Law in the Internet Society

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TWikiGuestSecondEssay 4 - 11 Dec 2016 - Main.LauraZhang
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Intro
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Introduction

 
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It was not a long time ago when we thought of the internet as a place to remain anonymous. Our social media accounts offered ways of masking our identities with weird nicknames. We could fill the gaps with false information and yet nobody could say anything, because we thought nobody could find out who we were, where we lived, which school we were going to or what was the next thing we would more likely to buy online. Today net is the place where anonymity is dead. In contrast, people work on finding ways to hide their profiles, preferences, likes an dislikes while browsing in the internet. Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter paved the way for this "de-anonymization" and it seems like there is no turning back.
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When we talk about technological innovation and the value a new piece of technology adds to society, the most common concept brought to the table is efficiency. Students learning their first programming language are immediately taught that the run-time of algorithms and the space utilized are the two defining factors of optimal code for any given situation. We want to expend minimal time and minimal effort for the sake of maximum results. In today’s neoliberal society, the business landscape is not defined by multiple values. Rather, it holds only one value paramount – efficiency. With technology’s rapid advancements, we are achieving gains in efficiency too quickly. The pleasure centers in our brains are addicted to progress, and our appetites have been rewarded again and again with tangible gains in efficiency through the advancement of technology. Our obsession with efficiency and convenience has pushed us to focus blindly on advancing efficiency at the expense of all other values.
 
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When the net knows your pregnancy before you do
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Eschewing Human Connection

 
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In 2014, Princeton sociologist, Janet Vertesi run a test to see whether it was possible to hide her pregnancy from the internet. She told every family member not to contact her about it through any technological means. Maybe shutting down her social media accounts would have made it easier, but she wanted to see the possibility to remain anonymous while she was actually online. Despite the warnings, one of her relatives sent her a private Facebook message, assuming it could not be traced down by the data-mining technology. She immediately deleted the message and "unfriended" that relative as she was aware that Facebook could also collect data through private messages.
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Once upon a time, kids ran around yards and biked around the block with their friends after school. Time spent playing with kids was gradually replaced with hours talking on the phone with friends, which still facilitated some level of human connection. By 1999, phone calls were replaced with email, games, and surfing the internet in other ways. Email emphasizes the convenience of getting to respond to things on your own time. The kid is not forced into interaction in the same way that phone calls and in-person interactions demand. Instant gratification in the form of web games, too, is too convenient – we can click a few buttons and the thing we want is right there. Other activities such as physical exercise, enjoying real snow, playing with friends seem to require too much effort by comparison. The crazy convenience of technology taps into our laziest urges and makes other options seem far less appealing, even if these other options would eventually bring far more long-term gratification.
 
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She made her purchases with cash and also did not buy anything with her credit card online. Instead, she created an alternative mail account, did the shopping with pre-paid gift cards and sent it to a shared locker of Amazon. She even bought prenatal vitamins in cash, so as to make sure that no one could even relate the idea of her getting pregnant sooner or later. However, her efforts to remain anonymous made her look like a criminal. When she wanted to continue shopping with a pre-paid card she was warned by Rite Aid that if the transaction excessed a certain amount, they would report it to the authorities.
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Information Overload

 
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Vertesi's ultimate aim in this project is to show that our personal lives are monetized and monitored, yet we often take it for granted. On to that account, in an age of constant surveillance, how is privacy structured? Is it possible to hide from big data or is it possible to fool it? These questions are too broad to answer and concerns a wide range of disciplines, but proposing the idea of living in a digital panopticon where anonymity is disappeared, would be one way to start thinking about them. Given the broad analysis on surveillance regimes by scholars like Foucault and recent findings on "de-anonymization"; I will try to show that opting-out is not possible.
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In 2002, Angela Lewis in a First Monday article observed “I also find that there is a tendency for some people - and children in particular - to view any information coming from the computer as having an intrinsic worth above other sources (e.g. books) specifically because it is online, and therefore somehow more current or valuable.” The information that comes to us from the mediums of greatest efficiency (internet sources) is now prioritized as carrying the most accuracy and importance. Never mind the reputation of the sources or the thoroughness of the fact-checking – we want our information now, and we hold the fastest, most current sources to be the best.
 
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Digital Panopticon and Anonymity
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The problem with this is not the individual pieces of information themselves. The internet is home to a vast amount of truth, and it is incredible that these truths are now available to us at our fingertips. The difficulty at hand is now our lack of ability and motivation to separate truth from falsehood. Lewis speaks of cyber-overload – the phenomenon of having an over-supply of information. The human attention span cannot handle sifting through the expanse of information in front of us. It is more appealing and immediately gratifying to consume new information rather than to go through the pains of fact-checking the old. The internet offers an unprecedented opportunity for people to publish whatever bits of information they desire, and they may choose from any number of sites from which to publish that do not bother to check the accuracy of such information.
 
