back to article Schneier: Don't expect Uncle Sam to guard your web privacy – it's Europe riding to the rescue

If you're looking to the US government to save your electronic privacy, don't hold your breath: Europe looks to be the real hero in this fight. That's according to, well, quite a few of you, we reckon, but also crypto-guru Bruce Schneier, who was speaking at 2019's RSA Conference in San Francisco on Wednesday. He warned the …

  1. nematoad Silver badge
    Unhappy

    Sure.

    "The big names of Silicon Valley could, and should, put forward advisers, too, who have their users' interests at heart rather than their bosses..."

    Yes, that will happen until the realisation of who pays their salary kicks in. It's just putting the fox in charge of the hen house.

    No, make it independent or else nothing will be done.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Sure.

      I don't think you CAN make it independent. The stakes involved (much like "independent" voting district committees) will eventually get things dirty.

    2. Warm Braw Silver badge

      Re: Sure.

      The implication seems to be that only people who work for the big names of Silicon Valley have the skills required to provide the necessary technical expertise. That entirely pulls the rug from beneath Schneier's argument as it implies only Silicon Valley understands how/whether to regulate Silicon Valley.

      There's plenty of people with the rights skills and knowledge who'd happily do some pro bono consulting. If the problem is that politicians won't accept their credentials because "if they were any good they'd be working for Facebook", then any prosepct of oversight has already been lost.

      1. Teiwaz Silver badge

        Re: Sure.

        "if they were any good they'd be working for Facebook"

        But then, Nick Clegg does now, so maybe they're over that.

      2. Irongut

        Re: Sure.

        Why does it have to be pro bono? Pay me and I'll happily tell your political overlords that the only solution to Facebook is to close the company and incarcerate Zuck somewhere he can't contact anyone for the rest of his life. GitMo should do the job.

        With luck it might even scare the bejeezus out of Google's execs enough that they reform. Failing that I'm happy to reccommend the same for them, if I'm getting paid.

        Expect me to work for nothing? Yeah, fuck off.

    3. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: Sure.

      I think there's an argument for enlightened self-interest of the companies involved. Some of them are starting to realise that they can just as quickly fall victim to stuff as they can themselves exploit their users. I imagine that quite a few of the top brass at, say, Facebook are alarmed at how successfully their echo chamber has been subverted by different parties.

      You do need the input of the developers at some point but you also need separate and financially independent regulators and this is an area where the US routinely fails because there is so much mistrust of the QUANGOs needed for regulation. You've got to keep any regulator at arm's length from both politicians and industry and provide it with strong enough sanctions. The SEC isn't bad except that it is allowed to settle far too many cases out of court; and data protection is one area where establishing liability is as important as collecting fines.

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: Sure.

        "You do need the input of the developers at some point but you also need separate and financially independent regulators and this is an area where the US routinely fails because there is so much mistrust of the QUANGOs needed for regulation. You've got to keep any regulator at arm's length from both politicians and industry and provide it with strong enough sanctions."

        The problem being there's no practical way to KEEP them at arms length. Either the regulators are forced to get up close and personal or the firms get in their faces.

      2. JohnFen Silver badge

        Re: Sure.

        "I imagine that quite a few of the top brass at, say, Facebook are alarmed at how successfully their echo chamber has been subverted by different parties."

        I don't.

        I think that Facebook is quite alarmed that too many people in the public at large may be becoming aware of this stuff. I don't think they actually care at all about it otherwise.

  2. Dippywood

    When the Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth...

    Millions of years ago, when I was at university, there was a compulsory module called "The Engineer in Society" that sought to make students aware of the sociological impact that their work could have.

    It seems these days that too many are unaware of such things.

    Or perhaps they just don't care.

    Ah well, maybe I am in a minority as someone who rues the day that such niceties have been lost - or actively dismissed by the likes of Google abandoning the "do no evil' maxim.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: When the Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth...

      I'm still waiting to see when (not if) transnational companies find a way around the GDPR. I've yet to see any kind of law be completely lawyer-proof.

      1. Archtech Silver badge

        Re: When the Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth...

