Cozy, mass surveillance and self censorship

This post is the first one of a series that aims at explaining in which context Cozy is operating, beyond technology.

There are many reasons to use Cozy, and one of them is to curb mass surveillance, considering that it starves democracy.

Let’s see how Cozy, mass surveillance and democracy are linked to each other.

1 - Data centralization

As smartphone and Web-based applications (such as Gmail, Google Maps, Facebook etc.) usage spreads, our personal data ends up in the data-centers of a handful of very large Internet companies.

Such companies tend to accumulate as much data about each of their users for 2 reasons:

  1. The more they know about us, the more we depend on them and will have a hard time leaving their service. It’s a new kind of vendor lock-in.
  2. The more data they have on us, the more they can sell targeted advertising to their actual clients (those who pay for the service) aka the advertisers.

NSA-parody-logo-black_CC_BY_EFF.org.jpg

NSA logo parody by EFF.org used under CC-BY license

2 - Mass surveillance is on the rise

The Snowden revelations show that several government agencies (the NSA in the US, GCHQ in the UK, DGSE in France et their respective equivalents in other countries) are working together to monitor communications of people from all over the world.

About these surveillance programs, here is what Snowden declared in an open letter:

I shared with the world evidence proving some governments are building a world-wide surveillance system to secretly track how we live, who we talk to, and what we say.

3 - Data centralization makes mass surveillance economically possible

Monitoring the communication of billions of phones, smartphones and Internet-connected computers is of course extremely expensive, even for the NSA. This is why taking data from the hands of a few large companies that have centralized it makes a lot of sense from an economic standpoint.

4 - Mass surveillance leads to self-censorship

A new study shows that mass surveillance has “a chilling effect on democratic discourse by stifling the expression of minority political views”.

The study, published in Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, was authored by Elizabeth Stoycheff, an assistant professor from Wayne State University, Minnesota. In the Washington Post, she explains:

It concerns me that surveillance seems to be enabling a culture of self-censorship because it further disenfranchises minority groups. And it is difficult to protect and extend the rights of these vulnerable populations when their voices aren’t part of the discussion. Democracy thrives on a diversity of ideas, and self-censorship starves it.

Similarly, studies have taken place in Germany several years ago, as reported by PrivateInternetAccess.com, who states:

half of Germans would stop making phone calls that could be used against them in the future. This included a large list of phone calls that could somehow identify them as “weaker” – suicide hotlines, drug helplines, even marriage counseling.

5 - Internet decentralization and communication encryption matter

At Cozy, we believe that the Internet is a wonderful tool that can change the world for the better, provided that we architecture and use it properly. Unfortunately, mass surveillance – made possible by centralization and targeted advertising – is hindering greatly the promises of the Internet. This is why we work hard to create a decentralized personal Cloud which relies on encrypted communications.