advertisements ever more accurately. In effect, individuals are – for the most part unwittingly – being surveilled by these companies, surrendering their data in return for services. For many, this may appear to be a fair bargain. But some of the consequences are both unexpected and pernicious: the need to surveil influences system design, inevitably  impairing privacy, but also eroding society’s capacity to build infrastructure that serves all, providing the needed high

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