Are you familiar with Tim Berners-Lee?
He’s a knight (knighted by Queen Elisabeth of Great Britain in 2004) and a professor of computer sciences at Oxford University. He is also the inventor of the Internet. The creator of the World Wide Web to be precise.
Do you know how he feels today?
He is worried.
They call it surveillance capitalism. Making a profit from information, your information. In today’s world, we are offered a lot of free services for: email, search engines, message services, dating apps, social media, newspapers, online document programs, music and video streaming, etcetera. The list goes on.
But is it really free?
It wouldn’t be capitalism if it was. Even though most of us know that these services are not actually free. The reality is we pay for all of those services by giving up information about ourselves.
Companies are constantly collecting information about us, where we are, what food we like, how we vote, what our favorite sports team is, our preferred beer, transportation of choice. What we read and don’t read, where we stand politically, what we like on Facebook, what we say in chat rooms. Companies listen to us all the time, they register what we do online and they follow what we do in reality. Then they sell it.
Hundreds of companies gather your information (online stores, social media, internet providers, telephone companies, apps and so on). Hundreds of businesses buy and resell your information, and anybody can pay to get access to it. Political parties, enterprises, media outlets are just some of those organizations.
I bet you have figured out why Tim Berners-Lee is worried. But do you know exactly what he worries about? He lists three things:
- We’ve lost control of our personal data
- It’s too easy for misinformation to spread on the Web
- Political advertising online needs transparency and understanding
The inventor of the World Wide Web is afraid of what he has created. Is his creation turning into a monster?
The blogger Aral Balkan calls himself a “cyborg rights activist”. In a response to Tim Berners-Lee’s worries he states that “we haven’t lost control over our personal data, it was stolen from us.” He goes on and lists some of the big Silicon Valley tech companies as the perpetrators behind this coded theft of our personal info. Google, Facebook and the other giants are not on our side, Aral Balkan says, and they cannot be a part of the solution.
Everyone must be aware of what they post, what they write for the public to see it, which photos they publish, and know that more or less everything they do online is tracked, registered and saved and everyone with an online presence must know that what they see online, the articles they encounter, their feeds are not a pure representation of reality but a partly controlled image skewed by economic and political interests.
And more than that: We need to turn to other alternatives.
In order to keep our information to ourselves, to not be exposed to identity theft, to not be constantly targeted with ads, articles, information (often false information and fake news) based on our earlier online patterns we need to use software that’s created and programmed on the idea that integrity is important, our secrets are our own and information about us and who we are is not a commodity to be sold and traded.