Sunday, 23 July 2017

Information Revolution

There is no doubt we are going through a phase of post-privacy culture.  Whether you like it or not, in George Orwell words "big brother" is watching you.  This investigation will try to examine the internet platform, ways and means the new technology that is controlling our lives and causing public outrage. People are being monitored and regulated by just sending an email or ordering a burger on their smartphone. Each one of us is part of the larger community continually being watched, guided and controlled by one or more agents in cyberspace.  In short, all of us reduced to data for profit-making by the likes of search engines and social media organisations.  Cyberspace capitalism; by the use of an algorithm, primarily a tool coding our opinions, programmed to predict what you eat, drink, mathematically energised to think for you, anticipating your likes and dislikes. Technology now and increasingly in the future, means we can look forward to being fine-tuned to products we most likely to buy. That goes for anything from chocolate Sundays to Porn, from sex slaves to religious extremism and how to make bombs to kill off a crowd you don't like the look off. In fact, in an open cyberspace, anything goes on the internet and when least expected.

Many freely give information about themselves, data that can later be used to measure their psychology, in this case, up to 6 million people volunteered information to build the richest database of psychological profiles in the world.  Advanced technology takes us to the point where we will be controlled by robots since robots are taking over they are programmed to the next step: make their own programming, working out endless mathematical formulas for a more complicated algorithm for an efficient human siege.  Their only possible flaw would be, lacking corrections of embodied human bias but left free to formulate their own prejudices.  Science fiction this ain't so!

Ideas one has of The Industrial revolution arguably the start of our modern age one thinks of oily machinery powered by steam power billowing their hydrocarbons; killing the atmosphere with their pungent smells polluting the air people breathe. Such was the technology that served us in wars and built our infrastructure. In the last twenty years, we had embarked on clean digital technology that moves faster, more efficient and requires fewer people to operate fuelled by data piped into thousands of computers housed in unassuming buildings called data centres.  The value they produce is global wealth to power our economy for our modern age - replacing oil for data.  A new infrastructure that takes in new business, economics and politics all of which make up the invisible hands that orchestrate our actions.  The future infrastructures may not be the Centralities of Nation States but if not broken up, will be the giant digital companies storing databases of personal information such as age, sex, income, photos, video and emails to analyse, predict and anticipate our intentions and formulating our opinions.  Data will reform the basis of the conscious mind to swing what we favour in directions of their own making.  It is frightening when we realise carrying our smartphone, we are accompanying our shadow for company, outlining our digital trail everywhere freely, in cost and liberty, capitalising the social media giants yes, for free.

A search, now more commonly known by the verb 'Google', clicking on news articles, though maybe fake news, could still register to reveal about you a political profile silhouetting a probable political inclination which can be valuable during referendums or elections.   Some fake news operators are so powerful they can disrupt politics and distort real intentions without much care to the downsides of things but since Google is knowledge fake news is most likely believed.  Manipulation of news is in full swing when searching for some facts we are presented by extremism and hate readily accepted by the intellectually deprived, distorting the mainstream of ideas acquired by other but authoritative sites. However, political use of the internet is not exclusive to the media giants, but governments are in on it too.  For examples, the time of the Arab Spring Democratic sympathies swang either side, China's capitalism while prolonging communist ideals working in the background controlling their societies, while Russia uses it for control and social order.  Twitter par excellence, as we all know, is Trump who justifies his Twitter feed as "modern-day Presidential". When he goes quite, there must be something wrong.

Ideology is being utilised to disrupt the internet, thousands of signals are sent out creating right-wing views and propaganda, acting in the face of mainstream media.

"A spatial map of the right-wing fake news ecosystem. Jonathan  Albright, assistant professor of communications at Elon University,    North Carolina, “scraped” 300 fake news sites (the dark shapes on this map) to reveal the 1.3m hyperlinks that connect them together and link them into the mainstream news ecosystem.    Here, Albright shows it is a “vast satellite system of right-wing news and propaganda that has completely surrounded the mainstream media system”. Photograph: Jonathan Albright" Source:

Algorithm and the data they consume, besides their ability to psychologically group us, seem to have a life of their own and develop as they work to be first in the queue gushing out filtered information for the unsceptical vulnerable mind to lap up.  If the news is to be believed, there is a company called Cambridge Analytica using methods developed at Cambridge University in England, by weaving a tapestry of sites, is said to have manipulated data by targeting millions of voters psychological traits swinging their vote in favour of Trump in America and Brexit here in the UK.  A manipulation of stories that can make us acquire a partisan approach make us fragmented and more divided.  A story is later taken up by the mainstream media such as the Observer and The Times.  To learn more on this coordination effect read this brilliant piece; a second to non-analysis of this subject. A panoramic view giving some insights why our electoral system needs a complete overhaul.

