Gooqx Speakerbox 20 - Valerie Ox

Written by

Valerie Ox



06. May 2019

Estimated Reading Time

4:54 Minutes

Gooqx Speakerbox 20
Valerie Ox

A co-dependency with a soft SM-touch: freedom in the age of the internet

By 2019, half of the population will be online worldwide. In just 30 years, accessibility to the internet exploded.

Tim Berners-Lee, the Godfather of the WWW, coded the first version of the internet in 1989 with a strong belief for accessible freedom: free access to a network of connections, where humans are able to interact, learn and build technologies of the future. His idea was to create a web of endless exchange.

But in recent years, him and other players of the early ages of modern technology, have raised concerns. Many leaders, including Bill Gates, Stephen Hawking or Elon Musk, are alerted by the actual lack of freedom and instead, its replacement with abuse:

  • Fake News
  • Cyber attacks
  • Trolls affecting global politics
  • Hate speech
  • Cyber Bullying

Coming from a lack of official regulations, there is no constitution, no manifesto and barely any ground rules present or globally recognized laws.

Tim Berners-Lee held a powerful opening speech at the Web Summit 2018. He introduced The Web Project, and his vision of securing freedom: technology must serve humanity, not destroy it. He appealed to entrepreneurs, engineers and future leaders in the audience to embed a new mindset into their work. A mindset of establishing more value, serving humanity and helping to support, secure and diversify technologies of the future now to manifest it for future generations.

But has this mindset reached action takers? Three areas have started to adapt to a human-centric approach: businesses, governments and users.

Tech companies started to embed new values into their work. Digital wellbeing is one attempt to bring humans to the center of their services, focusing their products on the mission to serve rather than dominate.

Many apps and systems can now track the time to send notifications and reminders to be more mindful on the amount of time spend on their platforms, such as Instagram, YouTube or Netflix. This can also be understood as an attempt to track consumer behavior in order to understand users even further for the companies’ own benefits. Do those digital wellbeing initiatives include a conscience?

Gooqx Speakerbox 20 - Valerie Ox
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The introduction of the GDPR in Europe is another bid to secure personal safety, the security of privacy and the transparent use of data. Governments and policy makers are implementing these new rules in the wake of rearing threats by the growing power of technology giants. Recently, a controversial new copyright law, also dubbed ‚upload filter‘ and ‚link tax‘, which won 348 to 274 votes in favor for this new regulation, was approved by the European parliament. While some parties call it the darkest day of internet freedom, Andrus Ansip, VP of the European Commission, sees it as a step towards unifying Europe’s digital market while ‚protecting online creativity‘. It is supposed to return power to copyright holders on tech giant platforms, but will this restrict users and free speech? And some critics even say, it will end memes and GIFs (the undisputable new languages of internet communication!). What might appear as an exaggeration, only time will tell how these laws under Article 11 and Article 13 play out in real life over the next two years and to what extend creators are or are not in a disadvantage.

Christopher Wylie, a whistleblower par example, is known for his connection to last year’s major data scandal in connection with the US presidential election of 2016 in headlines such as „Revealed: 50 million Facebook profiles harvested for Cambridge Analytica in major data breach“ or „How Trump Consultants Exploited the Facebook Data of Millions“. Wylie leaked one of Facebook’s biggest data breaches in its history and revealed that Trump’s consulting firm Cambridge Analytica utilized user data to influence last term’s presidential election. This included users’ musical preferences, pages followed or fashion brands they interact with or mention. In the algorithm Cambridge Analytica created, users who followed fashion brands such as Wrangler have been categorized as ‚right wing voters‘. This makes it painfully clear how transparent humanity is in the age of the internet and where user data and social likes can lead to (political) profiling.

Humanity and the internet share a strange connection which has profoundly changed over the last years. But not all is bad! To advance as a species, new technological developments must be embraced and applied with a positive, yet realistic, outlook. Wi-Fi and loaded batteries have long replaced Maslow’s human needs at the very foundational bottom of the pyramid and are now ranked among food, a roof and security. Technology is already used in most life settings and it is only a matter of time until those areas which lack a Wi-Fi connection are included in the digital construct as well, so why not use it to the benefit of life on earth?

Humanity has never been so connected, so intertwined like today. Not everything the internet offers is harmful, while undoubtedly still unregulated. Looking at it from a different perspective, the internet also brings people closer than any technological inventions before. With the possibility of creating meaningful and lasting connections, users can voice and tackle topics which have been widely ignored before. This is the age exchange of information and coming together with like-minded people for a bigger purpose. Having the opportunity to seek out communities based on interests and POVs makes it possible to connect with the global world to find solutions for societal and environmental problems. Just think about the racism issue and the major social media shitstorm over Dolce & Gabbana in China or the growing activism around #FridaysForFuture, a global movement which is able to engage thousands of people in the fight against climate change.

Now is the time to be curious and grow our critical thinking. We can curate our lives as we please with all the given opportunities, but in addition, it is about seeing the bigger picture in our decisions to shape the world around us. Here are two questions for you and some food for thought for your own actions in this construct:

What does ‚freedom‘ mean to you in the age of the internet?
And what kind of boundaries do we need to make it safe and inclusive?


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