The Internet is a double-edged sword.
On one hand, it’s the most important innovation of our generation. It has accelerated the growth of knowledge more than any other invention in history. Through it, the worldwide standard of living has grown to unmatched degrees of prosperity.
On the other hand, it’s introduced threats into our lives that we’ve never had to deal with before. Identity theft, hacking, malware, fake news, slander…all propagated by the cusp of the Internet era.
Unfortunately, you can’t have the good without the bad.
And I’d argue, you don’t get much of a choice whether you want to engage the Internet or not. It’s simply too great a force in today’s world.
It’s here whether you like it or not. And it’s here to stay.
As it’s formed in the past few decades, a couple major players have emerged — Facebook, Google and Amazon — and formed a triumvirate that effectively represents the gatekeepers of the technology.
Along with Netflix, they comprise what investors call the FANG stocks.
They have immense, almost unbelievable, control over what you, as an Internet user, experience every single day.
And on top of that, they know everything about you.
Their data harvesting is unparalleled in human history.
Your age, gender, address, hobbies, buying habits, web surfing habits, health problems, credit score, friends, family, dog’s name, etc. They have it all.
They probably know more about you than your spouse or direct family members do.
And that digital profile allows them to shape your online experience.
They do this through ads, through search results, social media feeds and notifications. It’s all part of a strategy to influence your decision-making…whether it’s buying a toaster or voting a certain way.
Facebook, for example, has recently been in hot water for its role in affecting election results around the world. A recent investigation report published by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee in the UK accused the social media giant of ‘foreign influence, disinformation, funding, voter manipulation and the sharing of data.’
That’s on top of poor stewardship of users’ data. The New York Times reports:
‘Facebook said on Thursday that millions of user account passwords had been stored insecurely, potentially allowing employees to gain access to people’s accounts without their knowledge.’
And certainly, in the hours following the Christchurch shooting, Facebook failed to stop the sharing of the disturbing footage on their own platform. [openx slug=inpost]
Amazon and Google aren’t without their faults either.
For example, Amazon used to have a policy that prevented sellers from selling elsewhere at a lower price. It prevented competitors from getting their foot in the online retail door.
Google was just hit with a €1.5 billion fine for preventing advertisers from trying rival search engine platforms.
What these big three titans of tech are doing is fortifying their dominance over your online activity.
Does that make you uncomfortable?
US presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren seems to think it should. She’s spearheading a petition to break up the ‘monopoly’ over the Internet.
Tom Watson of the UK’s Labour Party agrees. ‘We need new independent regulation with a tough powers and sanctions regime to curb the worst excesses of surveillance capitalism and the forces trying to use technology to subvert our democracy.’
Their opinions, ironically, suggest that they’re opposed to the centralisation of power in these mega-organisations…while their political stance is for the centralisation of power in the state.
I’d half-agree…as I’m against centralisation across the board.
The centralisation of power with the triad of Facebook, Amazon, and Google creates a major obstacle to competition. Less competition means higher prices, worse products, and less power for the consumer…in economic theory at least.
So, preventing anti-competitive behavior could mean an improvement for us as users.
The inventor of the World Wide Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, has even stated that a decentralised Internet was his plan all along. Here’s what he told Vanity Fair in 2018 of the early days:
‘The spirit there was very decentralised. The individual was incredibly empowered. It was all based on there being no central authority that you had to go to to ask permission. That feeling of individual control, that empowerment, is something we’ve lost.’
He’s taken this fact and run with it…launching a new platform called Inrupt.
With Inrupt, your data and online profile are securely stored in what he calls a ‘POD’. Your POD is yours to control…putting you at the driver’s seat of who can access your information…and why.
You could say that you don’t want Facebook knowing which political party vote you support…so you simply choose not to share that.
You don’t like search engines analysing your search history…so again, you can keep that to yourself.
But as we recently reported, you will soon have the ability to sell your data to businesses if you choose.
For example, you could sell your sleep data (recorded on a smartwatch like a FitBit) to a mattress store. They want to know more about how people sleep…and you sleep. It’s a win-win.
Either way, you’re currently giving up all of your information for free for using Facebook, Amazon, Google, etc. Getting to sell or secure that data would be a huge improvement on where we are today.
And it points to a freer, more empowering future of our Internet-connected world…a time where password database breaches…and social media election manipulation become a thing of the past.
Editor, Money Morning New Zealand
PS: Savvy readers will pick up on an obvious application for blockchain in this future. Blockchain’s whole premise is on decentralising data…and creating incentives (like bitcoin) to make it work. Mattress tokens and sleepcoin? It could happen!