One of the most consistent themes throughout history has been the pursuit of conquest and control over territories and populations alike. You can go back millennia to find examples, but we need only look at more recent history to compare the different types of colonisation we have witnessed.

This Time Is Different

πŸ“Έ A remix of cartoons from (left > right): CartoonMovement, David Parkins, CagleCartoons.

Today, my argument is we are about to embark on a new type of colonisation. Or at least a new attempt. If so, it has implications on privacy, both for the individual and for countries alike. This type of colonisation does not require physical borders and boundaries be re-drawn. That may still happen this decade, as we see global tensions on the rise. However it is not a requirement for territory to change by hand or by name, in order for there to be a shift in influence globally.
In the information age (as many choose to call it), real-time knowledge of modern economies is to be far more important than the two prior forms of coercion used. Neither exerting physical control over populations for long periods of time. Nor maintaining financial seniority by forcing countries & citizens to use your "superior" political currency, that you can print at will. That too may soon become something for the history books.
The future form of coercion is in our minds. The concept of data colonisation has become one of the biggest reasons I am interested today in the world of privacy-enhancing technology today. Despite being early in my journey.
We are seeing countries extend their tentacles into all of our private lives like never before. Collecting as many bytes, identifiers, voice recordings, photos, pieces of metadata as well as unencrypted messages that they can get their hands-on. So much so in fact, that it is plain sight now and not even hidden anymore. The desire is for people to believe there is no means of opting out of this, when the reality is quite the opposite.
Compromising consumer encryption standards, creating social norms of "we have nothing to hide" and "comparing by sharing" on social media, all have conditioned people for this path for the past decade. Some countries have been shaping this trend and many are at least aware of it. All countries are preparing for the surge in the importance of data going forward, particularly those that have had an outsized influence on international markets previously. It could be their only means of staying relevant in the coming years.

Types of Colonisation

Below I will describe what I see as being the main forms of geographic coercion and control internationally from the past 200 years.
Each era people have been working... 1. Geographical Colonisation = For No Money 2. Financial Colonisation = For Their Money 3. Data Colonisation = For Any Money

Slavery involved people being forced to work, for ZERO MONEY whatsoever.

We can all agree in the 21st century that slavery is not compatible with our ideals of life today. Physical or geographical colonisation saw that this practice became prevalent up until most Western countries started abolishing it between 1820 and 1860. Slavery is mostly a concept for the history books thankfully. Whilst there are people working under very oppressive and inhumane conditions today, it is very much the exception not the norm. The world has moved on to more covert forms of geographical seniority. It may be about to take another step once more.

Financial colonisation involved people being forced to trade with SOMEONE ELSE'S MONEY.

Up until now, possessing a superior form of money and by extension maintaining influence over other geographic regions has been the preferred method of maintaining a 'pecking order'. If you could coerce, or in many cases force territories to use your money in order to trade with you, you would be in an extremely privileged position. Particularly if you were able to arbitrarily create your currency out of thin air, like many examples we have witnessed throughout history.
Financial colonisation will likely see the same fate as slavery. History may soon decide that it was wrong for humans to control monetary policy at all.

Data colonisation could involve people using ANY MONEY, but forced into sharing data.

Jurisdictions that possess visibility and control over the data in such a dynamic have a unique advantage. They would receive information prior to their citizens and competitors and they can therefore implement policy or behavioural changes that affect the outcome in that area. Or they can obtain (intellectual) property that they would otherwise not have obtained due to timely intervention and espionage.
We have certainly been surveilled, watched and perved-on for decades already and this is a trend that is going to continue for the coming years. It is also clear that beliefs, behaviour and even culture has been changed. For the worse in many cases.
In this new paradigm, for countries to maintain an edge, not just against their peers but also against individuals, they will no doubt pursue superior hardware and software that is capable of analysing real-time economic conditions, particularly in territories beyond their own borders. This was a key takeaway I had when typing up my thoughts on SN regarding the expanding influence that Starlink is having in the world. Places that have superior, cheaper & more capable technology that they can export, will be able to profit from information obtained by that technology. They will benefit before the very countries within which that data is generated.
Owning, installing and incentivising deployment of advanced spyware technology offers huge capabilities under this scenario. Artificial Automated-intelligence algorithms, will allow real-time analysis of emotions, relationships, traffic, temperatures, trade, energy usage, data bandwidth and much much more. All of this information is valuable for a variety of reasons:
  1. At the very least this 'fresh' info is tradable on financial markets going forward, before being common knowledge by other participants.
  2. It is information too that is capable of being controlled or manipulated, with subtle algorithms and interventionist policy able to affect behavioural change in populations, both local and foreign.
  3. It is also capable of hoovering-up property, intellectual or otherwise, creating capital or innovation for domestic gain.

