Taxing data is not crazy

There are some interesting similarities between a recent proposal commissioned by the French government and the book out by Jaron Lanier just now “Who Owns The Future?”

Both analyses signal the dominance of corporate actors in a big data world and both suggest new methods of taxation as a potential solution to the problem. An article over at Forbes explains the commission’s proposal by Nicolas Colin and makes a lot of sense.

The French report has been received with predictable knee-jerk responses across the tech world. It is true that governments have not been very good at regulating the internet. But not regulating the internet is not a solution. We could hope for representation that is competent when it comes to the digital world.

The companies that create the internet should not cry foul. They have a track record of evading taxes more than contributing their fair share back to society.

I’ll tackle Lanier’s position in another post. I just watched the conversation he had with James Bridle in Conway Hall and noticed some errors in Lanier’s ideas: they require a fully functional semantic web, they seem overly informed by private copyright practice and complementarily they take a weak government for granted.

How you would enforce such a law is another question entirely, but it cannot go further off the mark than how large companies manage to evade taxes right now. It may in fact be a lot fairer to tax data at the point of collection/use.

If you don’t bother to read the article above, I can sum it up in two key points below:

Data is hazardous waste material and as such its production and storage should be discouraged (the CO2 tax was given as an example in the Forbes article). Cory Doctorow compared personal data breaches to nuclear disasters, because the fallout is so tremendously hard to contain and control. Whoever collects large amounts of personal data treats the privacy damage caused by breaches as an externality. As such the storage of such data should be discouraged with a tax.

Data is capital and should be taxed as all capital is. Storage, mining and arbitrage using data can generate revenue for sophisticated market actors (those that Lanier terms as those with ‘the biggest computer on the network’). Data is a value adding asset that generates wealth and more data for those who already have it. If we don’t want a situation where a small group of people get richer at the expense of everybody else, we should tax it.

So data is both capital and hazardous. We tax many things with either of those properties so we should definitely tax something that has both.

Week 310

The week was off to a smashing smart with the irregular Iron Blogger Berlin drinks. For some people it is an expensive drinking club, for me with my iron blogging resolve it is more an expensed drinking club.

Bath tub

Berlin weather has been crazy last week. Also again we did tons of stuff for Hubbub, see it over there on Week 183.

Over at Open State we are still recruiting a managing director to take over operations and lead us up onto the next level of open government and civic innovation. If you are reading this and you are inclined towards getting things done and civic responsibility, do get in touch with us:

Facing this crazy blizzard for the past couple of days.

I was preparing to write a book about the way we’ve come to work for a while now, but as most books go this was not really happening. So I decided to convert it to a format that is easier to get started on and write it as a series of blog posts right here.

However wonderful your life has been, those with more money will take it away from you.

At the end of the week we threw together an impromptu Friday’s at Seven here in the neighborhood to end the week and tap into the scenius that is coalescing. We’ll definitely do that again and try out various other event formats to see which is the most fun in the long run.

Skeuomorph electric lamp (real wax)

And Saturday I finally finished Infinite Jest after having received the hardcopy version of it over four years ago. I was quite happy with that if only because I now have time again to read other things (just started the Quantum Thief).

Week 309

A bunch of stuff I did last week is summarized nicely at the Hubbub weeknotes. This is going to happen more and more often, so these weeknotes may become at risk. We’ll see what happens.

This is how you protect the rights of millionaires in Berlin.

Anyway, I tried to dial into a conference call while there was a massive demonstration happening over at Wienerstraße #Lausitzer8. Having the riot police and the anarchists play tag below your window creates something of a racket:

This corner of Kreuzberg is becoming more and more interesting and I’m running into people randomly in various lunch places. Last week I had the pleasure to meet both Chris Eidhof (who we should see more of in this part of town) and Jannis Leidel.

#aufschrei on the street

Niels posted the second Recess! which was as awesome as I’d expected it to be.

Simon Klose discussing his movie TPB AFK

On Thursday I went to the TPB AFK screening in c-base which was organized by Michelle Thorne after a conversation in a cafe here. I look forward to meeting lots more interesting people around the area and conspiring to do awesome things with them.

I wrote up the watersnake app I wrote over here. Expect to see us meddle more into these kind of systems from a game design point of view.

Cosmic Encounter

And on the weekend I played two new board games (Cosmic Encounter and King of Tokyo) and had dinner with Tim de Gier and the Dekker brothers.

King of Tokyo - awesome game if you're into monsters (and who isn't?)

Week 308

Besides the immense amount of things we did over at Hubbub last week, I also spent a lot of time doing various other things which sort of amazed me to be honest.

