The Curse of Unlimited Information

In today’s news, Swedish mash-up service Lexbase combines public data on home addresses with court data on convicted criminals, creating a map where you can see if your neighbour was ever in trouble with the law. This is possible due to Sweden’s generous policies on public data. It is also a very good illustration on why more information is not necessarily better. For all the nice buzz words about transparency and access to data, this is nothing but a violation of privacy on a massive scale. The legal system deals with crime and punishment, once a convicted criminal has served their time, the debt to society has been paid. Sure, you can request rulings from the courts’ archives, but that access to information is far different from broadcasting it to anyone 24-7.

Digital evangelist Clay Shirky talks about how technology can create emergent behaviours by lowering transaction costs, in “Here Comes Everybody” he has a beautiful example of the Long Island “Mermaid Parade” which has inspired a spontaneous collective photo database online – something which would have been impossible with the higher transaction costs of analog technology and hierarchic distribution. But if that is the case, the opposite is also true: in some cases it is important to introduce speed bumps to avoid harmful use. This was always the case, systems of press ethics have been in place for many years and for good reason in all forms of mass media prior to digital self-publication. It’s just that we thought the digital would somehow be different. Well, it wasn’t and now we have to reverse engineer the whole darn thing to make it comply with ethics and law. It has been apparent for quite some time now that information does not want to be free (it wants to be controlled by cloud giants and security services).