An Example of Data Colonisation

By way of an example, look at the amount of facial recognition cameras & 5G towers that have exploded onto the scene in recent years. This is technology that most countries have been unable or unwilling to build in their own borders up until they all were willing at once. I can only speculate that it was technology offered-up by China at incredible prices/losses. In many cases with very favourable conditions for repayment (in the case of Ecuador for example). By strategically underpricing global competition in almost all countries where it was rolled-out, and despite being a short-term loss, a country adopting this approach would no-doubt benefit from a continuous flow of information over the long-term. They may not have the deepest financial markets at this time, but China could well have the deepest data markets in years to come. They like the U.S via Starlink are seemingly prepared to operate at a short-term loss, in order to try and get a leg-over globally during this transition period.

What if the battleground is not our money, but our data instead?

A remix of an image found in the International Herald Tribune.
It may not seem like it yet, but Bitcoin may have already seen to the separation of money and state. If not today, then perhaps by the middle of the century. We may not fully realise or transition from the 'old world' for some time, but the wheels are in motion. It could be suddenly or it could be gradually. I don't expect that society will radically improve overnight and there is no doubt that the fight for privacy is not yet behind us. In fact the opposite is true.
The very lack of control of money is compelling large governments to act against the interests of their citizens and others worldwide in order to try to colonise. There is a clear trend and desire for these institutions, that once served us, to now know everything about us. During certain moments in history, many countries have chosen to circumvent and enact new laws when stress in the system shows its face. Stress they may well create of their own doing.
Countries have the resources and capability to create and endure unfavourable circumstances for some time, even if and particularly if Bitcoin succeeds. This is why access to privacy is still extremely under-appreciated by all of us across the globe. With potential data colonisation upon us, we will witness a number of changes and challenges, many of which are discussed both negatively and positively below:

🚩 Negative #1 - Social attacks on privacy-preservation

Notice that the recent attacks on Bitcoin and other internet technology are not currently regarding the protocols themselves, the value or even access to particular software or apps themselves. At least not at this time. What we are witnessing is more concern for the visibility and traceability of transactional data. Identifying every byte of traffic, every sender, every receiver and every message. Every data point from every second possible. Here are a few example remarks we have witnessed from those in positions of power:
  • Social - "Bitcoin is 99% bad for the environment". "It is draining all the water in the world", "Bitcoin is creating financial stability".
  • Encryption - "Encryption prevents criminals from being prosecuted", "Public key cryptography enables child trafficking", "We need to see you're not communicating with our enemies".
  • VPNs - "Hackers use VPNs to obfuscate their location", "We need to verify your identity with an email/payment to prove you're not a bot".
  • Collaborative transactions - "Institutions must know where the source of funds come from", "Coinjoins are for money launderers"
  • Self-custody - "It's safer if you hold it in our secure bank", "It's tax-free in this account".
  • P2P - "All cash transactions >$100 must be reported to authorities", "Cash purchases over €1k are illegal", "Are you sure you want to send money to this person?".
Notice how none of these comments to which we can relate are a direct attack on the value of the trustless asset or the network itself, like we have seen in years prior? Distant are the comments that "Bitcoin is backed by nothing", "Bitcoin is a scam", "Bitcoin is a security", "Bitcoin is illegal". The battle-lines currently being drawn are around visibility of the flow of communication and funds, the paper trail and access to our data. It should be stated here... governments fear privacy.

🚩 Negative #2 - Virtue-Signalling Fascism

Despite the worldwide desire for privacy-enhancing technology being on the rise (I will write about this in a future post), countries and mega-corporations are hijacking the narrative and implementing "privacy" technology that lock-out other market participants, such as advertisers and app developers.
You see this with Apple and Google for example, who talk a good game but are expanding their own permissions with each iteration of their hardware and operating systems that they put out on the market. Companies like Apple and Google have already positioned themselves as superior guardians or gatekeepers. Like an abusive step-parent. They continuously virtue-signal to the public that they are to be trusted and acting in the best interests of children and the wider society, whilst pointing the finger and creating scapegoats like Facebook, advertisers or individuals. All while leeching their 30% 'fair share' and siphoning-off data for a favoured few governments around the world.
The same could be said for Ledger, with their hardware wallets jammed full of tracking tools, whilst pretending to be believers in self-custody and bitcoin security. They are part of the same weak-minded management and people, who take the cowardly decisions to implement invasive practices simply from suggestive legislation.

