The “State of surveillance”with Edward Snowden and Shane Smith concentrates on state surveillance. This is a complex problem, but the gist of it is that they collect metadata. My first, gut reaction, was: the whole IT industry is now based on collecting metadata.
Not only states do it, but every big IT company is based on metadata. They could not work without collecting metadata.
The scary potential of metadata use by states does not change the fact that the economic models behind today big IT companies are built around metadata. So, no matter how concerned we may be about the states, no matter how hard people push for laws which would limit the state’s metadata collection, all this has no serious effect.
I don’t think that coercion, by law or otherwise, is the effective thing to do. It’s hypocritical and makes people feel good about themselves, but, really, how can it work? Are those people going to stop using every free (aka your metadata are the product) service too? No way, it’s not going to happen.
Let’s ask: why do we need metadata? Can’t we make systems which do not need metadata to function?
I think that we can’t, as long as we stay in the IT paradigm. Metadata is data about data, a special kind of data which has to be shared between the sender and the receiver of information.
In the biology world, metadata functions differently. That tree from the jungle selects the pollinator bird by the shape of it’s flower. However, the bird does not need to know the identity of the tree, nor the tree ever needs to know exactly which bird, among those with the beak of the right size, is going to pollinate it. “Knowing” does not even make sense, for them.
The humble fly does not need to know euclidean geometry in order for it’s brain to “process data” harvested by the visual system in order to activate the muscles. It doesn’t even make sense, in principle, to think like that. The scientist presents the evidence for that in such terms.
I don’t need to know the name and address of the guy I randomly meet on the street and ask him for directions, although, of course, if a third party films us then there is evidence showing that I and the guy with that identity (recoverable from other evidence) have met, because we are at about the same space coordinates, at about the same time coordinate, and we signaled with our bodies the willingness to exchange information, according to the video and ambiental sound evidence.
The biggest weakness of the IT paradigm is metadata. Prove me wrong.