Internet and Privacy


futureI am reading the book The Future by Al Gore. Maybe it was a long train ride, maybe I enjoyed his earlier book Your Choice. I don’t always agree with Al Gore, and it think it is valid to suggest that he fails to distinguish readily between hand facts and soft facts. None the less, in general I find his case an interesting and thought-provoking read, though I confess that the conclusions I draw are not always the same, and I was not impressed by the polemic rant at the end of Your Choice.

At the moment I am still reading The Future and I have not peeked ahead to see how it ends.

1. Earth Inc

The first chapter is a review of the process of globalisation and what it means, in terms of nations, corporations and individuals. there is a considerable discussion about outsourcing and robosourcing (he is an American so he will make up words when he wants to) in which we first see the jobs of the first world working class being exported to third world countries, and then when the prospects of replacing third world workers with cheaper to run robots comes along the exported jobs disappear. He sees the rise of 3D printing as the resolution of the distribution problem, and yet another impact.

He speaks of the failure of capitalism to resolve these issues with any sense of social justice. The profit driven model which many argued was the ultimate good, has failed in many ways. He claims that the wealthiest 50 in America own as much as the poorest 50%. In terms of outcomes that one would think is socially unsustainable. Clearly the increase in the use of robots, along with the changing nature of work means that major changes need to happen.

2 The Global Mind

Naturally enough this chapter focusses on the Internet. It is hard to consider a technology that has changed the we go about life more than the internet. It is not that long ago that morse code revolutionised communication, and though that may see a very small first step on the road to digitized communication, there it was. But what is the impact of all this information seemingly effortlessly being retrieved in micro-seconds if not nanoseconds. We choose not to remember things we don’t need to remember because the information is available when I want it. We used to remember phone numbers, now we store them. Does a lawyer need a good mind or a smart phone?

Another aspect of this area is the collation of data, and massive amounts of data, and the purposes which it serves. The fact that the internet is distressingly un-private, and someone/something knows what searches I put into Google, Ebay and RealEstate.com, and that someone else can buy that information so that they can target advertise to me. On the one hand it means that I am seeing ads that are relevant to me. I know a little while back I bought a new rug for my office. I did do a bit of searching for a rug, and I am still seeing relentless ads for rugs on Facebook, eBay and email. I guess they haven’t worked out that I bought one. The downside of this is that I have not knowingly really given my permission for such relentless intrusions, and in a sense the individual has simply been commoditized.

The questions that this storage and retrieval of data poses are:

  1. how much information can we store?
  2. and more importantly how much information should we store?
  3. and for what purposes might this information be used?
  4. and who and what systems might have access to such information?
  5. and in what circumstances?

Chapter three is about power, and may well post some more interesting questions.

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