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Weber's iron cage proposes the idea that in modern times rationalization and bureaucratization create institutions that seek maximum efficiency. Foucault advocates a parallel theory with panopticon that dehumanization is a result of advance forms of technologies and disciplines. Rationalization, for Foucault, is the pursuit of controlling human life with constant surveillance and calculation. Therefore, as rationalization occupies every aspect of human life, technology becomes capable of producing more pervasive means of control.
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The convenience of the internet has also lead people to forget that the world contains a vast amount of information still inaccessible through the web. They have deemed this information too inconvenient to access, and therefore they will not bother learning from these sources. With these mediums of immense convenience and efficiency, it is no wonder that our baseline expectations of efficiency have drastically increased. When it comes to retrieving and analyzing information, we have no patience for taking extra steps to ensure we are learning truths.
 
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The panopticon of today is the internet, as it constantly observes behavior, exerts its power over it and commodifies human attention. The net violates the boundaries of private sphere and through conscious or unconscious participation it collects tremendous amounts of data to ensure market efficiency. However, assuring efficacy and privacy simultaneously are at odds with each other. One of them should take over the other if one wants to survive. As in the case of Vertesi, the internet had to find out about her pregnancy, since a pregnant women is worth three times more than an ordinary individual. The reason is, a future mother is highly valuable if she needs to buy diapers, because it will affect her long-term consumption patterns. Vertesi could only hide her secret for 7 months until Target and American Baby Life managed to find out about her situation, but realized that isolation efforts were time consuming and could even be risky.
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Fake News and Facebook

 
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The Illusion of Privacy
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Lewis’s article was written in 2002, more than a decade before the 2016 election. She had not been exposed to the news divide that happens on facebook today, nor did she see the massive influx of Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton-related “fake news” articles. Even so, as early as 2002, she cautioned “We cannot assume that just because we found some information on the Internet, that it somehow makes it automatically real, right or a sound source of knowledge. Web sites are designed to sell a message to us as potential consumers of a point of view, a product or a concept - it is more a marketing than an information age in that respect.” Facebook’s newsfeed algorithms have honed in on what news we agree with and show us only that. Macedonian teenagers have discovered that if they write articles with incendiary headlines and completely false events, they can earn a ridiculous amount of money through foot traffic on their webpages because their articles are shared on facebook. The “fake news” phenomenon highlights the fact that many people encountering quite shocking news don’t even bother to do a cursory google search anymore – they will simply take the information as true.
 
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The participant in the net continuously leaves his digital footprints behind and the net makes sure that every photo, mail, video is attributed to its source whether the source wants it or not. Even though users try to mask their information somehow, technologies often find new ways to "de-anonymize" every single data. As the law professor Ohm states; "...the re-identification science makes the claims of privacy an illusion as by mixing and matching several sources of data, it is possible to reach the private...almost all information can be personal when combined with enough numbers of relevant data...". Therefore, the net has conquered our personal sphere and it is not possible to guarantee privacy for its users as merging various data sources can destroy the barriers of privacy.
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Conclusion

 
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Conclusion

The internet overall repurposes the understanding of privacy and redistributes it in order to capitalize and modify behaviour for profit. Digital platforms that are connecting us electronically provide several spaces for all sorts of transactions in order to know who says what and where. It is alarming in the sense that it challenges notions of privacy, freedom and trust. We should be aware that anything we do on the net will never cease to exist. The technology of today is worrisome and regulators need to implement more efficient policies that weight harm against benefit and privacy against efficacy.

References

https://www.technologyreview.com/s/428150/what-facebook-knows

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aUDwyBYbWjM

http://www.shoshanazuboff.com/books/in-the-age-of-the-smart-machine/

http://www.forbes.com/sites/kashmirhill/2014/04/29/you-can-hide-your-pregnancy-online-but-youll-feel-like-a-criminal/#1de3a74a36c4

http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2009/09/your-secrets-live-online-in-databases-of-ruin/

http://www.forbes.com/sites/kashmirhill/2012/06/15/data-mining-ceo-says-he-pays-for-burgers-in-cash-to-avoid-junk-food-purchases-being-tracked/#6d7599ad36a0

http://www.nytimes.com/library/cyber/under/110597under-wayner.html

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Our society’s increasing obsession with efficiency, spurred on by the conveniences of the internet, has led us to ignore other aspects of our lives that carry importance. We think this increasing efficiency has lead us to have more control over our time. After all, if more tasks can be done in less time, doesn’t that mean we have more time for leisure and more freedom to do what we want? Ironically, that is the opposite of what has happened. We have become addicts of and slaves to the maximization of efficiency. Our lives revolve around answering text messages as soon as possible and running programs as soon as they have loaded.

Revision 4r4 - 11 Dec 2016 - 17:14:29 - LauraZhang
Revision 3r3 - 08 Dec 2016 - 17:21:38 - MerveKirmaci
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