I find it quite ironic how the UK government announces tighter controls over social networks after the recent riots in England. This comes after years of high-brow outspoken criticism of governments in the Ukraine, Iran, Egypt, etc. on their interference with free speech by trying to suppress online social communication of citizens protesting and rising up against the establishment (for different reasons). With the announcement, the West has lost the moral high ground they tried to portrait while things were running smoothly.
Without losing myself in politics, what concerns me is the picture that emerges of the Internet today and tomorrow. What can we expect when we turn to our browsers? Surely, in some dark and very secret corner, Intelligence Agencies have not only collected data about users, and created backdoor controls to large software portals like Google or Facebook which allows them to monitor our conversations. ISPs too are increasingly under pressure and forced to censor Web traffic as a recent court ruling against BT has shown. It starts with the ongoing battle on piracy, but there are actually many Websites that some people wish to disappear, e.g. Greenpeace or other activist sites, not to mention fundamentalist propaganda.
As if this wasn’t enough, leaving the Web to free market forces, challenges net neutrality through the monetary power of a handful of big players. The preferential treatment of traffic may lead to a Web where organisations with deep pockets get all the attention. Imagine where this leaves democracy, when it comes to marketing smaller political parties before an election. But it isn’t even only the browser developers or the brand companies that are the bad guys, as recent findings on search traffic hijacking show us.
What these developments indicate is that we are no longer only dependent on the secret algorithms from Google that lead us from query A to website B. More and more, our web queries bounce in unknown ways around the web with perhaps unpredictable and unexpected outcomes, monitored by data companies and intelligence services. The danger is that our web experience declines from what we want to see to what others want us to see or not to see!