There’s a saying that’s been around for a few years now: “On the internet no-one knows you’re a dog“. The point is that anonymity, or at least the illusion of anonymity, leads us to be bolder than we might be in meatspace (or “real life”). This anonymity has become important to us, and losing our online privacy is a big worry.
Many of us are only just starting to understand the comprehensive rights to our data that we conferred on social media sites when we checked the “I agree” box. We see these social media sites as guardians of our personal data, but this raises a question: “Sed quis custodiet ipsos custodes” (translation – “But who will guard the guardians themselves?”).
Fortunately, an understanding of these issues is percolating through society, and legislation is starting to appear. The EU is currently working on “The right to be forgotten” which will allow us to remove our data from websites, to help prevent an off-colour tweet or ill-tempered social media post from tarnishing our future reputation and prospects.
Should we feel bad for the social networks? Not really. The social networks earn by selling advertising to businesses. The businesses, not you, are their customer. You are the product that they’re selling.
So with the battle for our privacy going well, we’ve decided to take on the legislators. It’s scary how much bad legislation gets through, as a result of corruption, carelessness or bad advice. In the bad old days we had paper petitions, which took a lot of time and effort to co-ordinate and police. Now we can petition online, far more effectively. The shelving of SOPA was directly as a result of the backlash on the internet. When Wikipedia, Reddit and many other high profile sites (plus a raft of smaller sites) voluntarily went dark on January 18th, it spelled the end for SOPA.
Similarly, here in Ireland, the legislation which is misleadingly called the Irish SOPA by it’s detractors caused a similar furore. An online petition garnered 60,000 signatures and triggered a Dail debate.
On the other side of the fence we’ve seen groups like Anonymous autonomously decide to attack websites when they take offence over some perceived threat. Groups like the now defunct LulzSec were famous for launching denial of service attacks seemingly at random, “For the Lulz (laughs)”.
The internet is a powerful tool, and gives us the ability to peacefully and effectively unite and lobby, when we need to. Similarly it allows trolls and crackpots to create trouble for individuals and businesses, with impunity. Do we need to draw a line in the sand, and if so where and how?