The Great Experiment, a.k.a. The Internet, rolls on at ever greater speed – but I would like you to stop for a moment and think about the points below. There are some fundamental problems, that I believe needs addressing to avoid the experiment going bad. In no particular order:
Social Networks are fundamentally broken. To illustrate, imagine if emails only work within the same domain – e.g., you’d need a hotmail account to email hotmail users, and a gmail account to email Google users. The idea about email would become useless, yet, this is exactly how social networks work today. Users today ‘fix’ the problem by moving to the same the domain (i.e., Facebook) and thereby artificially inflating the perceived value of the network – in effect re-creating the web version of Microsoft’s Windows monopoly. I for one could do without another one of those monopoly. The truly scary scenario is when people start to see the Internet = Facebook (or any other company – shiver). There is a good cover story on IEEE Spectrum about Diaspora – four New York guys working towards an Internet not dominated by a single company.
More is just more. Facebook, Google and pretty much everyone on the web uses a number of tools and algorithms to profile their users – all in the name of ‘improving’ search results, status updates etc. But the result seems to more of the same, and we’ll all end up in ‘filter bubbles’. The problem is that we’ll end up seeing only what Google, Facebook, etc. think we should see – not what we really want or need to see. We’ll lack information variation – and thereby risking a world, where we unknowingly only see information that reinforces our beliefs and biases. Eli Pariser gave an excellent presentation at TED about this (see below).
Online privacy is much more than just figuring out how to change a few settings. Back in January 2010, I wrote a blog post titled, ‘Online privacy, anyone care?‘ about the four major issues we face with our ‘digital information’: Identity, Context, Control, and Scope. We don’t have an identity (just an ever-growing number of login accounts), our social context is flat as everyone’s a “friend“, we have very limited control over what happens to our information, and there is no longer any boundaries for the scope of distribution or sharing of our information.
A legal vacuum in the sense that a legal definition of ‘privacy’ doesn’t exist – where the US Government gets to demand private information about other nation’s parliamentarians, or where controversial organisations like Wikileaks exists everywhere. The Guardian newspaper did a review of one of the few attempts to progress the legal debate about privacy and the ‘lawless’ internet started, a book called The Offensive Internet.
Eli at TED talking about ‘filter bubbles’…