“To end the suspense, I have just created alt.sex.
That meant that the alt network now carried alt.sex and alt.drugs. It was therefore artistically necessary to create alt.rock-n-roll, which I have also done. I have no idea what sort of traffic it will carry. If the bizzarroids take it over I will rmgroup it or moderate it; otherwise I will let it be.”
Brian Reid (about creating the usenet newsgroup alt.sex)
It’s currently a strange time online:
- We know that social networks and government agencies gather all information they can get about you, needed or not.
- Thanks to Snowden we are currently informed that the NSA is considering EU countries as enemies (including, or rather especially, the one where I live, and that’s Germany) — and I am willing to bet it’s more for commercial (à la industrial espionage) reasons than for war-against-terror purposes.
- Regarding social networks, for example, if you use the Facebook app they get, among others, your telephone number and the telephone number of the person you are talking to (go to the permissions tab). Given that amount of information the NSA collects, it plays right into their hands. Whatever social networks and the like capture, will be available for the government agencies (likely of a country you do not live in).
- There is also a movement by big companies to influence the speed with which different kinds of data are transferred online.
- For example, the German Telekom tries to limit their broadband speed after some GB selectively for other companies’ data. The real life example would be allowing companies to selectively use the fast lane while everyone else would be limited to slow lanes. How long until data to other servers is slowed down from the start? Or dropped completely?
- There is also a strong movement to censor the kind of information exchanged:
- Platforms like Apple’s App Store prohibit ‘adult’ apps, leading to censorship and (even worse) self-censorship. Now, Google’s Blogger prohibits earning money with adult themed blogs/ads. While you can make money with non-adult blogs/ads, Google does not want you to make money with sex-related blogs/ads.
- It seems more and more socially accepted to use the same criteria for one’s private life as one uses for one’s work life. Given that employers can monitor the social media activity of their (potential) employees, it is widely considered to be a ‘smart’ move not to post potentially career-limiting information online. I strongly disagree here: There is a difference between one’s work life — where you must be professional — and one’s private life — where you must not be professional. Information from one’s private life might be devastating in a work context, but as long as it does not interfere with the work life, there should be no problem. Even if the information is on social network sites and private blogs — it might be public, but it is private life public. Yet, we seem to accept that work norms and roles have to be adhered to in one’s private life.
So, I’m currently wondering where the Internet goes. The general idea seems to be to:
- make everyone aware that the information they share is not private. They automatically over-share identifying information like phone numbers and position, and whatever information is collected ends up in government computers and possibly anywhere else (imagine a more capitalistic kind of Snowden).
- force people to depend on a few major players to get information, e.g., provided by their internet providers (in case of the German Telekom) or large companies like Apple or Google
- sanitize — or rather sterilize — the information exchanged by selectively targeting ‘adult’ information for removal.
What might come out of it is a sterilized Internet driven by big companies, monitored by government agencies, with users who stick to small talk. It seems to try to establish norms by targeting the information that is provided or visible on the net.
And I think this is a relatively realistic prediction — it’s not a conspiracy theory, after all, the data is on the table.
And I think this is a really dystopian future.
Sure, there are data that should be removed (e.g., child pornography), but we have laws that cover it. We do not need more laws, or “stronger” laws, or a large-scale screening of all data (opening the door for large-scale censorship) — we need to apply the laws we have, e.g., by making sure that the law enforcement has the necessary infrastructure, people and training).
And, yes, I can understand the desire to live in peace (kinda like a hobbit in “Lord of the Rings”). But I grew up in a time when the Internet was just beginning and not that regulated — by laws and quasi-monopolies. And it was fine. The Internet allows us to exchange ideas, brings people together. Sure, there are bad ideas — but those are the exception.
Frankly, I am wondering whether free and open exchange of ideas continues to have a chance (e.g., by switching to and supporting adult friendly hosting sites, more info here and here) — or whether the Internet was just a dream that lived for a few decades, before it was strangled to death.
If it does not scare you, just imagine the Internet as the physical world — we are currently accepting that our every movement, everything we write, is monitored by companies and government agencies. We are on the verge of allowing providers (third parties!) to determine where we might go, how fast, and even what we might see. And we become more accepting of sticking to safe topics, because you never know where what we say might end up, or how it could harm us in the future.
It would be a scary world if the trend continues — bleak of creative new ideas. :-/