We recently launched issue 11 of our Benchmark search magazine, it’s full of quality insights from our industry experts. We thought we’d share a few key articles here, for this article we have Marketing Executive, Immy Williamson (that’s me) who talks about the future of privacy, found on page 30.
The internet originated as ARPANET in September 1969, but it certainly did not look how it does today. What started as a way for scientists in different locations to share information and work together, is now generally known as the World Wide Web (although there is a difference between the internet and WWW) and is the largest information media in the world.
While we have Tim Berners-Lee to thank for the World Wide Web, on 30 April 1993, CERN made the source code of WorldWideWeb available on a royalty-free basis, making it free software.
While people across the globe can enjoy free access to information, there is also access to misinformation. Having always had the privilege of having access to the web, I have grown up seeing the impact that misinformation can have; like Facebook memes powerfully misquoting an influential individual. For example, when the death of Osama Bin Laden was publicised, a quote was attributed to Martin Luther King, Jr.:
I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy.
It was soon questioned by the press and it came out that it actually was a direct quote by a young English teacher (who posted on Facebook), who was leading up to a quote found in one of King’s sermons.
While this is not the worst case of this happening, it is a good example of how misinformation can spread like wildfire.
It is my personal belief that everyone should have access to quality and honest information, but also think it should be a person’s right to access inaccurate information and use their prerogative to come to their own conclusions.
Voltaire famously stated “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death for your right to say it”.
Freedom of thought implies a human right to be wrong – and I support this implication, however I am aware that there will be many who do not.
The Web can be Weaponised
Inequality is rife in the world, and the advent of digital technology has perhaps furthered the divide. Those who cannot access the web, cannot access a lot of vital information. In 2016, the UN declared internet access a human right, yet without investment, it is believed that it won’t be until 2042 that everyone is connected, and that’s not good enough.
Possibly the most discomforting consideration is that the web we know now is under the powerful weight of a few dominant platforms. Platforms that can control what users see by manipulating which ideas and opinions are shared.
On the 28th October 2021 Facebook owner, Mark Zuckerberg, revealed a new company name: Meta.
The 3rd of February of this year saw shares of Facebook parent “Meta” fall by over 25%, erasing around $230 billion in market value – making it their worst trading session in history (the worst day’s trading of any company ever, if memory serves).
Perhaps not what Zuckerberg envisioned when introducing the parent company to Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Oculus VR, among others.
We are possibly tired of hearing about Meta, which was shouted about from the media (and Zuckerberg) but hasn’t had much clout. What could be perceived as a distraction technique, turning focus away from whistleblowing scandals; perhaps the new name and identity symbolised a fresh start for Meta.
However, the intentions of Meta are (at least on the surface) not honest, as it still has a vested interest in keeping its users sharing as much data as possible. This is evident in 2021’s objections towards Apple’s iOS and tracking updates – what was seen (by Zuckerberg) as a decision to affect Apple’s profit. He believed that apps and websites would have no choice but to charge subscription fees and add in-app purchases leading to increased App Store revenue.
The almost blatant glazing over (from Zuckerberg) about the potential for users to choose the ability of which apps follow what behaviour is a serious red flag to me.
Which brings my attention to the elephant in the virtual room; the Metaverse. Originally coined in 1992 by Neal Stephenson in his science fiction novel: Snow Crash, the Metaverse is a way for people to use digital avatars of themselves to explore the online world, often as a way of escaping a dystopian reality.
Are we living in a dystopian world?
The rise of surveillance capitalism has potentially made privacy a farce, and in a world where our lives and behaviours have turned into profit for the big tech giants; I am almost inclined to believe that yes, we are.
The Metaverse is widely believed to be the next frontier of tech, and I couldn’t be more worried about the future of the web if it’ll be in Meta’s hands. Although Zuckerberg has said:
“And with all the novel technologies that are being developed, everyone who’s building for the metaverse should be focused on building responsibly from the beginning.”
And I fully agree with Zuckerberg, I just don’t think his company should be the one to do it. Dr Marcus Carter, an expert in Digital Cultures at the University of Sydney stated:
Facebook’s VR push is about data, not gaming. Metaverse technologies like VR and AR are perhaps the most data-extractive digital sensors we’re likely to invite into our homes in the next decade.
There is hope
While industry giants (Amazon, Microsoft etc) compete to create ostensibly open privacy standards, they will not want to relinquish their sense of proprietary ownership.
The future of privacy on the Web looks bleak, however there is hope.
Tim Berners-Lee has stated that he wants to re-make cyberspace once again with a new startup called Inrupt. Recognising that users are fed up with the lack of control when it comes to their privacy.
Inrupt promises a web where people can use a single sign-on for any service and personal data is stored in “pods,” or personal online data stores, controlled by the user.
Cryptocurrency company, Gemini has raised $400 million dollars to challenge the very idea of so-called Walled Gardens, where companies like Facebook own and profit from user data.
Standing up to Meta in the centralised Metaverse seems almost impossible, but this is exactly what Gemini are doing. They are focusing on the decentralised metaverse, where it is believed that users will have greater choice, independence and opportunity. These users will have access to technology that protects the rights and dignity of individuals.
Data is a valuable asset to have, throughout history authority figures have wanted to know more about their ‘subjects’. The earliest example that comes to mind is the Domesday Book, the record of a survey (‘Inquest’) of England in 1066 and 1086, carried out at the orders of William the Conqueror. The data gathered from this allowed the Normandy King to assess the wealth and assets of his subjects throughout the land.
In Meditationes Sacrae (1597), Sir Francis Bacon stated that “knowledge itself is power”, and I can’t disagree. Technologies facilitate the tracking and aggregation of ever more information about us, but what purpose does it serve?
A recent trend on social media is an app called ‘New Profile Pic’, where users of the app upload a picture of themselves and they are then turned into a painting.
The Daily Mail soon reported that “experts warn internet users not to download latest online craze New Profile Pic that hoovers up your details”, the ‘expert(s)’ they mention is Jake Moore, Global Cybersecurity Advisor, ESET Internet Security. Who questioned the intentions of the app, which is believed to have originated (or, at least have connections to) in Russia.
The argument I have is that the users of the app are uploading to their social media accounts, which hold a lot of information and data about them anyway. Dan Evon from snopes.com has since said that “There’s little evidence to suggest that this app is any more invasive in its collection of user data than other apps”.
I am no clairvoyant, but the future of privacy is potentially something to be concerned about. Collecting data was “intended” to be a different way for corporations to provide value for their visitors, however at some point down the line the intention was lost and data has been used in a way that users may have not agreed to.
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