Wednesday, 17 December 2014

The Snowden Effect

Bruce Schneier reports that over 700 million people worldwide are taking steps to avoid government agency surveillance.

And yet the media are reporting that the Snowden revelations have had little effect on internet users’ behaviour.  38 seems like a high percentage to me.  The press always seem to think that less than half is bad and that only nearly all is good.  I wonder if that’s related to the media love of the zero sum game and apparent conviction that every issue has exactly and only 2 sides, which are always worthy of equal attention.  The articles Shcneier cites misrepresent the facts but that’s not the point:

Even so, I disagree with the "Edward Snowden Revelations Not Having Much Impact on Internet Users" headline. He's having an enormous impact. I ran the actual numbers country by country, combining data on Internet penetration with data from this survey. Multiplying everything out, I calculate that 706 million people have changed their behavior on the Internet because of what the NSA and GCHQ are doing. (For example, 17% of Indonesians use the Internet, 64% of them have heard of Snowden and 62% of them have taken steps to protect their privacy, which equals 17 million people out of its total 250-million population.)

Note that the countries in this survey only cover 4.7 billion out of a total 7 billion world population. Taking the conservative estimates that 20% of the remaining population uses the Internet, 40% of them have heard of Snowden, and 25% of those have done something about it, that's an additional 46 million people around the world.

[…] it is absolutely extraordinary that 750 million people are disturbed enough about their online privacy that they will represent to a survey taker that they did something about it.

Agreed. ~10% of the world’s people have changed their behaviour because of Snowden. That is simply astonishing and very definitely a big step in an excellent direction.  Schneier mentions Cory Doctorow’s point that we have reached peak indifference to surveillance. I don’t know whether we’ve reached that point yet, but let’s hope we’re approaching it and accelerating.

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