The right to be included in the conversation
~ 5 min read
"To be GOVERNED is to be watched, inspected, spied upon, directed, law-driven, numbered, regulated, enrolled, indoctrinated, preached at, controlled, checked, estimated, valued, censured, commanded, by creatures who have neither the right nor the wisdom nor the virtue to do so. To be GOVERNED is to be at every operation, at every transaction noted, registered, counted, taxed, stamped, measured, numbered, assessed, licensed, authorized, admonished, prevented, forbidden, reformed, corrected, punished. It is, under pretext of public utility, and in the name of the general interest, to be placed under contribution, drilled, fleeced, exploited, monopolized, extorted from, squeezed, hoaxed, robbed; then, at the slightest resistance, the first word of complaint, to be repressed, fined, vilified, harassed, hunted down, abused, clubbed, disarmed, bound, choked, imprisoned, judged, condemned, shot, deported, sacrificed, sold, betrayed; and to crown all, mocked, ridiculed, derided, outraged, dishonored. That is government; that is its justice; that is its morality."
Lately, to be on the internet is to be governed. A lot of those actions Proudhon mentions might as well refer to our interactions with the companies that 'rule' the web.
A while back, I applied to a tech event made for women, but I didn't get selected to attend it. I really, really wanted to attend it and because, for me, it wasn't clear on why I hadn't been selected (and what should I do next time to get to attend), I sent an email asking. Their answer? Even though the registration was put up on a public website (for the event) and anyone could sign up there, the spots for this event had been reserved for girls who had filled the form they had put up on the group's Facebook page. I didn't use Facebook and I wasn't one of these people, so I had been excluded. Okay.
When I began PyLadies Porto Alegre, I insisted with Liliane that we didn't make the same mistake. That any information about our meetings should be open to anyone who wanted to join. That is why we set up an website which hopefully any person with internet access could visit and get the next meeting date. We also created a mailing list (indeed, with the third-party company MailChimp) which you only need an e-mail to subscribe to and get the next meeting date delivered to your inbox. We publish event dates on Quitter.se (an instance of GNU Social), which then replicates to Twitter.
But the feedback we got on Python Brasil after presenting the work we've been doing with PyLadies Porto Alegre for the past year was the following:
"I didn't even know PyLadies Porto Alegre was so active, that it had organized this much stuff. You people don't divulge much."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, I always check PyLadies Brazil Facebook and there is always stuff about other groups there, but there isn't anything about PyLadies Porto Alegre".
"Yes, well, all our stuff is public in our website, that anyone can access without needing a Facebook account. We publish to GNU Social and Twitter. Our website link is on the PyLadies Brazil site. But if your only source of news is Facebook..."
If your only source of news is Facebook you will miss tons of all the amazing things that are happening out there and that are not on Facebook. The internet and the web itself are way more than Facebook (even though, depending on your access, it might be a bit complicated to get past this. This is not the case for the privileged people that I usually talk to and that simply chose to have Facebook as their 'internet portal/newsfeed').
The point is: regardless of which service the people looking to engage with PyLadies Porto Alegre had agreed to provide data for (Mailchimp, Twitter or their an email provider) - or even if they chose not to provide data at all, simply visiting our site using proxy or VPNs or Tor or scriptblockers that allowed them to anonimize their location - we tried ensure that anyone could get the information about the meetings.
Because Facebook actively excludes people that don't have an account there (requiring login to even look at some posts or events), we didn't bother with a profile there at first (even though we do have a Facebook page now -.-).
Even with all that, sometimes it feels like a one-women cruzade, to ensure that the information and participation stays open and free. Because it's a sad reality that if I don't take part and if I don't stir this conversation on this group, all these efforts are quickly forgotten and people easily fall back into the closed options "that everyone uses" (namely Facebook, Whatsapp, Google Hangouts).
It's important to say that it's not just companies that exclude people. We exclude people from the conversation, from the ability to interact with us when we chose proprietary (and closed) services to communicate with each other.
In name of using 'easy' and 'free' (as in beer) tools, people simply overlook that all these closed options require that you (and everyone else that want to contact you and has to use those plataforms) sign a contract with a company to use these services. And it's not even a contract that you can negotiate the terms, it's a contract that the company dictates the terms and it's terms that can be changed at at point in time, always to benefit these companies.
This is a picture of all the data Google collected about my movements during one month in Porto Alegre, simply because I owned an Android smartphone. If a person, a company or a government knowing and cataloging every movement you make doesn't freak you out, I honestly don't know what would.
People overlook that all those 'free' services aren't really free. They have a cost. A cost that is being paid by our actual freedom as human beings. They take away our freedom of having a really free internet and we are complicit. We are allowing them to do that. By giving away our privacy (and the privacy of other fellow human beings), we are allowing these companies (and, a lot of times, governments) to watch and know every step we take, to chose what we read and which websites we access, how we think, to limit our freedom of expression, our freedom of chosing not to have our data in their database and even our freedom of being. A lot of times, they act without us even knowing what they are doing.
If there is one wish I have for this Data Privacy Day, is for people to start considering the services they are using and how this affects everyone else around them. I do not choose to have my phone number indexed by Google, you do that for me when you add me to your contacts. I do not choose to have my face indentified and indexed by Facebook, it's you who do that every time you upload a picture with me to your timeline. But, most of all, it's not me who choses to be 'out of reach', 'not to participate in your community or your meeting', 'to isolate myself from communicating on the internet' (even though I am constantly online). It's you who choose to hide behind proprietary services with terms I cannot consciously agree to.