Open Source and Privacy

This article will note some evidence which supports the theory that the market is moving towards an open source post-scarcity economy. I then briefly discuss privacy concerns in such a context, arguing that we really don’t want privacy.

Evidence that we are moving towards an open source post-scarcity economy:

  1. Microsoft and Apple proprietary OS usage on mobile devices has remained stagnant as Android usage has gone through the roof, now accounting for 49% of shipped devices. Android software is open source, although Android devices run on a mix of sources. A fully libre device has been achieved using a spin-off Android called Replicant although that’s a tiny project.
  2. While the following data is not representative of all computer users, it is unclear that the trend for all computer users is any different. Log files from W3Schools indicate a trend toward Linux over time. Their data shows 2.2% of site users used Linux when data collection began in March 2003. In March 2015, 5.3% of users used Linux. It’s unclear whether they define what I call ‘users’ as sessions, users, unique visitors, or what, but it’s also unclear that it matters as all of these are strongly correlated.
  3. As shown on the chart below, while Linux desktop usage is very small it is increasing. Not only is it increasing, but it is concave-up. That is to say that it’s use is increasing at an increasing rate. In April 2015 Linux accounted for 1.52% of desktops.
  4. With the advent of SteamOS, ChromeOS/ChromiumOS, and the potential for Android to convert to laptop or desktop usage, the future looks qualitatively and anecdotally bright as well as quantifiably bright.

Now that we have established that we are on the road to open source, let’s remember what open source means: It means the sharing of information or the lack of proprietary information. Other terms for proprietary information include secrecy and privacy.

Open Source or Privacy?

So there’s this conflicting dynamic where people want both abundance and privacy. Traditional market theory holds that long term equilibrium is reached in the context of free information. This is supported by the notion that price discrimination is efficient because price discrimination requires free information, including information that is unlikely to be handed over voluntarily.

I would passingly mention that I do have theories that information need not be essentially perfect. These include the theories of sufficient and voluntary information.

Where will privacy end up? While consumers demand more privacy, web browser producers have made it a decidedly secondary issue as they also face pressure from the advertising industry.

I think we will end up with less privacy than we have today, but I’m not sure whether we are looking at an inevitable death of privacy. The resolution will help provide evidence for the comparative theories of information mentioned above.

I think having less privacy is a good thing, not a bad thing, although it might be bad to have absolute 0 privacy. The reason less privacy is good right now is because good things happen when producers understand consumers better. Producers engage in things like targeting and tailoring content.

Yes, ads are annoying, but if you are going to have ads either way wouldn’t it be best if they are actually relevant to you? The other thing is that I am not just talking about ads. Think about news content being delivered to you that you actually care about, or radio stations that play music you actually like. What if Facebook and Twitter could learn to show you the posts you actually care about? They could weed out the noise and actually become useful. People could easily make products and more.

It’s true that creeper potential is bigger with more free information, but most people aren’t creepers. Empirically, freer information has made our lives better. From the internet to improved phone and communications technology to improved trade and transportation, and yes, even better online tracking. Actions speak louder than words and people let their cookies stay on because they don’t like to log into their web email over and over. They want to be detected and catered to automatically.

Reduced privacy may or may not eventually incur net social cost, but even if it does I think that is a long way off.

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