How about some regulation because this is all getting out of hand, the real world is getting lost and privacy along with it.  We have become borderless.  If we want privacy, and I agree some don't, we need laws to control the controllers because it is becoming apparent that the media giants are either incapable or unwilling to police themselves.  Tech giants such as Amazon, Alphabet (Google parent), Apple, Facebook and Microsoft wield enormous power collectively made profits of $25billion in the first quarter of 2017.  All private information seems to be up for grabs. Advertisers are buying email addresses and mobile numbers hijacking our privacy inundating the unsuspecting public with unsolicited products.  Cookies left on our computers are also data for sale, a virus of freedom we voluntarily click, giving passive consent to gatecrash our privacy and analysing our digital footprints.

The easy access to Dating, Escorts, Prostitution and Porn sites means high traffic and lucrative profits.   Porn is a $12 billion dollar industry in the US with global turnover estimates around $97billion.  Thanks to the dark side of the internet, the adult entertainment industry never had it so good.  There is also the trafficking of children and slave labour, trolling and exploiting school children who mistakenly give out personal information makes the internet unsafe.  Software allowing girls as young as nine to be groomed for sexual abuse. Those on the chase develop ideas and techniques to engage and interact with youngsters directly from bona fide internet sites offering to sell their software directing their audience to tools and methods as resources available.  The algorithm can minutely target people, also tell whether one is extroverts or introverts, whether one is a family person or not even to some extent that car insurance can be based on Facebook activities.   Having learnt information about the likes, dislikes and so on, the information by the algorithm is always in favour of these supplied traits one favour.  The algorithm will then fire back information based on these acceptable characteristics irrespective whether the information it gives out is correct or not.

All kinds of software available, some free of charge, instructional materials on methods to target their audience to build individual and demographic profiles for best results.  Many of these approaches challenge our moral principles and bands of liberty and confronting the internet with a new moral philosophy.  It is vital to keep a lid on this technological age increasingly seeing morality running in the wild. Additionally, stopping the trend of Terrorism, Radicalism, Jihadism, religious, hateful ideology and extremism should not be looked at as moral cowardice.  An algorithm based on our patterns can seem racist and prejudiced so cashing in on it is highly irresponsible.  By itself has no sense of moral balance to take up an ethical responsibility to stem this tide.  The consolidation of these media giants taking united steps to police themselves is vital. The expression of free will of people must not be abused or seen as an invitation by the back door to be dominated by the power of these giants' billions of dollars but remain to behold to a civil society.  Additionally, responsibility lies on producers of these contents and the media need to regulate it, censorship if necessary, particularly when their freedom of expression so audaciously out of context.

This Information revolution, for example, Facebook serving a daily audience of around 2 billion people, is presenting a new reality that we need to understand.  It means we need to redefine this biggest source of information by new concepts and guidelines to interact with this arguably valuable phenomena.  Harnessing the internet values of this virtual world is to ensure the information we receive is ethical and unobtrusive, but responsibly, to fit with the changing values of society ebbing the tide of functional anarchy.  Seeing our life translated into data snooping it to sell say insurance is an infringement on many of our rights.  Companies such as Facebook, Google and other social media giants, need to wake up and ensure the codes they feed into their highly valuable algorithm, not only translates into the excellent service they provide but is accompanied by good ethics - code should be law. We know that our every search or 'like', 'anger, 'amazement' or other reactions, free as they seem to be, provides them with the capital they later sell.  Not only do we tell friends what we like but we are telling them the internet giants too. Newsfeed and spying on our friends and peoples whereabouts, what they are up to and working out probabilities based on our past activities are clear infringements on our rights of privacy.   What society needs and I see coming in the next few years is an algorithm watch, like Ofcom, a utility regulator, hopefully, introduced voluntarily but if not then by the dead hand of state censorship.

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