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The commercialization of Internet surveillance is the modern slave trade!

Any site that pops up a notice telling you 'we respect your privacy' doesn't, or they wouldn't have to tell you.  Normally the notice is followed by a request to plant cookies and 'other  tracking technology' on your device in order to disrespect your privacy.  Or worse, they tell you that by using their site your accept their use of cookies, etc.  That's like telling you 'do not read this billboard'

This site uses an https address because some browsers tell you sites using 'old fashioned' http are unsafe to view.  Https secures the communications between site and viewer.

We don't issue a cookie warning or request that you approve their use, because we don't issue cookies.  The hosting company we use keeps track of your IP address (or your first VPN-link address) to enable communication, and their Cpanel tells us generally where you (or your VPN link) are located.  But that's about all.

We don't track users.  Why should we?  We don't want to sell you anything, and we don't want to sell you to anyone else! 

On August 11, 2022, the US Federal Trade Commission asked for public comment on Commercial Surveillance and Data Security Rulemaking.  The comment period ends on October 21. 

We submitted the following pro-user comment:

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The Commercialization of Internet Surveillance should be recognized as Involuntary Servitude

According to the 13th amendment to the United States Constitution, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude … shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” (constitution.congress.gov › amendment-13)

According to the Federal Trade Commission, commercial surveillance is “the collection, aggregation, analysis, retention, transfer, or monetization of consumer data and the direct derivatives of that information.” (www.federalregister.gov/documents/2022/08/22/2022-17752/trade-regulation-rule-on-commercial-surveillance-and-data-security)

I note three key elements in recognizing the commercialization of Internet surveillance as involuntary servitude: capture, control and profit.

Capture: As of 2022, the United States had over 307 million internet users. (www.statista.com/statistics/325645/usa-number-of-internet-users/)

There is no free lunch, yet we all enjoy the benefits of free information search, free maps, free apps on our phones, free browsers on our PCs, etc. All these free services can be mined both directly and indirectly for information about the user.

The offer of free services in exchange for surreptitious surveillance is coercion.

The State Department lists seven examples of modern slavery. (www.state.gov/what-is-modern-slavery/) The page mentions coercion multiple times as a means of creating/enforcing slavery; traditional chains and shackles are not mentioned at all.

If you read the Federal Register trade-regulation-rule-on-commercial-surveillance-and-data-security document on a free web browser, you’ve been captured, and perhaps surveilled.

Control: If I generate value, and someone else controls the collection, distribution, pricing, and sale of the value I generate without my participation in the process, I am in a position of involuntary servitude. I do not, and cannot, know the value of my information to anyone buying it – someone else controls my information, which is my property. The person generating value is controlled by exclusion.

Profit: If companies could not profit from it, there would be no rationale for commercializing Internet surveillance. If our information is valuable, why not offer us a fair price for it? Without knowing the value of our information, we cannot set a reasonable price should we decide to voluntarily sell it.

Plantation slavery was a successful and profitable business model, yet we abolished it. If a company cannot survive without slavery, it has the wrong business model.

Basic proposal: Involuntary commercial Internet surveillance must be illegal, it is involuntary servitude.

Opt-out must be the defacto norm. Brokering of information beyond the control and approval of the customers generating that information must not be allowed.

I find nothing in the FTC's questions to suggest that individuals should not become merchants of their own information. Internet users generate value and should be allowed to benefit directly from that value if they wish. Guidelines for voluntary information disclosure must be crafted with clear and verifiable rules for collecting, processing, verifying, storing and deleting information.

Technology can be employed to recognize, block and report surreptitious commercial tracking, as well as channel legitimate information transfer.

The 'free' trinkets we enjoy cannot cost so much that the largest tech companies operate at a loss – the opposite is obvious. Since there are so many players already collecting, aggregating and reselling, there must be established methods for evaluating our information.

Why aren't we invited (incentivized) to participate in surveillance capitalism, if we want, on our own terms? Market forces will forge new business models to meet new situations, as they always have.

