Law in the Internet Society

Addicted to the Internet

-- By AvelinaBurbridge - 22 Oct 2012

People Want to Be Part of the Internet Society

Human beings are social creatures. Since the Internet affords every person direct social contact with every other person, it is quite unremarkable that every person has an Internet presence. People can send letters via email. Web hosting allows people to document their lives. To connect with others, there is social networking. A quick search will provide information to satisfy piqued curiosity.

Although all of these things can be accomplished without the Internet, they cannot be done quite so conveniently. Enamored by the convenience, people flock to Google and Facebook, agreeing to use their services on their terms without even taking the time to understand what those terms are. Like addicts, once people start using the services, they are hooked. It is how other people know to get a hold of you and how you stay up to date about the lives of others.

These two grafs could have been condensed to two sentences. Then there would have been room to tell us what the idea of the essay is.

But, People Do Not Want the Internet to ...

The fact that people join various Internet communities does not mean that those people do not value privacy. In fact, valued privacy is why people do not post intimate secrets in forums for the world to see. In fact, most users would likely argue that the content they actively post to the Internet is quite the opposite. It would likely surprise the average Internet user to find out that anything they posted to the Internet is exciting enough for anybody to care to want to know about them.

However, intimate secrets are still exposed. Recently, a young woman’s sexuality was inadvertently publicized on Facebook when a friend invited her to a group, which she did not approve membership to.

How could being invited to a group disclose anything? If I am invited to join a gay group, am I therefore gay? Actual illustrations of inferring sexual orientation from analysis of Facebook data are available in the published literature. You could have cited one of those studies more usefully than not really telling this story about "a young woman."

Further, despite the privacy measures the young woman may have taken to conceal her sexuality, the information was likely for sale to the highest bidder long before it was publicized on Facebook.

What does that mean, and why should we believe it to be true? Why is information "for sale to the highest bidder" instead of "to anyone who will pay"?

After all, most Internet services are not really free. They come at the expense of a paired service, usually spying, which is profitable to the service provider.

Information is compiled from every action that every person takes on the Internet. And the information is used to extract and derive personal details. Then those details are sold. Advertisers might purchase ad space that is guaranteed to be seen by eyes interested in their product at that precise moment. Or, any other company or government that is interested in data mining might purchase the information.

This is at best a somewhat inaccurate oversimplification. Why are you offering it? We still don't know what the idea of the essay is, halfway in.

What this means is that each purchase you make and each site that you view and every interaction that you have online is not just recorded, but used to become intimately knowledgeable about you. On first thought, most people do not really care if somebody knows what groceries they bought on Tuesday afternoon. The groceries were not purchased in secret; the cashier and the person behind you in line witnessed your purchase and that does not bother you. When you place that same grocery order online, not even the cashier and other shoppers know what you bought on Tuesday afternoon. However, your Tuesday afternoon online purchases are being logged and overlaid with every other thing you do and every other thing your friends do. That information might be used to extract the fact that on Tuesday you buy all the ingredients necessary to prepare a certain meal. Other information might reveal that the certain meal you are preparing is the favorite of a friend. And that friend may have declined an invitation to another event on Tuesday night, asserting that he already had dinner plans in the part of town that you live in. Just like that, enough data has been mined to discover the intimate secret about your sexuality. And it gets sold to the highest bidder, proving that everything the average user does on the Internet is exciting enough for somebody to want to know about it.

Again with the hiddest bidder. Is this an auction of an exclusive right? If so, where is it conducted? I cook for people I do not fuck. Is someone making an inaccurate inference from my grocery lists? Instead of telling a story loosely, why not actually discuss facts directly?

Rationalizing the Situation

Yet, the epiphany comes too late because people are already hooked on the services. Instead of quitting the service, people rationalize the privacy invasion: Our information is being extracted mechanically, not by a real human … Even if it were a real human, it is not somebody that I know … It is not as though there is a website where individuals that I know can go buy secrets about me … The information is only used for advertising … Maybe the government can get the information, but they only want it to catch people doing bad things … And, I am not doing anything bad, so I do not have anything to worry about.

But, that is not really the point at all. Just like it would not really be the point that no incriminating evidence was found in your house if the police showed up right now to search it without having any probable cause. The point is that the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution protects against unreasonable searches and seizures. Yet this dossier exists on each of us. And the government can contract with the providers of Internet services to get the information without probable cause.


The government wants to keep getting the information. Companies providing the Internet services are politically savvy and have enough clout to effectively block any legislation that regulates them. Because people are addicted to the services they are getting, they will not quit them. Even enlightening people about the complementary spying service will not deter them from using the services because the addiction must be satiated. Moreover, quitting seems futile when you imagine that even if you stop using the services, data mining will still result in inferences being drawn about you.

So, what are we going to do about it?

What's the conclusion? Indeed, what was the thesis of the essay? The addiction metaphor is not well chosen, and a metaphor isn't really an idea on which to base an essay anyway. I think the route to a successful revision here is to begin with the idea you have that is your contribution to the discussion. Having explained your idea, and given just as much precise factual explication of the context as is necessary to express and develop the idea, leave the reader with a conclusion that allows her or him to continue exploring using your idea in ways you didn't explicitly describe.


Webs Webs

r3 - 23 Aug 2014 - 19:31:21 - EbenMoglen
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