        It has been stated (by a lawyer) that the purpose of the profession is not to help lay people to comply with the law, but to show those who are sufficiently rich to be worth while how to evade the law.

      2. MiguelC Silver badge

        Re: When the Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth...

        Apparently, Google is already profiting from GDPR...

        1. LDS Silver badge

          Re: When the Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth...

          It is probably just a short-term effect - bigger companies are better equipped to try to resit regulatory changes, while smaller ones may not take the risk.

          We'll have to wait the medium and long term effects.

    2. illuminatus

      Re: When the Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth...

      In computing, pretty much any degree with partial BCS accreditation should include content of this type to be able to satisfy the awarding body on accreditation renewal. I know that some do (because I delivered some of it myself when I was teaching).

      The question is how much attention are some students paying to it; interestingly, an intern doing some part-time work in our office currently is doing some of this stuff right now in his degree, and we ended up having a discussion yesterday about ethics and the law in the software industry. I think many students see much of the discussion as a bit dry and mostly hypothetical, until you start talking about real cases, and the knock on effects of what they do

    3. walatam

      Re: When the Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth...

      "sociological impact"

      Part of my computing / IT degree dealt with ethics. Interestingly (or not) this was framed around how you felt about a decision or action with no regard to any societal impacts, whether they were obvious or not.

      1. JohnFen Silver badge

        Re: When the Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth...

        So it wasn't really about ethics, then. It was just named that.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: When the Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth...

      When you went to university the majority of the workforce you would become part of also went to university in your home country.

      Globalization is not just about making labour cheaper. Having workers compete globally for local jobs is about having lower, more profitable, standards. Particularly in those nations that had laws protecting the environment, people and with systems meant to help people. Ethics was just one of those standards deemed unprofitable.

      For those that doubt that look back at the number of laws, policies and practices introduced to help protect people and the environment up to the 1980's and those introduced since. A look at productivity and wages over the same time period will show those nations with concerns about such things as ethics and sociological impacts were made to pay the highest price.

    5. David Shaw

      Re: When the Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth...

      allegedly, according to an economics guy on BBC Radio Four "Toady" program this morning,

      facebook have realised that privacy is their future - self deleting posts, evaporating likes etc etc

      mostly because it has been too easy for privacy engineers to look into the history of the fb ledger, and see all/enough of the micro-targeted stuff and enough psyops nudge stuff, that the big Zucker now realizes all evidence must be deleted, as soon as he has monetized it, but before it can be used agin' him

      apparently

      1. LDS Silver badge

        Re: When the Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth...

        Zuck The Hoarder is trying again to throw dust in the eyes.

        He's now babbling about "private posts and groups" to deflect investigations in its data hoarding practices while at the same time asserting it will work only if regulators let him consolidate Whatsapp, Instagram and FB Messenger - which is his priority now.

        I'm sure those "private" groups will always include a FB hoarder process to keep on building profiles to be used for advertising.

        Even Zuck can understand that leaving the system too open to not really profitable advertisers for propaganda is not in his best interest. Actually, "closed" groups will give even more power to Facebook.

    6. Caver_Dave
      Big Brother

      Re: When the Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth...

      My simple rule of ethics "would your friends, family and colleagues be happy to see [you credited with] that, printed on the front page of the Times [newspaper]?"

      1. JohnFen Silver badge

        Re: When the Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth...

        Personally, the yardstick that I use is the basic "act as you wish others would act", but yours is very good as well.

  3. Mahhn

    In the USA

    Politicians are little more than brokers, selling off consumers to corporations.

    Corruption is so deep, many of the them don't even realize that they are the problem by compliancy to the situation that is now the norm.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: In the USA

      Thing is, what do you propose instead? EVERY system known to man is full of more fatal flaws than you can shake a scepter at, and nigh all of them boil down to the human condition, meaning solving them will require evolving a better human first.

      1. JohnFen Silver badge

        Re: In the USA

        You can't view this in such a black-and-white way. You're correct that perfection is unattainable, but there are varying degrees of malfunction. Having less malfunction is an attainable goal. We've had it before.

