New Age Threats: Understanding our Data and Maintaining our Internet Security
Time continues to move us toward new advancements in technology and, as history shows us, policies can be enacted to help the general public understand how they can safely and responsibly interact with those new technologies. As time goes on, one thing is made alarmingly clear: we are well behind the curve. Because of our inaction, companies have, for a very long time, been silently gathering data and subconsciously altering the opinions of millions of unassuming citizens. A majority of our current leaders have displayed a resounding lack of technological literacy which keeps them from being able to effectively make proper judgements on what we need moving forward.
Foreign adversaries like Russia and online anarchists have been interfering in our elections and infrastructure as early as 2016 and are actively doing so now in 2020. They do this in part by contributing to a restriction of choice, not by making us choose, but through advertising and subliminal messaging that influences our perceptions and the way we think and feel. Despite the evidence, the people sounding the alarms are met with continual inaction. Without even admitting (or frankly understanding) there’s an issue, and in some cases, actively trying to hinder investigations, our leaders repeatedly deny unanimous statements from our intelligence agencies that we need immediate action for our safety and security.
My background in advertising gives me a unique perspective on the value of personal data and how it is used. Our data is EVERYTHING. It alone is the reason why being a YouTuber, Social Media “Influencer”, or Content Creator are now viable and lucrative career options. Advertisers pay ridiculous sums for access to online companies’ informational databases. What the general public, and our leaders, fail to understand is just how much of our data these companies are tracking. Things like who watches what, when they’re watching, how old they are, where they are, what they eat, how they sleep, what books they read, there race, their religion, their family, their relationships. They track our shopping carts, our watch lists, our subscriptions, our pets, and on and on. These data points offer crystal clear pictures of who we are beyond what you can even imagine. Without regulation, this data is being used and sold, putting our safety and security and that of our families at risk. With a profile of someones personal data, you can define who they are, what they like, what they believe and then predict their preferences, and beyond that begin to influence their choices. There are zero restrictions on popular online social platforms like Facebook and Twitter and no one to take accountability for their failures. Nothing sits in place to keep our data safe which leaves us all vulnerable.
Crimes such as human trafficking, drug commerce, extortion, and solicitation all happen daily not only on the dark web, but in public view hidden behind fake, unverified profiles that we don’t even think question.Children are especially vulnerable. Without the experience or understanding to be able to recognize signs of these fake profiles and bot accounts, an increasing amount of children are subject to ridicule, catfishing, cyberbullying, and threats to their personal health and safety which increasingly leads to depression, and in some cases, suicide. Our information, our children’s information, and our immediate locations should be kept secure. We can no longer ignore our online safety.
The internet is one of the previous century’s greatest innovations. As we grow and find new ways to connect around the world, we find prosperity and innovation. Access to the internet and our online freedoms are paramount to our success as a human race and should be treated accordingly. There is a lawless nature on the internet so rules need to be put in place. We need to understand that too many restrictions will hinder progress and too few regulations will leave us vulnerable to a wide array of threats and unseen dangers. Reasonable regulation on the internet and sensible online policies will make or break the success of our society as we move forward. Understanding how we can finally profit off of these currently flawed or nonexistent rules can build funding to institute a universal basic income, pay off our country’s debts, and start nationwide healthcare. We need leaders that can help us make our lives online safer and more secure by creating roadmaps and policies that will maintain their relevancy as time and technology progress.
There is no time to waste. We need to act fast to protect ourselves and our data. We need to know that our families and our children are safe and that our information is our own. We need leaders who understand the basic principles behind technology and the internet, how it works, why it’s important, and how it is vulnerable and being abused. We need people who are capable of making legislation that will protect our country from increasingly sophisticated cyber attacks. We need people who understand words and ideas like tweets, streaming, uploads, profiles, trolls, stream, social media, search engines, posts, DM, and binge-watching. We need someone who can help us prepare for the future, and the longer we ignore the problem, the more damage we will incur personally and as a people.
Some safety precautions exist on social platforms in the form of verification checkmarks, icons attached to public profiles signifying they have been checked and do belong to the person they claim to. These verification measures protect users from widespread harassment, designed to rile someone up. Measures like this should be taken more seriously and applied more widely to things like Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok profiles. We need obvious tells to signify the legitimacy of online interactions. In addition to profiles, algorithms should be applied to posts to detect potential foul play or misleading and inaccurate information, marking unverified and potentially harmful posts as such.
Even If you think they aren’t, our entire lives are online. In 2020 and beyond, the internet is a service we rely on more and more to keep connected, to shop, to sell, to do business, to connect to our friends and family, and organize our lives. It is now a vital utility that everyone needs access to, providing opportunities like online schooling and job applications. As time goes on the internet will continue to evolve and we must evolve right alongside it. Some companies utilize valuable data to shape ad campaigns and help companies succeed, putting the right people in front of the right products. These opportunities should continue to be available and the people whose data is being collected should be compensated, not the companies who gather it.
We need corporate-level policies that ensure our safety and their accountability. Companies should not be granted immunities to the laws and tax liabilities that govern brick and mortar stores simply because they operate mostly online. They should be required to give concise, easily understood declarations of their intentions to use our data instead of long, convoluted agreements that hide technical legalities and are easy to bypass. Infringements of these policies by online companies should be treated like their sister companies on television networks, being held accountable for their crimes and failures.