🚩 Negative #3 - Deeper Capabilities

We will no doubt witness the return of the implementation of cloud-based image scanning, once people are accustomed to the practice being normalised on their own devices locally. Having already walked-back and slowed-down the implementation due to public outcry, soon people may have bigger issues on their minds. We may even witness the public becoming vocally in favour of these invasive tools in short order, should the story be large enough to justify it.
In the coming years these companies will release glasses, wearables, robots, fridge-cams, neuralink, glucose-monitors and entirely new consumer products that track movements, analyse emotions and interpret thought, all in the name of superior user experiences. These products may even be heavily subsidised or provided at near-zero cost with perverse incentives and requirements for society to feed these institutions with more and more data. My favourite quote from the Diamond Age book states that...
(technology) had made nearly anything possible, and so the cultural role in deciding what should be done with it had become far more important than imagining what could be done with it.
This is almost where we stand today. Except fascism, which is the merging of big corporations and government, is attempting to shape that cultural role for us. All of these companies are sweeping-up more and more data and allowing unencumbered access and backdoors to our public institutions. They claim they are aiding our privacy. It may be privacy by name, but it is anything but. These companies are doing more harm than good, obstructing small niche businesses from innovating, competing and growing. They are however helping people like us become more aware of the importance of privacy.
If you and I as consumers, are exclusively adopting software directly or indirectly from gigantic enterprises like Apple and Google, we are not only harming ourselves and our future privacy, but to potentially all the people we know. And I say this as a Mac owner myself.

🚩 Negative #4 - False Flags & Mistruths

Just like inflation has been a necessary requirement to 'grow the pie' and ensure continued economic growth for populations, lies and mistruths will be required to garner initial public support for this new system and empower attempts at colonisation. Providing personal data for the betterment of our society, climate, military or science.
A mistruth as large as the oceans boiling may be required to bootstrap a new mindset and turn an intolerant minority into the indifferent majority. These institutions have a history of playing with human emotions of fear. Mistruths and exaggerations may focus on 'aliens', 'terrorists' or even 'climate catastrophes', which may or may not be acts of their own making.
Should most people be receptive to such ideas, providing access to their data becomes 'the greater good' of the globe, or are at least makes them indifferent. Incentives, as discussed, may be offered in the form of subsidised energy bills, food or outright new political currency being created. Those who choose not to share their data will no doubt be ostracised and excluded from any such benefits. People will be told that they can finally own their own data and monetise it for personal gain. It may be branded as the solution to A.I.
This thinking should be examined, critiqued & challenged if it ever comes to pass. People will instead find themselves co-opted by the system, finding it increasingly difficult to ween-off or detach themselves from the access they have provided inside their workplaces, their devices, their own homes and importantly their minds.
It could be argued that societies in such a system would be colonised more than they have been in any prior generation. It would no longer be just their own data and capital that they are relinquishing or sharing. They may not be under physical duress, but given that messages and transactions involve at least two participants, they would be compromising data of friends, family and acquaintances in the process too. Regardless of whether they opt-in or not.
But thankfully we have tools. And we have choice...

🟒 Positive #1 - Freedom Fights Back

The most affluent and healthy societies are the ones where ideas are free and able to blossom. Where critical thinkers are prevalent, where people go about their lives as they please and socialise with who they wish. All without fear of any consequences for themselves or the wider world. Be it fear of censorship or their livelihoods being disrupted. This was also mentioned by @kaizen in this recent SN post .
All prior attempts of having one global organisation have failed. The same will be true for these days on the internet.
Innovation comes from challenging the status quo, not from being milked like a farm animal, not from being de-humanised as an 9-digit number and not from being oppressed in dictatorships branded as democracies. We can design a better system than what is being sketched-out for us. One that is designed around a sense of personal responsibility, community, education & experimentation. One with real value(s) for real people. Scalable only by prioritising privacy-preserving technology.