 There is a precedent. By 1870, sharecroppers, small farmers, and plantation owners in the American south had produced more cotton than they had in 1860, and by 1880, they exported more cotton than they had in 1860. The loss of slave labor led to increased commercial activity. (www.mshistorynow.mdah.ms.gov/issue/cotton-and-the-civil-war)

The FTC’s question 95 invites comment on the potential obsolescence of any rulemaking. The abolition of slavery should not be subject to 'potential obsolescence', it should be the guiding principle when regulating commercialized Internet surveillance.

If a ruling on the 13th amendment is beyond the FTC’s remit, I respectfully request that you open a dialog with your colleagues at State and Justice. Please see also the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Articles 4 and 12. (www.un.org/sites/un2.un.org/files/2021/03/udhr.pdf)

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In 1994 I created a public website for a very large, high tech company headquartered in Stockholm, Sweden.  The company name is a common Swedish family name. 

It was a rational business decision to register the company name under the .se country code top level, but also under .com and, since the company is multinational, a large number of additional country code top levels.

I subsequently checked the local telephone directory and found there were 100 unrelated companies in the Stockholm area listed under 4 variant spellings of our company name.  None of the others could register .com or .se using 'our' name spelling and, by some standards, anyone using their variant spelling could be accused of typo-squatting.

So - one company could prevent 100 other companies in Stockholm from presenting themselves under their familiar name on the Internet, many more in the rest of Sweden, and even more in those countries where we registered under the local country code TLD.

Today an online directory finds 12,781 companies in Sweden under the name Ericsson.

The lack of appropriate domain names doesn't make the Internet a safer, more secure and inviting place for companies, organizations and individuals.  It is a limiting factor that invites abuse.  These DNS limitations don't promote the public interest. 

You may recite 'first come, first served' but that's misleading and semantically incorrect.  It's 'first come, exclusively served'.  Citing 'first come' doesn't mitigate the damage to all those who are not served.

You may claim 'that's how the Internet works' but demonstrates how it doesn't.  You don't dismiss ransomware injections that take down the East Coast fuel supply as an example of 'how the Internet works'.

Remember, the Internet once 'worked' only when domain names were written in letter/digit/hyphen ASCII.  Why should everyone in the world be required to speak a subset of American English.

IDNA (Internationalized names) solved the language problem by adding a little code to every browser.  This code is invisible to the user.

Where's the innovative technical solution to the 'first come exclusively served' conundrum?  Requirements include unlimited naming, full backward compatibility, easy to learn and use, that only a browser update is required (not network infrastructure), and that no current name holders and their content are negatively impacted.  Multiplexed Names meet the requirements.

Both the telephone network and social networks like Facebook manage 'unlimited' users with the same name/spelling as the company mentioned above.  There are approximately 366.3 million domain names registered across all top-level domains (end of Q4, 2020, according to Verisign) but Facebook has 2.8 billion users.  The WIPO has handled >50,000 UDRP cases involving the DNS, but needn't mediate 'rightful ownership' of Facebook user names or telephone numbers. 

The phone in your pocket has added new features and functions since 1993, and you use it more. 

In his 1999 book Weaving the Web, Tim Berners-Lee, wrote:
"There can be a Joe & Sons hardware company in Bangor, Maine, and a Joe & Sons fish restaurant in San Francisco.  But there can only be one joeandsons.com."

He could have written:
There can be a beer.se and ale.se, but neither a bärs nor öl.se with the Swedish characters ä and ö.

Both statements were correct at the time he wrote, but for at least the last decade non-LDH ASCII ('foreign' characters and scripts) have been translated by the IDNA edge application in every browser.  

It's easy to evolve the Domain Name System to point to multiple users of 'the same name'.

Full disclosure: we have no affiliation with any TLD registry, registrar or re-seller. 

March 1, 2023
W. Kenneth Ryan