Consensus Building Rapidly Against the Business Models of Internet Giants
Earlier this week, Amnesty International, a non-governmental organization from the UK, called Google and Facebook’s practices of omnipresent surveillance on people around the world an “assault on privacy.” The organization, which focuses on human rights, recently released a report outlining how these two major tech companies hold too much power and should change their business models to stop infringing on users’ personal information.
Amnesty International’s accusations may seem extreme, but that does not mean that they are inaccurate. While Google and Facebook might appear to be free websites, the reality is that you pay for their services with your data. Whenever you search for something, you feed the sites information—information that they can sell, manipulate, market, or use for a countless number of other things, some of them perhaps unethical.
The upside is that data is cheap, and therefore these websites are not about to start charging you. The downside, however, is that there are really no limits to how tech juggernauts like Google or Facebook (or Apple, or Amazon, or Microsoft for that matter) use the data you provide them. No concrete laws in the United States monitor these companies’ use of data, and given that the Internet was built as a place of free-flowing information, there are no internal boundaries that stop these websites from taking full, unrestricted advantage of your information.
This is not the first time that Facebook and Google have been called out for issues regarding privacy and cyber-ethics. Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has found himself before Congress on more than one occasion recently. Ever since it became known that Cambridge Analytica used web data to falsely advertise on Facebook during the 2016 elections, the social network’s surveillance tactics have been in question.
Benign Monarchs? Not Likely.
As for Google, the website practically has a monopoly on web-searches across the world. The search engine accounts for 90% of the Internet searches on Earth, and it is not always transparent about what it does with the resulting data. With such huge numbers, though, Google can afford to distribute your extensive information to just about anyone—even government organizations or institutions with malintent.
The two companies usually respond to these kinds of accusations with vague optimism about current and future cyber-safety. Google claims to have changed its model within the last year, making the site more user-friendly and giving its patrons more control. Meanwhile, Facebook has largely stood its ground when it comes to online freedom. Zuckerberg and other Facebook officials have suggested that they will heighten security, but they simultaneously stand by that censorship on any scale is constrictive and antithetical to the website’s intent.
Facebook also owns Instagram, Messenger, WhatsApp, and several other websites/apps that are used across borders, making the issue a conglomerate and worldly one. Although they are both American companies by origin, both Facebook and Google are international entities. Thus, creating laws around their practices is a complicated and culturally sensitive process.
At the same time, though, these enterprises have been going unchecked and unchallenged for well over a decade now. When they started, the digital world was much smaller and very different than it is now. Technology has changed, and so has the world— now the rules that govern it must follow suit.
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