Thursday, July 18, 2019

Political Parties: Exclusionist by Design

Recently, the Vancouver Sun reported on a study from the Samara Centre for Democracy which discovered that a vast majority of candidates across political parties face no competition in the nomination process.

While the article is attempting to expose a flaw in the candidate nomination process, I believe it exposes a greater flaw in our overall electoral process: the political parties themselves.

One would be justified to be disturbed at the findings in this study, but one should not be alarmed. The party-based political model  is designed to keep the power in the hands of the leaders of the political parties. This is done in an attempt to root-out the free-thinkers that led to the SNC Lavalin scandal. The leadership of political parties don't want anyone challenging their authority, so they limit who's invited to the dance.

I've discussed before how our political system puts the cart before the horse. This report drives that point home. We need a system of government that puts the people first. We don't need some fat-cat in Ottawa telling us what should be important to us. We should be telling our parliamentarians what is important and they should debate the best ways to address our concerns. The article correctly states:
“Part of the power of parties for voters is that they simplify the choices [...] If they can’t have some role in simplifying the menu of choices, what are they for?”

There was a time, when we needed that simplification. We had no means of knowing who believed what, and it was easier to align our votes based on the stated beliefs of a political party; birds of a feather and all that. Today, technology has removed that need. With a few keystrokes anyone can find out not only what's on the "menu of choices", but what ingredients make up each choice. Now you could argue that such information can be used to better align ones choice of political party, but that doesn't solve the problem that the local candidate is merely an employee of the political party with which s/he is associated. When elected, your value to her/him disappears for four years, and s/he votes exactly the way s/he is instructed by the party leader, regardless of your values/priorities.

So what do we do? The people who can make the changes needed like the system the way it is, because it keeps them in power. Vote. Most importantly, we must vote. Unless someone is willing to start a party with the explicit goal of abolishing party politics, vote independent. Of course, this requires you to put in the effort needed to ensure that the independent is actually someone who shares your values and priorities, but you should be doing that anyways. With enough independent members of parliament, the power of the government can be controlled, if not swept away.

Get involved. Speak your mind. Demand accountability. Avoid party-based mud-slinging. Don't believe everything you hear, and only half of what you see. We have had too many years of leaving the important decisions to people who place their own interests above the interests of the people they are supposed to serve.

It's time for a revolution. 

Saturday, February 9, 2019

No Free Lunch

I heard this line again today. This time on The CyberWire podcast:

«If it's free,
you're the product.»

I love that. Our society has gotten kind of bipolar. On the one hand, nobody wants to pay for anything, and on the other hand people get bent out of shape when they find out that companies like Google and Facebook may be monitoring their activities. We want the low prices of Walmart, and then complain when jobs are lost to China.

Wired Magazine reports that "On Thursday[February 7th, 2019], Germany’s Federal Cartel Office, the country’s antitrust regulator, ruled that Facebook was exploiting consumers by requiring them to agree to [extensive] data collection in order to have an account, and has prohibited the practice going forward." Facebook claims that it's adherence to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) absolves it of any antitrust violations.

The timing of this is downright spooky, in that on the Monday February 4th, 2019 episode of the Jordan Harbinger podcast, Mr. Harbinger discusses the real cost of the “everything is free” mentality with Jaron Lanier, an early Internet pioneer and author of Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now. I'm not willing to go to the extent that Mr. Lanier suggests, however he makes a few good observations: he is able to stay up to date on all the latest trends without any social media accounts by having real relationships with other people; most people don't realize the degree that their information is being collected and monetized; and if the business model was subscription based, instead of advertising based, many of the negative aspects of social media would be removed.

From a security and liability perspective, it is best practice to only gather as much data as is necessary to provide the goods and services for which an organization is engaged. What has been happening however, is that organizations are developing services that they can't sell, so they offer them for free, and then recoup their costs and try to earn profit by selling advertising. For example, when Facebook came out, they were offering a solution to a problem I didn't know I had. Therefore, I would never have signed up if it required a financial obligation. But when I created my account, and noticed that I could use it to connect with friends and family that have otherwise slipped out of my life, I realized that the service had value. Where my initial observation was that Facebook was just a website, I now view it as a service not unlike a telephone. I gladly pay for my telephone (though I feel I pay too much), and I would gladly pay for Facebook today (as long as the price was in check). What I will not do, is pay twice: both financially and with data.

It would make an interesting study. If Facebook were to reveal the full extent of their data collection, and tell its subscribers how much that data is worth to them financially, how many subscribers would be willing to pay for a "datanonymous" version of the service? What's your privacy worth to you? Could Facebook continue to offer their current service in Germany if they also offer a subscription-based version that gathers no data?