Giving this another go with my improved German skills #digiges

Tuesday I went to the Netzpolitische Abend here in c-base where Janneke Slöetjes of Bits of Freedom was one of the speakers. It was great fun catching up with what they’ve been busy with and the activist’s life.

And on Saturday Jan Lehnardt and I organized the first Swhack Berlin, a commemorative hackathon to do the things that we would normally only talk about. A round-up of the things we did is still forthcoming, but everybody is super-busy of course. It was a lot of fun and I was pleasantly surprised even by the 10+ people who showed up and got busy. We’ll do another one sometime in the near future.

Week 306

Recovering from flu meant a week of mostly broken days, but still got a lot done and more importantly: got better.

TORREON is more or less finished with the client accepting the work into their own repository now.

Tuesday we had an board meeting with Open State. I added my thoughts to Emma Mulqueeny’s post about social entrepreneurship and the long game. We are struggling with the same issues but optimistic.

I had a meeting over at Netzpolitik for our upcoming joint venture with Open State as well.

I wrote this blog post about real thinkers anywhere on the continent: “Who still thinks in Germany?”

Finally I had a nice coffee with recent Berlin arrival Jurriaan who I think is a great addition to the local tech scene.

On Saturday I dropped by the extra Apps and the City hackday and turned my python hack into a javascript version for better distribution and graphical presentation. The javascript community disappointed me because there wasn’t a graph based A* solver available anywhere, so I was forced to write my own version using the Wikipedia pseudocode and underscore.js. That now lives on Github. It still needs a bunch of work.

Further I also updated my Thinkup installation to the most recent beta and my Dreamhost account to a VPS but still haven’t gotten it to work properly. I’m hoping that outage does not take too long.

Week 305

With most of my work focusing at Hubbub these days, the weeknotes over there (the past week) are going to form the meat of my work in the foreseeable future. I may need to use these weeknotes as an excuse for long form writing again and blog more here in general on loose ideas.

I published my piece about the Protocoletariat. I hope to be able to do more stuff in that field and tie in my professional endeavours in games, open government and computer science.

I can very much recommend following both @Dymaxion and @justinpickard for the interesting anarcho-futurist trends their interactions hint at.

I had a more than welcome catchup with Martin Spindler.

Then I started the procedures to finish the administrative year here in Germany and on to the next one.

Week 304

I got things back running again. Did a bunch of work on TORREON. Most Hubbub stuff is in a weeknote over there now that I am writing now alternating with Kars Alfrink.

I updated my Thinkup which proved to be something of a mixed bag now forcing me to upgrade my hosting package.

Wednesday I had my first class of my language course at the Goethe Institute which proved to be a bit too easy for my taste (which is probably always the case if you already know a bunch of languages). The practice will be good for me in any case and I hope to apply the practical parts more and more in German professional life.

Having started everything in Berlin —to my chagrin— on Thursday I went to Amsterdam for the Open State board dinner and some other odds and ends that needed seeing to. That day I also fasted for my friend Bassel who is jailed in Syria just for being a free software activist.

Damages done (too busy to take pictures in between)

The board dinner that night at the new restaurant my brother runs Fa. Speijkervet was a lot of fun. There are a lot of changes coming up and almost all of them are for the better.

Today's office #wander

Friday I hung out at Koko in Amsterdam. A nice new coffee place run by two girls who are totally into coffee and fashion. A big recommendation if you want to escape the hectic Amsterdam city center. After I did our meeting at De Gids (again see the Hubbub weeknote), we did a run of the town with Kars and Alexander Zeh.

Chilling out with der Franz on a Friday afternoon #wander

Saturday I learned about the suicide of Aaron Swartz an immensely respected figure in freedom and/of information. He was one of the rare people both whose software I used and whose thoughts resonated with me. He got so much done in that short time he was here that  his passing places a big burden on the rest of us to continue that work.

I then ended my theater going life by seeing the final Mightysociety show in Frascati. More on that when there is time.

Waiting for the queue to open to get last tickets

Sunday was another Hubbub workday —yes we have a lot to do— with ample visits to the Village which is really an even funner place then than it is during the week.

Those small Utrecht rituals #wander

Week 303: starting everything back up again

Nothing much happened during the Christmas week before, so I decided to skip that note. Most of Berlin shut down into a deep hibernation normally only witnessed in student towns.

Goulash for my sore throat #wander

Everything only got into gear again on by Thursday when I got my copy of Gun Machine (and finished it two days after) and caught up studio flows with Hubbub Utrecht. I did my work on TORREON and had lunch with the vvvv guys.

