Some Thoughts

Internet Privacy

2 February 2021


Lockdown and homeschool have vastly accelerated the move to online learning for my family as well as many others.

While I am very much a technophile - I have long had some concerns about the more dystopian aspects of our technology.

When I first started using the internet is was very new and (it now seems) somewhat naive, there was a belief that the internet would transcend boundaries, “route around” censorship, and bring us all closer.

It did indeed do all those things - but it now seems to have been a Faustian pact where the terms of the promise were fulfilled but not in the way initially expected.

The Future we live in

Transcending boundaries turns out to mean not just connecting niche enthusiasts of obscure TV programmes around the world but also economic and cultural domination by multinational corporations.

Routing around censorship hasn’t just created free speech for hippies and dreamers but has enabled recruitment and co-ordination of actual Nazis.

While the internet has allowed informal groups to form easily - this has undermined the space in which more formal clubs operated. Oddly these clubs had a reputation for exclusivity at times - but nobody has to even pretend to be equal opportunities on a WhatsApp chat - and if you are excluded there is no one to complain to.

While it has brought us together in groups with common interest - it has allowed us to avoid anyone we disagree with - causing increased division and frustration as we now don’t just disagree with people but are completely unable to understand each other.

Lockdown and Homeschool

I have always wanted my son to grow up around technology and to share the joys I did of being able to make stuff with it - to be not just a passive consumer of it but an active agent of creation.

I created him a Facebook account, had him on calls with friends, he loves Minecraft, he watches youtube, netflix etc and I know all these applications are also watching him - before he even understands.

He makes little videos, we have done some scratch programming, and we’ve even made some basic robots.

But what I had never counted on was the sudden move to online education.

The same sort of compromises I had made over online privacy seemed much worse when they were not our choice.

Other frustrations spilled out into the privacy issues - things I have (like many of us) put to the back of my mind for years seemed awful when magnified by the general anxiety of coronavirus lockdown and the lens of frustration with the educational and technical choices school was making.

There is something about website analytics tracking school education that gets under my skin.

Imagine what the AI of the future will be able to know if it knows what TV you have watched, what music you like, everything you have ever been taught.

Not only what you know and don’t know : but what you think you know - that is wrong.

If the likes of Cambridge Analytica could manipulate elections before - what will the future bring ?

What will adverts look like when their is a filter for who understands statistics, or who knows History? When lies can be told confident that they will not be exposed.