Our government will end up thwarting tech innovation and balkanizing the web

…Google Glass + NSA PRISM essentially amounts to a vision in which a foreign country is suddenly going to be flooded with American spy cameras. It seems easy to imagine any number of foreign governments having a problem with that idea. More broadly, Google is already facing a variety of anti-trust issues in Europe where basic economic nationalism is mixing with competition policy concerns. Basically various European mapping and comparison and shopping firms don’t want to be crushed by Google, and European officials are naturally sympathetic to the idea of not letting local firms be crushed by California-based ones. Legitimate concern that US tech companies are essentially a giant periscope for American intelligence agencies seem like they’d be a very powerful new weapon in the hands of European companies that want to persuade EU authorities to shackle American firms. Imagine if it had come out in the 1980s that Japanese intelligence agencies were tracking the location of ever Toyota and Honda vehicle, and then the big response from the Japanese government was to reassure people that Japanese citizens weren’t being spied upon this way. There would have been—legitimately—massive political pressure to get Japanese cars out of foreign markets.

The intelligence community obviously views America’s dominance in the high-tech sector as a strategic asset that should be exploited in its own quest for universal knowledge. But American dominance in the high-tech sector is first and foremost a source of national economic advantage, one that could be undone by excessive security involvement.

That is from Matt Yglesias.


Disagree. New technology is like toothpaste: once it's out, it's never going back in. Decentralization and black market non-compliance is going to undermine both governments and large tech corporations. This is a good thing. The world is changing in front of our eyes. Decentralization is the new frontier of liberty.

Just MHO.

The tech won't be reversed, but won't we get a much more national and also balkanized version of it, as the Chinese have done?

China is a good example, IMO, especially regarding their black markets. Most of the people I know who live there know how to get around the government's controls over the internet. The individual Chinese are remarkably industrious on that level - remember the guy who turned a PC monitor into an iPad for his girlfriend? I think the technology is too powerful to be stopped or controlled. Just a question of whether it's going to be underground or above-ground.

But I don't have a good track record with my predictions. ;)

I don't buy that the technology will overcome control. The Chinese government can crack down harder if they choose to because they do it periodically when there's a national political meetings. They just don't want to tip their hand and let you know what they can do, so if they need to shut things down for real, VPNs and tech savvy people will need days or weeks to figure out a work around.

Why does this technology have to be decentralized? If you have the most powerful AI, you can conquer everything because it is all connected. The technology is heading towards Skynet or a human controlled version of it. Governments are increasingly taking action globally, not returning power locally, and the leader in pushing for global government is the United States. It's as it always was: technology is what you make of it. Guns in the hands of millions of people can mean a free state or a conquering army.

People do not want freedom. They don't want responsibility for their lives. They want more safety, more security. The Christian prophecy "mark of the beast," where everyone is forced to have a chip implanted that tracks their every transaction, is 99% of the way there as far as technology goes (they have all your credit card data and bank transactions). All the government has left to do to fulfill the prophecy is force people to accept the chip, selling at as a way to defeat identity fraud, eliminate drug dealers and black markets, and save the economy from a deflationary collapse. What seemed like an outlandish prophecy decades ago looks more probably than a libertarian paradise in the coming decades.

"Our government will end up thwarting tech innovation and balkanizing the web"

If technology companies become increasingly limited to national markets, on the margin they will be less innovative, because the rewards of innovation have decreased. However, I think we will see innovation in free and open source software increase. As paranoia over government overreach increases, more people will be motivated to develop free technologies. We already have darknets such as tor and freenet, bitcoin, and linux on personal computers and cellphones. Who knows...we may get a linux-run self-driving car in the future. Someone will end up hacking Google Glass and offer free software on that too. These technologies are not national.

We may see a balkanized "mainstream" web, but there is a growing global community of privacy concerned individuals who are developing alternatives. So profit-motivated innovation may decrease but paranoia motivated innovation may increase.

+1 From a different Bill (I love it how we have two Bill's so that you don't know which one it is and have to judge he comments on the merits).

The point is that in the future you may pay for privacy, at least with respect to blocking private party access, rather than viewing privacy as a right, since your privacy has been pretty much trampled on by the private sector anyway with all the cookies you have in your system right now.

I worry more about Karl Rove having access to my data than I do about an agency which has to have a court order to look at it.

As to other governments, Google has to comply with foreign laws--they do not get a pass from the EU if they violate foreign laws respecting privacy.

(I love it how we have two Bill’s so that you don’t know which one it is and have to judge he comments on the merits)

Haha, great dynamic. I had no idea.

