Perceptions of the Internet of Fear by Prof. Göte Nyman

It is no news today that the giants of the net, the leading internet and mobile operators, shops, and services – no brand names needed – are gaining power over us, while we have become increasingly dependent on the private and public services we enjoy via the net and the mobile. It is news that there are emerging counter movements and initiatives that try to protect us from the misuse of our data. We still don’t know how this acute worry will drive the internet markets, but signs of an alternative net-future are there already.

Our leading national newspaper Helsingin Sanomat (2ndOctober 2018) asked “Data to be used by the customers or for advertisements?” and even referred to a ‘study’, kneeling in front of the AI hype, suggesting that “Soon firms will know better than the customers themselves what they want

This belief in the power of AI is simply crazy and false and is one more factor contributing to the increasing global worry that the Internet is sick.

Streams of counter movements are being born

The most prominent of the new initiatives, aiming at protecting us is the GDPR, the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation,https://eugdpr.org, which has made the giants and others nervous about its consequences.  It came into force in May 2018, and now some even predict it will cause a new type of havoc in the internet.The worries can be understood from reading about the aims of the GDPR: “… GDPR is the right for data subjects to obtain confirmation from the data controller as to whether or not personal data concerning them is being processed, where and for what purpose.”

 In the old days, of course, it was impossible for us to know what tales there were circulating about us, but now we will be better equipped to find out about that, at least when the tales are in digital form.

Further, the new EU regulation includes the wonderful idea that we have the right to be forgotten: “.. Data Erasure, the right to be forgotten entitles the data subject to have the data controller erase his/her personal data, cease further dissemination of the data …” This is more than we can expect from our friends and fellow citizens with whom we live, especially from those we have mistreated. 

Bluntly these regulations mean that we can tell the giants to keep their hands off our data. A good question is then, to whom should we proffer our data to get the same benefits as before and how could we do that? My guess is that many, if not most of us, react to the GDPR inquiries they receive, by telling “Go on, rob my data, just like before!” This is the way we have learned to react to the small print of any service in the net and mobile. It’s become a simple social practice, and potentially harmful. 

These two important aspects of regulation are only part of the GDPR while major sanctions wait for those not obeying the regulations. In addition to the GDPR there are other, potentially significant counter movements that want to “heal” the internet.

Quite recently, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the father of the world-wide web announced that he is launching a platform, making it possible for people to manage their own data, e.g. to decide where their data can be used and who has access to it. The work is under way at MIT and known by the name “Solid” (https://solid.mit.edu). While this sounds promising there hides the self-service creature keeping us busy in managing our data masses.

Interestingly, the same worries about the internet pathologies gave an early start, in 2016 to MyData (https://mydata.org/finland/ ) movement in Finland. Antti Poikola, Kai Kuikkaniemi and Harri Honko describe it as “Nordic Model for human-centered personal data management and processing.” They explain the MyData motivation: “The aim is to develop national (internationally scalable) interoperability for personal data management.”  

Then there is the Blockchain, which is expected to change almost any transaction practices where trust and vulnerability are an issue. It promises to mend the data theft problem, too. According to Forbes 2018/6, in 2017, billions of data records were lost, stolen or exposed globally and almost 70% of them being related to identity theft. We all know how the banks and operators have pushed the responsibility on us and anyone who can help us get rid of this problem and threat will have a line of customers coming.

Looking at these relatively recent initiatives we can see how they all try and promise to protect us from the misuse of our data and to protect our individual rights. To succeed, they must gain the interest and commitment of large masses of people – us.

The approaches are quite different:

  1. GDPR relies on regulation.
  2. Solid builds a new platform and environment for a healthier use and personal data management in the net.
  3. Blockchain offers a secure transaction platform.
  4. The Finnish MyData movement joins this ethos with its Nordic value base to promote our rights and possibility to manage our personal data, for our own benefit.

Who will make money?

Then there are other possibilities looming in the horizon and it will be interesting to follow what these new initiatives and perhaps even movements will do. The biggest problem is, of course, who will make the money that allows large and global scaling of the new systems and services? Without that the giants will beat them, if not by their innovations then simply buying the competitors out from the markets.

One alternative is that someone will offer people access to the contents and services that are relevant to them, to find ways to get content providers together and serve their customers. When this is done without knowing who these users and clients are and so that both parties gain from it, then something remarkable happens – without an increase in the self-service.  It would offer a way out from the search and thumb empires.

Being a psychologist and having a long history in human-technology topics, it was natural to join up for designing just that kind of a platform, to offer us human beings a healthy use and benefits from the net. In the end, it is behavior that matters and has value, not who we are and where. More is to come, the field is ripe now for a healthier net.

Göte Nyman, Professor of Psychology, University of Helsinki, Finland
Columnist for FinnishNews; https://www.finnishnews.fi
My blog: http://gotepoem.wordpress.com/
My latest book  Perceptions of a Camino (available from  Amazon & as Kindle)

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