Because we can: comments from a lecture

The weekend and FSCONS is now over. This year my presentation was the last talk of the final session. It’s a dirty job but someone’s got to do it?

My presentation was on the topic of privacy and raised the question of whether it is possible to maintain ones privacy in the world of extreme technology dependencies and broad social technology adoption. The answer is, dependably & depressingly, negative.

The talk was entitled Off the Grid: is anonymity possible? And focused on different forms of surveillance that are in the hands of uncommon players today. This is not big brother society, this is not little brother society. What we have is a society were privacy is lost because our contacts inform their contacts of interesting details from our lives. These details are able to be spread further by my contacts contacts. Potentially reaching the ends of the Internet. Whether or not this happens does not depend on anything I control but the interestingness of the information.

To illustrate this I displayed this tweet:

Translation: Thing that can happen at #fscons: @Klang67 proclaims himself queen. A bit unclear over what.

This is a form of surveillance through acquaintances and therefore I have chosen to follow the French wording (surveillance is French for viewing from above) and called this connaivellance for the fascinating word connaissance or acquaintance. I find the French word more interesting than the English as its root connai is the word for knowledge. Therefore, the French connaissance (acquaintance) is someone who has knowledge of you. How very apt.

The next form of surveillance is the self-surveillance of the social media age where we tell the world of ourselves. Or as a professor I met earlier in the week protested, with absolute conviction: “Twitter? That’s only people telling each other what they had for breakfast!”

Another thing I find fascinating with social media is the way it shapes our communication. One part of this is the way in we move towards the extremes. Few people online drink coffee, read books, or listen to lectures… We all seem to read fantastic/terrible books, drink great or awful coffee and lectures are either inspiring or snooze fests. All this with a shower of smileys too.

Both this autoveillance (which I have written more about here) and this connaivellance filled much of my lecture. As the law fails to protect, and our acquaintances and ourselves enthusiastically push information the last lines of defense must be the attitudes and interests of the social media creators. What my lecture showed was that protecting us is not in their interest. Therefore we stand unprotected. The slides from my presentation:

This morning I came across a further example of surveillance which needs to be added to the list. The story comes from a Forbes article by Dave Pell, entitled Privacy Ends at Burger King. The short version of the story is that a man who heard a married couple argue at Burger King began live tweeting the event and added pictures and even video clips. He began his broadcasting with the tweet “I am listening to a marriage disintegrate at a table next to me in this restaurant. Aaron Sorkin couldn’t write this any better.”

Pell’s analysis:

In that Burger King, Andy Boyle thought he was listening to the disintegration of a couple’s marriage. He was really hearing the crumbling of his own ethics and self-restraint. We can’t stand by and let an alliance between technology and poor judgement disintegrate all decency, and turn every human exchange into another tawdry and destructive episode on a never-ending social media highlight reel.

This example provided an interesting additional example to my discussion on surveillance. For me, this example shows an additional reason why any attempts to control social media (legally, socially or technically) will fail. The desire of people to communicate the interestingness in their (and others) lives makes control a difficult affair.

FSCONS continued late into the night.

Why I love #fscons

For an academic, conferences are a way of life. At their best they are crossroads and meeting places between academics working either on the same topic or with the same method or theory. In the worst case they are an event where you meet the same people, talk about the same things and re-draw familiar battle lines. Don’t get me wrong even these “worst case” scenarios conferences are still valuable as they are all about meeting people.

But then there is FSCONS.

Once a year for five years my own workplace is transformed into the conference for free software and free culture. The participants are not their because they have papers to present but because they have ideas they want to spread. The audience are not there because they are working on developing their position in an academic hierarchy, but because they believe in the importance of the fundamental premise of the conference.

This is not to say that this is all about preaching to the converted. The audience is very dedicated, and knowledgeable about their topics. Take for example the first talks in the first session:
Karsten Gerloff “The Water in Which We Swim: Policy issues around Free Software”
Jeremiah Foster “Embedded Free Software/Open Source in your car”
Fredrik Gladhorn “Accessibility for Qt and KDE”
Daniel Berntsson “Bitcoin: Decentralised Currency”

And the whole conference continues in this way. The hard hackers meet and mingle with the digital rights activists.

In addition to this it’s all about the people. The relaxed social event to this evening was filled with a breadth of discussions. We had comparisons between 1984 & Brave New World, the cult of leadership & superstar CEOs, penicillin and yoghurt, hardware hacking & aduino, the role of royalty in free culture NCOs… Everywhere you turn their is a passionate group arguing intently on everything from the gender of Jabba the Hut & Admiral Akbar to the purpose, meaning and ability of democracy.

