In his public response to the Stop Online Piracy Act, new media guru Jaron Lanier identifi ed disrespect for intellectual property as the culprit in emerging forms of commercial surveillance. A culture of online sharing, he argued, goes hand-in-hand with the erosion of online privacy. He scolded what he called “the ‘open’ Internet movement” (complete with scare quotes) for helping usher in the hyper-commodifi ed era of personal data-mining in the Facebook era. 1 Those who thought information should be free-as in both free beer and free speech (which doesn’t include the open source movement, though it’s not clear what Lanier means by the “open Internet movement”)—should expect that their own data will be freely collected and traded. What happens to music and movies will also, necessarily, happen to personal information, he argued. As he put it, “We in Silicon Valley undermined copyright to make commerce become more about services instead of content. … The inevitable endgame was always that we would lose control of our own personal content, our own fi les.” 2


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Lanier got it wrong. We do not actually have an intellectual property right in our transactional data (and creating one probably wouldn’t help matters much)—but the confusion is understandable: privacy and private property have an apparently natural affi nity. We are learning, however, that the connection is more complex than the simple equation proposed by Lanier. The capture and use of personal data have little to do with a culture of openness, but are all about new forms of privatization that allow companies to make money by creating proprietary databases accessible only to those who are willing to pay. The story of data collection in the digital era is not a simple story about the end of privacy and private property, but about the creation of new forms of private property based on the collection and aggregation of personal data. Far from undermining the development of private databases, fi le sharing contributes to it, as illustrated by companies such as Big Champagne that capture and sell data about fi le-sharing activity.