Internet Privacy and J.R.R. Tolkien’s Rings of Power

Posted by Conor

This is a brief and nerdy post, being concerned with both internet privacy and J.R.R. Tolkiens ‘Lord of the Rings.’

An analogy that I really like was made one recent lunch time in the LiSC office, between the method of payment for current internet technology and the Rings of Power in Tolkiens Lord of the Rings books. Here we go…

Much has been written recently about how we actually pay for what appear initially to be ‘free’ services such as Facebook and Google search. We don’t have to pay for these services in the traditional sense – we hand over no currency in exchange for the ability to upload and share half-naked selfies or find the nearest late-opening bar. We pay by freely handing over personal information, such as the products and services that we ‘like,’ or the things we search for, to companies like Twitter, Facebook and Google. These companies build up complex profiles about us that they can monetize through selling targeted advertising, or through use in sophisticated market research. Essentially, we are offered what initially appears to be a useful gift, and because it is useful, we continue to use it and provide it with more data.

Nine Rings for Mortal Men

 

In Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings Trilogy a number of magical Rings of Power are forged by the Elves. These rings offer great benefits to the wearer, such as long life, strength and vitality. However, unbeknownst to the Elves, Sauron (basically the ultimate bad guy – think Tony Blair or Ben Elton), ever devious, took the powerful Elvish Rings and, appearing helpful and concerned, gave them as gifts to Dwarves (7 rings) and Men (or People; 9 rings). Both Dwarves and Men gladly accepted, as these magical rings of power appeared to give great benefits and cost nothing (can you see where we’re going here?), thus they continued to use them. Unbeknownst to anyone but the tricksy elves, Sauron used the gift of those apparently free and useful rings to manipulate and control the wearers. He monitored the wearers and eroded their ability to make decisions for themselves. The Dwarves became greedy – seeking material wealth over all other goals. The Men became lifeless ghost-like creatures, capable only of serving their master. All their energy is spent placating the demands of the ring.

So, I think we can learn something from that.

Next up in this series – How Big Data Analytics are a Nazgul

 

“Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.

—J.R.R. Tolkien’s epigraph to The Lord of The Rings

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