In a moment of strangeness a discussion turned to walls: their meaning, construction, definition and more importantly how to differentiate between walls and wall-like structures. Everyone had opinions and the light-hearted discussion continued for longer than such a question normally would or could last.

When I next checked on twitter I had been challenged to hold a lightening talk entitled: What is a wall?

How could anyone not love FSCONS?

Soon time for FSCONS 2011

It’s soon time for my favorite annual Free Culture event. This time, it’s the 5th FSCONS conference will be between 11th and 13th of November. As usual it is held in Gothenburg, Sweden.

FSCONS is the Nordic countries’ largest gathering for free culture, free software and a free society. The conference is organised yearly with 250-300 participants primarily from northern Europe. The main organiser is the Society for Free Culture and Software.

This years keynote speakers will be Richard Stallman & Christina Haralanova.

This year’s track are Building Together — Manufacturing Solidarity, Development for Embedded Systems, Development in Free Software Communities, Free Desktop Environments, Free Software in Politics, Human Rights and Digital Freedoms, Social Events, The Future of Money, Universal Design — Aiming for Accessibility.

Since I am not a coder I am especially looking forward to attending Book scanning, proofreading, and advanced reuse & Bitcoin: decentralised currency & Policy issues around Free Software & Privacy or welfare – pick one: Cryptocurrencies, taxation, and the legibility of culture & WikiLeaks, Whistleblowing and the Mainstream Audience & Internet and Civil Rights In LATAM & many more. Not to mention the great discussions and beer drinking nights.

Oh, and I will be giving the presentation Off the grid: Is anonymity possible?

Registration here.

Nomination period open for Nordic Free Software Award

The Nordic Free Software Award is given to people, projects or organisations in the Nordic countries that have made a prominent contribution to the advancement of Free Software. The award will be announced during FSCONS 2011 in Gothenburg.

Send an email to award [AT] (moderated mailing list) with the following information:

* Name of nominee
* Bio of nominee
* Website
* Contact info
* Motivation

The nomination period ends October 22

Join the award committee
Send an email to award [AT] (moderated mailing list) with the following information:

* Your name
* Your email
* Motivation why you want to join the award committee

List of nominated 2011
Will be presented in October

Previous Award winners
* 2010 Bjarni Rúnar Einarsson (more info)
* 2009 Simon Josefsson and Daniel Stenberg (more info)
* 2008 Mats Östling (more info)
* 2007 SkoleLinux (more info)

FSCONS @ GoOpen in Oslo

FSCONS is taking to the road! Having been in Gothenburg for the last four years, we felt like spreading our wings a bit to see how far they take us. The 22nd-23rd of March, we’ll be in Oslo to give a very special FSCONS track at the GoOpen 2011 conference organised by the Norwegian Open Source Competence Center. In traditional FSCONS spirit, we’ll mix, match, and find topics that express the convergence of technology, society and culture.

Time and date: 22nd of March 09.30-21.00 and 23rd of March 09.00-15.30 Where: Oslo (Radisson SAS Scandinavia, Holbergs plass) check out the Program and Registration.

Speakers from Germany, Iceland, Austria, Sweden, France and Norway itself will express their thoughts and ideas in 12 sessions running in parallel in the same place and time as the rest of the GoOpen program. Of particular interest for FSCONS participants might be the sessions taking place also in the technical track, which include previous years Nordic Free Software Award winner Bjarni Rúnar Einarsson talking about PageKite and Evan Prodromou talking about StatusNet.

Speakers joining us for the FSCONS track are:

* Pippa Buchanan on Community Learning On Demand & The Future
Of The Web Is Made By You

* Primavera di Filippi on Cloud Computing and Regulatory Policies
* Mathias Klang on Limiting the Open Society
* Bjørn Ruberg on Fighting a distributed denial of service attack
* Karin Kosina on Art and Hacking in Syria
* Smári McCarthy on The Industrialization of the Internet
* Berglind Ósk Bergsdóttir on the Icelandic Modern Media Institute (link not up yet)
* Christian Siefkes on Commons-based Peer Production
* Bente Kalsnes on journalism and open data (link not up yet)
* Stian Rødven Eide on Evolution of the Free Software Ecosystem
* Jonas Öberg on Cloudberries in Culture – Nordic Creativity in Focus

The program runs during the morning and early afternoon on both days. Just before lunch on the 23rd of March, we’ll open the floor to lightning talks, run jointly with the technical track. If you are interested in giving a presentation during the lightning session, you should contact to express your interest. Please note that the lightnings will be limited to 1-2 minutes in length.


