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Internet giants build walled gardens around themselves

Internet giants build walled gardens around themselves

The Privacy Debate 2: Try the Digital Independence Diet for a Month, If You Dare

With all the talk of Ramadan (fasting in the hours of daylight for 30 days) and of various kinds of sacrificial diet fads, it is timely to wonder if health would improve if you could digitally diet for a period.

This idea was sent to me on the USA’s Independence Day (4 July) and is fitting to make us think, is it possible to decouple from much of the addictive and harmful elements of the digital world without wishing to actually vanish totally.

Dan Gillmor wrote in The Guardian on 4 July this year that he tried a decade ago to ‘sever ties with Microsoft, a pervasive and abusive technology monoploy.’

He said that he failed.

Other Villains Now

As products improved and various US and European laws evolved, he became ‘more willing to use Xbox, Microsoft Word and even Bing.’
Now he claims that other ‘centralised giants’ have grown to those same proportions. Facebook ‘is turning us into guinea pigs’.

A few weeks ago they were rumbled when they ran experiments into distorting 600,000 users’ newsfeeds and manipulating their emotions without any consent whatever and then were forced to deny that their “emotion contagion” experiment was funded by the US Department of Defence (DoD).

It was all to do (or not to do) with research into ‘the modelling of dynamics, risks and tipping points for large-scale civil unrest across the world, under the supervision of various US military agencies.’

Now they are facing questions from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) about data protection laws.

And it’s not the first time Facebook have used customers as guinea pigs without asking them. After this one, chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg apologised for ‘poor communication’ but not carrying out the experiment.

And Apple? Gillmor asked ‘what doesn’t Apple want to control in your life?’ You could ask the same of Amazon and Google, of course.

Walled Gardens Sprouting Up

For Gillmor, the ‘internet is being neutered by these tech giants’ who spy on us and capture all kinds of data from us and sell it while flogging us all kinds of hardware and software they control .

He cited a survey from Pew Research which reveals concerns by experts on the net future. They expect that by 2025 ‘there will not be significant changes for the worse and hindrances to the ways in which people get and share content online today. They expect that technology innovation will continue to afford more new opportunities for people to connect.’

However, the expressed threat fears boil down to:

  1. Actions by nation-states to maintain security and political control will lead to more blocking, filtering, segmentation, and balkanization of the Internet.
  2. Trust will evaporate in the wake of revelations about government and corporate surveillance and likely greater surveillance in the future.
  3. Commercial pressures affecting everything from internet architecture to the flow of information will endanger the open structure of online life.
  4. Efforts to fix the TMI (too much information) problem might over-compensate and actually thwart content sharing.

Practical Steps

This is some of what Gillmor has done to feel digitally independent – ‘a personal victory with every log-in.’

Facebook – he logs on only to keep an eye on what they are doing and is happy to miss party invitations or whatever. He still uses Twitter to keep in touch and likes the up-coming IndieWeb http://indiewebcamp.com/ the people-focused alternative to the corporate web.

No iMac – he got fed up with Apple’s expanding control-freakery and switched to the free alternative – GNU/Linux operating system. He said that not everyone should run Linux, but it is for ‘those geeky people’ like him. He’s happy with Windows or Macs, but keeps a copy of Windows 7 ‘just in case.’

No iPhone – he loved it as elegant, but the ‘iOS ecosystem is the ultimate example of controlling ways.’ You even need Apple’s permission to give away an app free. He feels that Android is little better due to a ‘tendency to lock down devices in Apple-like ways.’ He’s testing the new OnePlus One phone installed with Cyanogen

Small Google footprints – he rejects Google’s line that they want to ‘truly assist people in a more meaningful way.’ he uses StartPage and DuckDuckGo which we have recommended in the MBF blog published before this one. They log nothing of any of your searches. He uses Gmail sparingly.

Encrypting – he tries to encrypt what he does online using a virtual private network (VPN) and welcomes the growing interest in encryption from businesses, although US security agencies tend to target those who are privacy-aware.

So, ok, you need to have a certain level of tech-savvy skills to go digitally independent, but those who can could try it and then see if they could help others?

What do you think?

Some other recent MBF Blogs discussions:

Wondering and Speculating What the Internet Will Look Like in 2025, 16 June 2014

Is Disillusion With Technology Enough to Justify Suicide? 17 June 2014

Reports of the Death of Online Privacy Are Premature, After All, 2 June 2014

Image: Rosser1954