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: In the USA

          You HAVE to. People think that way because it simplifies things. Shades of gray complicate their thinking and make them scream in frustration. My experience tells me any kind of middle road starts gravitating toward one or the other extreme. Just look at today's politics where "compromise" is now considered a dirty word.

    2. NonSSL-Login

      Re: In the USA

      The copyright cartels are another example of this. Nothing has been done to stop their ever increasing laws and control on the internet and hardware in our homes, all in the name of profit.

      Would love for more EFF type organisations to fight for us but also have government realise there are human and moral judgements to be made with technology, not just industry money winning everything they want.

  4. adnim Silver badge
    Mushroom

    Me...

    Don't expect anyone to to guard your web privacy.

  5. Mark 85 Silver badge

    Schneier said Silicon Valley hasn't done enough to educate our political classes about the latest platforms and ways of doing things online –

    Why should the industry educate the politicians? It's not in their best interest as when the political types get some knowledge, they will legislate the industry and the industry doesn't want to be regulated.

  6. JohnFen Silver badge

    One niggle

    I agree with most of what Schneier says here, except for this part:

    "The reason for this American impasse, Schneier said, was that politicians stateside don't have a clue about the internet, and how it works and can be abused."

    Clueless politicians are an important part, but I don't think they're the main reason for the impasse. I think the main reason is that the major companies involved actively don't want any of this to happen and are doing everything they can to make sure it doesn't.

    1. storner
      Big Brother

      Re: One niggle

      As seen from this (eastern) side of the pond, it is not only the US politicians who are clueless. The general population know even less about how surveillance capitalism work, and will happily divulge any and all personal details if only there's a chance of winning a free doughnut.

      It really is the same thing in Europe, we are just lucky that our politicians - miraculously, I have no idea how it came to be! - implemented reasonable privacy measures with the GDPR.

      1. JohnFen Silver badge

        Re: One niggle

        "miraculously, I have no idea how it came to be!"

        I'm going to broad-brush here (and so I'm automatically incorrect), but from my perspective here in the US, it seems that the difference is we have a larger percentage of politicians who are more interested in what is good for their paymasters than what is good for the nation.

        1. Stork Bronze badge

          Re: One niggle

          It may to some extent have to do with Germany being a big and powerful EU country with living memory of a surveillance state. Even if many Germans no doubt are clueless, it is sufficiently of an issue.

    2. DCFusor Silver badge

      Re: One niggle

      My software consulting firm worked for one of Mark Warner's (D) VC startups when we was a "self-made venture capitalist*" (long story, but that was his line). Before he was governor of VA and then Senator with a lot of pull in the Senate. He was actually a nice guy before giving in to the system capturing him. Took him at least 30 seconds longer to set off my BS detector than any other politician of the time. (sometimes even an entire paragraph)

      He wasn't the least bit ignorant of how the web and tech things work...that's not the problem for a lot of politicians, they know quite well, and those who don't have staff that do - their world runs on this stuff.

      They also know where their campaign is buttered.

      The recidivism rate for incumbents is as high as it is for reasons.

      *looking into where the self made initial money came from is...illuminating.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Schneier said Silicon Valley hasn't done enough to educate our political classes about the latest platforms and ways of doing things online – "

    That is also exactly what the American educational system has done to the populace over the last 40 years. It's reduced the education level so low that there is no critical think in most of the population. This has benefited the ruling class by allowing the neoliberal cabal to stay in control and to elect Donald Trump. Once Ol' Donny loses most of his popularity amongst the deplorables he'll be thrown to the wolves and the neolibs will just keep on neolibbin'. :)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      NeoLib, NeoCon - all just faces of the war party, and I don't have a choice at the voting booth.

      Let's all watch the MIC destroy any anti-war candidate...in the future, just starting now.

      It'd be more fair to say the government is a subsidiary of these outfits than the other way around.

  8. Arthur the cat Silver badge
    Happy

    politicians stateside don't have a clue about the internet

    How very different from the home life of our own dear queenparliament.

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