News & Views

SXSW: Monday's Sessions

by Contagious Team

The tech and innovation festival's focus on privacy reached its zenith on Monday with National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden speaking to SXSW attendees from Russia via a glitchy livestream, declaring that 'the constitution has been violated on a massive scale'.

Snowden called for a solution to privacy and security issues that is 'simple, cheap and effective' as well as 'invisible to end users'. Snowden hopes that services like web browsers will be soon be built secure out of the box. Christopher Soghoian, principle technologist at the American Civil Liberties Union and also on the panel agreed about the need, saying: 'The tools we use to browse the web are made by advertising companies who are not going to give us tools that are private by default.' Soghoian added: 'If you're getting something for free you're not going to get the product optimized for you. You need to pay something so that the company doesn't have a sustainable business model designed around your data.'

Snowden believes that the 'moral, philosophical and commercial commitments we make today allow us to protect ourselves for tomorrow.' He sees his role now as one of informing the public, so that they can make choices and provide their consent for what should happen.  

Later in the day Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, who broke the Snowden stories, added to the debate. Greenwald believes it is vital to maintain the divide between public Government and private individuals for a healthy democracy to function. He spoke of 'excessive state secrecy' adding 'I've read top secret documents in this archive that are unbelievably boring'.

Greenwald's philosophy of how use of the internet has shifted is an interesting one: while older people 'think of the internet as a place where you "do" certain things, people who are younger see it as a place where you explore what you are. To take that and turn it into a place of mass surveillance is an immense threat.'

Adam Savage, co-host of the Discovery Channel's MythBusters, used his keynote to argue for a more general form of societal change: a greater dialogue between art and science. He said: 'Art and science have always been the twin engines driving who we are.'

Google's head of creative partnerships, Ben Malbon, spoke about creating marketing that is smarter and less intrusive to give value and utility to end users. Amidst all the future tech of SXSW, Malbon warned 'so much is moving so quickly it's easier to gaze into the future. Being first has always been a big thing in the advertising industry, but the future's here already. We should use the existing tools we have on the table. Innovation doesn't need invention.' Malbon believes that brands already have incredible opportunities to create storytelling experiences, and it is far easier to break things or bend the rules of online advertising infrastructure than TV or print, offering massive opportunities for creatives.

Comic and film writer Warren Ellis, in conversation with fellow writers Daniel Suarez and Bruce Sterling talked about how science fiction has expanded into mainstream consciousness, saying 'science fiction is social fiction first', in a panel moderated by the MIT Media Lab's Joi Ito. 

And speaking of currently available technology, Steve Johnson, user experience designer at digital agency Blast Radius, applied user experience learnings from porn to web design. His conclusions? Streamline navigation, explore greater fidelity, facilitate communication and expand the experience. 

For coverage of Saturday's sessions at SXSW click here.  

And for highlights from Sunday, here's more.