Digital Feudalism Is Upon Us. How do we respond?

January 22, 2013
12:50 pm to 2:00 pm

RSVP required for this free event.

Room 230 - Stanford Law School

Brown Bag Session with Arvind Narayanan

The Internet and digital technologies are quickly evolving toward the very antithesis of their original decentralized roots. In the new model adopted by smartphones, tablets, and other devices like the Kindle, the key is vertical integration — hardware, software platform, and an identity layer packaged together, along with an app and content ecosystem. This feudal paradigm, with a small number of companies controlling their respective non-interoperable digital territories, is winning out — users, conceptualized as serfs, give up some freedoms but gain security, usability and convenience, and app and content providers finally have a workable revenue model.

Regardless of one's normative stance on this development, some serious concerns must be recognized. For example: 1. Public conversations are stored on and mediated by privately controlled servers and algorithms. 2. As a side effect, vast repositories of sociological data are inaccessible to researchers. 3. With digital goods, the concept of resale, and hence the first-sale doctrine, are becoming meaningless in practice. 4. Non-interoperability leads to redundancy and economic inefficiency. 5. Companies control our digital identities, and getting locked out can mean losing one's digital life.

In this brown bag session Professor Narayanan will discuss how we — as scholars, as citizens — should adjust to living in a feudal world. Should tech innovators be content to tinker at the edges, or try to strike at the roots? Which laws need to be reexamined, and what new laws do we need? What are the implications for antitrust policy, and for privacy? We may not find the answers right away, but let us start by identifying all the questions that need to be asked.

Arvind Narayanan is a Computer Science/CITP Assistant Professor at Princeton and an affiliate scholar at Stanford CIS. He studies information privacy and security, and has a side-interest in tech policy. His doctoral research exposed the problems with data anonymization. His thesis is that the level of anonymity that consumers expect—and companies claim to provide—in published or outsourced databases is fundamentally unrealizable. His more recent work has focused on what he calls "privacy-conscious system design" in the areas of online behavioral advertising (including Do Not Track) and location privacy.

More Info on Arvind:

Stanford Law School Room 230
559 Nathan Abbott Way
Stanford, CA


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