What is culture, how is it transmitted (and the issue of copyright) from a stone-age archeologists point of view! That was the focus of Mikael Nordins talk Cultural Transmission from an Archaeological Perspective. So why should we care about cultural transmission? According to Nordin its what makes us human. This becomes fascinating particularly since his perspective is the stone age. Bifacial mapping technique to make stone ages involves the same parts of the brain as with speaking. This supports the idea speech and cultural (stone tools) have an entangled evolution. This is fascinating stuff. The control of know-how and knowledge of the power elite has always been protected against piracy. But Nordin argues in the end the majority will win.

FSCONS 2009 part 2 Free Software and Feminism

Sunday morning begins at nine with the keynote Free Software and Feminism given by Christina Haralanova. Despite the party last night, the earliness of the hour and the difficulties in getting to the venue on a Sunday there is a good audience which shows the dedication and interest of this public to their cause. Haralanova asks why are there still so few women into technology. One answer is that they are discouraged and opposed. Boys have first contact at 12, girls 14.5 their first own computer boys at 15 girls at 19.

The social aspects of technology prove to be the key. The introduction to technology as toy for the boys provides them with a reason to interact with technology and share & discuss them with their friends. But since women begin later they do not have the confidence and the space to share and discuss. Naturally this then develops and is reinforced within the groups of tecchies and non-tecchies alike. Women are often subjected to jokes/insults and their contributions to projects are subjected to a more scrutiny.

As in many other aspects of life the contribution of men and women are not valued equally. This means that men are the coders while women are the documenters, teachers, promotors, gui-designers etc. We may have computers and Free Software but we still have not left the caves and hunting mammoths with rocks and sticks! The role of women is marginalized and made invisible – a role which re-inforces the negative position. By this we all lose.

FSCONS part 1

Despite being late I made it to the first talk which was by Erik Zachte speaking about Future of Wikipedia and the Wikimedia Foundation. He was eloquent and offered both an interesting animated graphical (a la Hans Rosling) example of the growth of different language groups within Wikipedia. He also offered a critical analysis of what this growth could mean and what will happen in the future.

The next talk was Young Pirate: Young people and hacktivism by Amelia Andersdotter, Krister Svanlund, Jimmy Callin, Kalle Vedin but unfortunately they were hadicapped by the problem that Amelia Andersdotter (Swedens latest MEP) was late and Jimmy Callin was unable to come due to illness. Despite the handicaps the talk gained momentum and the discussion got started and became an interesting talk about the problems with a disseminated organisation. Part of the problems could be technical the Göteborg group is more hacker oriented and use irc and the rest use the proprietary skype. Or organizational “Uppsala is more hierarchical while Göteborg is more chaotic”

Next up it’s Karin Kosina (vka kyrah) Hackerspaces FTW! She begins by apologizing that she maybe doesn’t need to but she will define the term hacker as opposed to crackers. “Hackers are people who do awesome things with technology” and Hackerspaces “I don’t mean spaces in an abstract theoretical space but actual physical space”. Kyrah has a great energy and belief that people can create – if they are given they opportunity the will go from consumers to producers. The opportunity? Basically its the need to go beyond chats and mailing lists. Physical space is creative! And fundamental spaces are key, she describes the importance of their kitchen (the place for food hacking):

Making food together and eating together is a fundamental way for people to come together as a community

The good, the bad & the ugly: Copyright & Open content licenses

Despite being close to the planning and organisation I had not paid attention to ensure that Creative Commons presented at this years FSCONS. Then today we had the unfortunate news that one of our presenters on Sunday was too ill to attend. So the opportunity presented itself and I will be presenting The good, the bad & the ugly: Copyright & Open content licenses

Taking its starting point in the principles, growth and development of open Creative Commons licenses this talk takes a closer look at what licenses can and cannot do in a world were copyright is attempting to lock-in culture into a eternal artificial monopoly.

Its here! FSCONS 2009

The greatest local event of the year is upon us. If you did not already know its time for the annual Free Software and Free Culture conference. The event is organised by two tireless friends of mine Jonas Öberg & Henrik Sandklef and this years FSCONS is an excellent example of why they really are the dynamic duo. The software and culture tracks appear in a nice mix (see schedule) and offer a wide range of intellectually challenging seminars and talks by pirates, politicians, aktivists, hackers, coders, geek girls, creators and the occasional academic.

My “must see” list is long but the highlights include: Edmund Harriss on Street Maths, Mikael Nordin on Cultural Transmission from an Archaeological Perspective, Christina Haralanova, on Free Software and Feminism & Christopher Kullenberg on Citizen’s Agenda: Net Neutrality, Surveillance and how to Re-build Politics

There will also be an event by the Julia Group (Tools for Determining Net Neutrality – An Activist Perspectve) the Nordic Free Software Award and lets not forget the social event of the year!

What can I say? its going to be a good weekend, so get over here and join in! There is always room for more Free Software/Free Culture nerds…