Fog lit bus #wander

Friday it was more TORREON going on through the weekend and some consulting on KAIGARA.

I also caught up with some talks at the CCC this year (along with all of the other issues the event had this year). Best of show is this one by Eleanor Saitta and Smári McCarthy about the advantages and disadvantages of networks and institutions:

A short week that one too, but more to come.

Week 301: a flurry of appointments in Amsterdam

Last Monday was the last day in Berlin before the holidays so something of a push here and there to get things to go through. That night we had a vvvv workshop at the studio hosted by Joreg to teach somewhere around eight people the basics of node based graphical environments (the only other one I had used extensively before was Open DX and of course there’s Quartz Composer and Impure Quadrigram).

VVVV workshop. I'm psyched!

I messed around a bit with it and managed to produce this bit of media art. It is very interesting to have the power of DirectX9 under your fingers without having to program at all, though the whole fact of non-programming feels a bit strange to me.

Also there was this bit about the journalistic climate in the Netherlands:

I would recommend anybody interfacing with journalists to be wholly guarded and keep clearly in mind what’s in it for them in the interaction. The way it is played by most actors, it hasn’t been about the uncovering of the truth for a long time.

Tuesday was my travel day to Amsterdam where I wrote a bunch of stuff in the train and had an Open State board meeting that evening.

I spent most of Wednesday in Utrecht at the Hubbub studio. That night I had dinner with Tim de Gier, Loeki Westerveld and Justus Bruns partially by plan, partially by coincidence.

Thursday was also spent at Hubbub discussing business and getting work done. That night I had drinks with Kars and Lieke in a smashing new Utrecht establishment.

On Friday I met Edo van Royen at Studyflow, had lunch with Peter Robinett, coffee with Justus Bruns, dropped by at my accountant, had a beer with Thijs Niks and then drinks at the Open Coop with Lex and Alexander. Having said that: these visits to the Netherlands always tend to devolve into a flurry of errands that barely leave any time to think. That is going to change for the next one.

Carrying four RFIDs with me (down from five) because consolidating their contents is too much work.

Week 300: odds and ends

Last week was a week without travel or deadlines so a lot of stuff that had been lying around for too long got done.

I did some more work on the small secret project. Also going forward with work on TORREON.

Chris Eidhof dropped by briefly at Praxis and told me about his plans to organize an iOS conference in Berlin.

I bit the bullet and got myself a monthly ticket for the U-Bahn along with a ticket for my bike. This has made a huge different in getting around the city. Many trips which would take half an hour by bike are a lot easier now and especially with the snow the combination of transit+bike makes a lot more stuff possible.

I enrolled in a conversational German course at the Goethe Institute to up my German to a professional level. We are going to get a new collaborator over at Praxis. And I went to my first ever CrossFit training session on the recommendation by Mustafa Isik.

I finally bit the bullet and changed my T-Mobile Netherlands plan to something a bit more minimal because I don’t spend much more than a week a month in the Netherlands anyway. On Thursday I sent a new proposal for TORREON. I did more stuff on REYNOSA.

Seems a rather appropriate sticker for Berlin

I got the funny (for Berlin’s reputation, see this Times piece) sticker for the new play Sommergäste by the Schaubühne written by Maxim Gorki. The previous play by that same director, Eugen Onegin, was absurdly boring so hopes for this adaptation of a Russian master should not be too high. Another Schaubühne play we almost went to, The Black Rider ((Really, the massive misguided stones necessary to translate Burroughs into German…)), seems to be by all accounts also really rather terrible.

Theater is a hopeless moribund discipline but Fabian Hinrichs may prove a notable exception in Berlin this week (which I’ll be missing because of travel to Amsterdam).

This week was also the week of the brilliant eulogy for occupy by Quinn Norton. Intentional or not, it confirmed my cynicism about the movement. What little sparks of brilliance and hope were to be found in the USA versions were almost totally absent from the Dutch camps. Around the studio here in Kreuzberg there are still some remnants of the movement active:
Just another demo in front of the office

Friday I started initial work on TORREON and after that I went to the VVVV 10th anniversary event over at Letters are my friends.

#vvvvX Flagship store opening

Twitter announced the general availability of your own tweets for download in archive form. I had done some preliminary work on this when this option was available to Europeans and now ThinkUp is busy building a full-fledged importer.

Sunday morning I finished reading The Invisibles, a brilliant mind bending comic by Grant Morrison. It may not seem like it is relevant to my work, but it very much is in a multitude of strange ways.