Despite becoming integrated into our lives, the Internet is still something of a Wild West experiment.
The Internet has long been touted as a great equalizer, providing everyone with a voice on a global network. From democratic voices in opposition to dictators to web-based stores in opposition to the online presence of conglomerates, the net put everyone on the same footing.
An enduring part of Internet mythology, equality we now know – or should know – is a nice hypothetical. The reality is much different. The power imbalance means dictators block access to communications – see Putin’s attempts to put Russia on the even-more-miserable footings of China, North Korea et. al. – and kill dissidents, that large corporate interests squeeze out the little guys and take control of the Internet. They also buy off politicians and bureaucrats – nothing new there – to kill off any democratic regulatory leanings, such as attempts to scrap net neutrality rules.
As net neutrality advocates note, cable companies are famous for high prices and poor service, with several ranking as the most hated companies in the country.
It’s those companies that have lobbied to end net neutrality. Their goal is simple: they want the power to slow sites down so they can bully any site into paying millions to escape the slow lane. They’ll essentially be gatekeepers for the Internet, extorting money from providers and customers alike.
Much of the Internet is dominated by large corporations – from Microsoft to Google – that have no interest in democracy or rights. It’s your money and your privacy they want.
That reality may be dawning on more of us, but we’re still eager to trade away our rights and privacy. Willingly through the use of dubious sites such as Facebook, and unwillingly thanks to our failure to hold accountable the unethical practices of tech companies and the government departments that are supposed to oversee them on the public’s behalf.
A report released this week by the non-profit Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA) reveals both the good and the bad.
For instance, some 70 per cent of Canadians surveyed are concerned that fake news could impact the outcome of the next federal election. We recognize so-called fake news – 75 per cent say they’ve come across it – but 57 per cent of us have been taken in by such fake reports.
The concern is a good thing, as are similar issues about privacy, as CIRA reports 87 per cent of us are concerned that businesses with access to customers’ personal data willingly share it with third parties without consent. On the downside, 72 per cent of Canadians are willing to disclose some or a little personal information in exchange for a convenient service. We’re much to blasé about letting so-called convenience or peer pressure (i.e. the rationale for much social media use) trump our very real, though much-too-downplayed, concerns about the use and abuse of our private information.
For those of us paying attention, much more needs to be done to reel in both the power and the abuses of social media companies and of governments intent on doing nothing or, more often the case, drafting rules that help the abusers, the companies who constitute some of the biggest campaign donors and lobbyists.
The new survey reveals that 75 per cent of Canadians admit they only know a little or hardly anything about the topic of global control and regulation of the Internet, though 66 per cent support the principles of net neutrality, even as corporate gatekeepers attempt to strangle access, strip of us privacy and increase profits at the expense of everybody else.