The US government is already using the patent system to block innovation in software, especially Free software.

Between patents and surveillance it's clear now that the US government would prefer to be a world empire without a foot in the technology industry. These things work on a tipping point dynamic so all the tech innovation could slip away overseas in a blink. That goes double for industries that are dependent on temporary foreign workers.

Today, though, Silicon Valley is still Silicon Valley. A lot of people there will celebrate the day it becomes affordable again because the tech industry has decamped to Berlin or Seoul or somewhere.

But we're the good guys! It's when others do what we do, that's what's evil.

Seriously though, technology advances cannot be undone. Even if all kinds of laws are passed to curtail this, they'll just get bypassed more secretly. This one calls for a market solution, like a way to encrypt the data collected (quantum computers?). Then police states will come up with something else, and so on...
Funny how we keep turning out to be what we accuse others of being...

why do you read Yglesias ?

Funny that somebody always asks this question. I wonder what percentage of Tyler's readers are so uninterested in other viewpoints that even a pro-market liberal liberal like Matt Yglesias is considered unworthy.

its not about his views,
its just that he has been so wrong so often.

Why do any of us read this blog? I read for the credit snobs.

I come for the cheap chalupas.

The NSA is spying on foreign sources as well, of course, but since no oversight nor warrants are required there is nothing to leak.

The correct analogy is if the Japanese government were tracking not only Hondas and Toyotas, but Fords, GMs, BMWs and VWs as well.

Not my original idea,

" Imagine if it COMES out in the 2010S that CHINESE ENTREPRENEURS DEVELOPED THE NEXT SUPERCOOL GLOBAL COMMUNICATION INTERNET SITE, and then the big response from the CHINESE government was to reassure people that GLOBAL citizens weren’t being spied upon this way. There would have been-legitimately???-massive political pressure to get CHINESE SUPERCOOL GLOBAL COMMUNICATION INTERNET SITES out of foreign markets."

There is a different, very American, approach.

Radical surveillance OF THE STATE. We offer every American $1K tax credit to buy camera equipment / google glass etc that has the express intent of watching our govt.

We force all public employees to have their bank accounts published as terms for hire, we go out of our way to encourage the use of tech to make sunshine real.

And then oh yeah, we can collectively use it to catch bad guys.

I live in China. As everyone knows, facebook is blocked here. People like to assume that's to keep people from communicating online (it's not really -- they have weibo for that). I suspect the real reason is that China has known all along that facebook is not that far off from being a front for American intelligence agencies. I wonder if Xi Jinping's wife will stop using her iphone now too.

Facebook is "blocked." When I was in China, I could use Facebook on my mobile device, connected via the local wireless provider.

Yeah, I know. It's very easy to get around it. But the point still stands: they don't want it to be used in China, and I suspect we now know the real reason for that.

Regardless of whether or not that's the 'real' reason, authoritarian governments have been handed a perfect, completely plausible pretext/justification for limiting citizen's access to any internet resource they choose.

Agreed, only I would go further and say it might be more than a just plausible pretext for doing so in this case. It is arguably a fully valid reason to ban or limit facebook et al., even for a non-authoritarian government, if the NSA does in fact have direct, unlimited access to the servers. That might sound ridiculous, but consider that all the assurances we're hearing from Obama and various editorialists ONLY apply to American citizens. If you're not American, they can spy with total impunity. Would you consider it a national security risk if the number top email services and the top social network used by your citizens were known to be essentially a front for, say, Russia's FSB? Because I would. That would be a clear national security issue. I don't see how this is all that different. And some non-authoritarian governments are starting to voice their concern now (see, for example, the statements yesterday from Peter Schaar, who is Germany's Data Protection and Freedom of Information Commissioner).

This has also been a faint undercurrent of concern in regards to some of the advanced military equipment that America sells to its allies.You may not know precisely where your F15 is right now, but the Americans who sold it to you probably do - and you might want to be really, really careful who you target with some of that stuff.

Unfortunately, Matt's just wrong about what's driving the EU to investigate Google. It's not economic nationalism. It's Microsoft.

The Europeans have no love of Microsoft.

In the future, people wearing Google glass won't just look like tools. They actually will be tools.

Tools have become the tools of their tools.

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Forgot to mention Britain was also sharing in the data trove also, it's not a simple US company collusion US govt. vs. everyone narrative.

Will this finally help fund Theseus, the flailing EU backed competitor to Google? Or will everyone trust innocent Yandex.ru and Baidu.cn for their search needs now?

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