I’ve had my moments in the past where Facebook pissed me off and I tried Google+. That didn’t work out too well so I went back to Facebook after they addressed some of those problems. I had my moments in the past where I was concerned about the amount of tracking Google does in searches so I went to DuckDuckGo. That’s still my main search engine but sometimes I need results that come out better in Google so go there. I also use the Google platform for my e-mail, documents, etc. The concept of them selling my data in exchange for giving me free service has bothered me to varying degrees over the years, but seeing how greedily it was manipulated recently is really amping that up to me. The amount of information available to the highest bidder has always been a known quantity to me but these recent stories are just putting that up to eleven. It’s not just the Cambridge Analytica story. There is also the story about Facebook and other companies forcing users to turn over their keys, so to speak, so they can look at any and all their personal data as a condition for working for them. There is the way they exploited that data in difficult discussions.
When people picture dystopian worlds it’s often the overarching all knowing hands of governments that the draw from. How about the overarching all knowing hands of corporations that are literally the holders of data on every little thing you do plus with the capacity to exploit that data plus with the expressed business baseline of selling that data to whomever wants to buy it. I’m not going to ascribe nefarious purposes behind any of this just the practical realities of these things being in the world. The concept of “consumers can just opt out” is technically true but is it? Which percentage of the Internet connected world is voluntarily on one or more of these systems on a regular basis? I’d bet that it is close to 100% . Which percentage of those people know what their exposure is? I’d guess less than 30% of them. Which percentage of that 30% are still on there because they have no real alternatives? I’d say most of them, with few of them on there because they don’t care.
What are the alternatives to these systems that aren’t just another smaller walled garden that are doing the exact same thing? “If you don’t like Facebook go to Google+” was the first refrain. Well that’s jumping from the frying pan into the fire. If you don’t like that use LinkedIn? Again, jumping from one company with the same model to another. Where are the alternatives that are about providing a service to users as a business model rather than users as the product being sold? Where are the alternatives that aren’t leveraging our data to overtly push advertising into our face? Where are the alternatives that are built on data integrity, data security, and data privacy? It’s possible that those models can’t make financial sense any longer. Who is going to pay $5 a month for each of five services (e-mail/IM, social media, discussion forms, document processing/storage, search) when the alternative are free? You’d have to find literally a billion users willing to pay $1 a month (to match Facebook revenue) to $10 a month (to match Google revenue) for these services around the world in order to justify that with investors. That means there is a capitalization problem for getting such a company with that vision off the ground.
I’m asking questions without a lot of answers. The Luddite view of trying to hearken back to the Internet services circa the 1990s is of course one approach people can take but that’s not moving society as a whole forward in addressing these problems. It’s a refuge for technology savvy people that don’t mind self-imposed isolation. That isn’t a path forward. There are projects out there like Human Connection that are seeking to address this for some social media areas but that’s still in its infancy too, and I’m not sure I understand how their model will be sustainable. I am going to try to investigate this further and see what I can do to move into that direction because I feel the need to move to these alternatives but I can’t doing it by abandoning the modern Internet world for self-imposed isolation in a neo-Luddite 90s Internet throwback. If there truly are no alternatives is that an impetus for those of us with the abilities, including me, to try to figure out how to make that a reality.