🟒 Positive #2 - More Restriction = More Innovation

During oppressive regimes, creative people find a way for their voices to be heard, for the barriers and obstacles imposed to be circumvented.
During past times in history, when it seems all is lost, musicians or comedians release their work, disguising their message in poetic words and metaphors that empower the youth and then other generations. The same is likely to be true going forward.
Encryption will see to it that content has double-meaning - with entire passages of information being altered by a secret phrases. Here is a great tool shared on SN that does just this.
We will likely see a renaissance of code-words to enter establishments, both digitally and physically. Nostr communities by invitation only, secret links and handshakes, handheld scrambling technology. There will no doubt be a resurgence of creativity and community to get people through this era completely protected and unscathed.

🟒 Positive #3 - More 'Uncle-Jims'

In the current system from which we are departing, you need accountants and lawyers to navigate the financial world. That is in order to make the most of retaining your purchasing power and minimise taxes and other liabilities, at least via legal means via corporate structures.
In the upcoming world, people are likely to need their own 'Uncle Jim' to help them safeguard and protect their data. They may also need a company, to have the correct legal structures in place to prevent 'espionage' or revealing 'trade secrets'. Cybersecurity and privacy-preserving professionals will be in high demand. Particularly Bitcoiners.
Customers are likely to be willing to pay a sexy satoshi or few for these services in the future. They may also potentially need data brokers to help maximise the value of the data they are willing to forego to the market. This is our chance to get ahead and learn all about sovereign privacy technology.
What distinguishes Bitcoiners in performing these roles, is the human values upon which we live by and strive for. Most of us would not be swayed by an approach by a criminal group attempting to bribe us for access to valuable data. Most are not motivated by fame or status or even riches. For that reason, Bitcoiners are likely to become a highly-trusted group of people, in a lowly-trusted world.

🟒 Positive #4 - Demand For Privacy Tech

As I mentioned earlier, demand for privacy-preserving technology is on the increase. It still remains on the fringes for the TikTok generation, no doubt. However as each day passes, new cyber-attacks emerge, hacks & leaks become ever more prevalent and more information gets revealed to the wider world.
The reaction I expect is not to be one of ignorance and disillusionment... but instead one of rejuvenation and motivation to build and adopt better tools. We just need people like us to take our next step today. To step a little further away from the influence of the likes of Apple and Google, for ourselves and others we know.

The Privacy Spectrum

I come back to a diagram to finish-off this write-up. How can we get more people to take their next steps to becoming a private persona? Do they need to learn for themselves or can we 'lend' a hand and bring them along with us?
In spite of the barriers and opposition we are facing today, it's obviously not all doom and gloom. We have all the people we need right here on to solve this problem.
We just need to keep building... building community, building tools & building-on our own privacy.
This is the first thing which comes in my mind about a data colonized world: The Matrix inverted with Aral Balkan
Bookmarked. @davidw your writeups are so good
Good article. I agree with you completely. Data colonisation exists and it is there e.g the world coin orb. By the way, in my home country Kenya, it was banned. Just hope btc and other cryptos will wipe out Fiat for Good. I totally agree with you bro,we are been colonised through data.Thanks
Read it, and generally agree with the sentiment. But I find the usage of the word really far fetched here.
Fair. Thanks for reading
TL;DR by ChatGPT: The author discusses the evolving nature of colonization, suggesting that a new form of colonization, namely data colonization, is emerging. The focus is on the significance of real-time knowledge in the information age and its implications for privacy at both individual and national levels.
The author outlines three historical forms of colonization: geographical, financial, and posits data colonization as the next frontier. They argue that data colonization involves the collection of vast amounts of personal data by countries, leading to a potential shift in global influence based on information control.
The negative aspects of data colonization are highlighted, including social attacks on privacy preservation, virtue-signalling fascism by governments and corporations, deeper surveillance capabilities, and the potential for false flags and mistruths to manipulate public opinion. The author emphasizes the need for tools and choices to counteract these negative trends.
On a positive note, the author suggests that freedom can fight back against data colonization, emphasizing the importance of critical thinking and personal responsibility. They anticipate innovations in privacy-preserving technology and foresee a demand for cybersecurity and privacy professionals. The author encourages building communities, tools, and advancing personal privacy as a means to combat the challenges posed by data colonization.
Great. Now the robots have me on the menu.
Pretty accurate πŸ‘Œ