Business, Reviews

Book Review: OWNED — Property, Privacy and the New Digital Serfdom by Joshua A.T. Fairfield

Book Review: OWNED — Property, Privacy and the New Digital Serfdom by Joshua A.T. Fairfield

Although I’m passionate about new technologies, they are dangerous. And after reading OWNED — Property, Privacy and the New Digital Serfdom by Joshua A.T. Fairfield, I find that my fears are justified.

In Chapter 2,  the author states, “the Internet of Things and digital property ownership systems are being built on the old feudal model. The free model is in serious trouble.” It just becomes more and more clear that although we live in exciting times, we are at risk.

Mr. Fairfield talks about how in 2013 a Houston couple woke up when they heard a strange man cursing at their two year old baby. Someone had hacked into their baby monitor! With the prevalence of smart homes, comes this new invader that can tap in and monitor what you are doing and when you are doing it.

I experienced this myself when I was telling a story to a woman who was a new mom. I was explaining how my daughter had colic and how at times I felt as if I wanted to “kill myself.” I didn’t mean it, obviously, but my Siri thought I did. She asked me if she should call the suicide hotline. I didn’t press any buttons or do anything different when I told this story, which lead me to think that “big brother” is certainly watching us!

In addition to your home changing, our cities and even our wearables are getting “smarter” every day. The book discusses an interesting point that I hadn’t thought about — that we are all digital tenants. For example, we all rent out books on Amazon Kindle or we use Netflix and other digital assets, however, since we don’t own these assets, we are at the “mercy of the digital landlords and we lose our ability to act on our own.”

The author goes on to say, “if a corporation can mine data about us by turning our own smartphones and smart homes against us, it can gain an insurmountable advantage in bargaining with us.” That’s scary stuff!

Or consider the example the author uses in the book where you are late for a meeting, it’s on your mobile device and the gps knows exactly where you are and you are low on gas. Can you imagine the impact if the gas seller knows this, how much he/she can charge you for gas?

The key here is since we are so connected at this point, how much does the government know? Large corporations? and others know about you? And, does it really matter?

Who is owned here? Our property or ourselves?

Joshua A.T. Fairfield developed a theory of “property-as-information” and shows the reader that they can make traditional property rules work online. He says that by doing this, “society can regain control.”

Owned is well-written and extremely well researched. (At times, the reader feels as if there are more footnotes than copy.) This is an important book to read for anyone who wants to regain control of their future.


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