The internet’s tech giants.
Life online can be extremely tough for the billions of people who use the Web every day, and the 7 tech giants behind most of the world’s hardware and software.
Meanwhile, amid hacks and misinformation, the Internet is entering a new frontier. Connected devices introduce the Internet to even more private aspects of each of our lives.
Not in the news.
Equifax exposed millions of Americans’ most sensitive data, from Social Security numbers to home addresses, following a huge security breach. The aftermath created digital drama – erroneous tweets, fake websites and phishing scams.
This is now beginning to affect people in the UK, although Equifax are describing this event as a ‘data breach,’ rather than a huge security breach.
Meanwhile, Mark Zuckerberg of facebook admitted politically motivated Russian accounts used the social network during the recent US presidential election. “I don’t want anyone to use our tools to undermine democracy,” Zuckerberg declared.
Google faces $2.7 billion EU antitrust fine.
In Europe, Google is facing a staggering $2.7 billion antitrust fine from the EU. Officials say that the search giant is removing choice from internet users and depriving its competitors of a fair competition. (Google naturally disagrees and says it’s improving user choice and competition.)
In Africa, the Togo government disabled its internet connection, essentially taking the internet offline following growing government protests. Social media sites, online banking and mobile text messaging were blocked – a complete removal of freedom of expression and democratic ideals.
Headlines such as these are steadfast reminders that online life is deeply intertwined with offline life. What happens on the Internet affects our wallets and sometimes our democracy.
The number of connected devices grows exponentially.
All of this is happening as the number of connected devices grows exponentially. In the ’90s, the Internet was tethered only to our desktops. More recently it became part of our mobile phones and TV’s amongst other things – that’s right it’s in your pocket.
The Internet is becoming pervasive: It’s entering our cities, cars, thermostats and now toasters!
As a result, the connection between online life and all other aspects of life is deepening. In a few more years, the implications of another Equifax hack, or another Internet shutdown, will be amplified.
So, what do we do? Right now, connected device development is at a critical stage. It’s unescapable but also still in infancy. There are no rules and these need to be developed, established and documented. The future, there are many possible futures, however, some are darker than others.
The internet is largely controlled by a handful of Silicon Valley giants, who use personal data as currency, and if this persists a darker future will become more likely. Internet-connected cars, pacemakers, medical equipment, power grids and your toaster would be bound to companies, rather than individual users. Your personal data would be captured on an even more granular level, and would remain digital currency. Ultimately threats such as hacking would extend to even more intimate areas of our lives.
Here’s a sobering example.
Tesla recently gave its customers affected by Hurricane Irma a battery boost – brilliant customer service. But a few Floridians and journalists questioned the implications: “What happens if someone other than Tesla gains access to a fleet of vehicles?“ The concern is about connected cars and devices which predates Hurricane Irma.
Device independence to guarantee consumer privacy.
Alternatively, Internet users and consumers could demand new, better design patterns. Connected devices need to adopt an ethos akin to the early Internet: decentralised, open source and coherent with privacy.
A growing number of technologists ask not only what’s possible but also what’s responsible.
I recently encountered the concept of connected devices trust marks, third-party labels that signal whether a device sufficiently respects privacy. I was introduced to Simply Secure’s Knowledge Base, a tool kit instructing developers and designers how to make privacy-respecting, secure products.
Why not put responsibility first; data collection and planned obsolescence simply shouldn’t be part of the equation.
The tech giants must be more responsible and ethical.
This isn’t a simple issue. Big tech platforms do have a key role to play in making connected devices more responsible and ethical. But the dynamic of so few controlling so much of our lives is simply too risky. As we welcome the Internet into more intimate parts of our lives, individual consumers and users must remain in control. And loud consumer demand alone isn’t enough: Regulators and industry leaders need to take steps, too. Together, we must ensure new hardware and software put responsibility ahead of flashiness and profit.