On a daily basis I’m able to organize events on Facebook, discover news and research topics on Google, and share my thoughts on WordPress. Furthermore I’m able to work because the amazing power of the web allows startups like Printfection to thrive. As a result I’d come to think that the Internet has liberated us.
Though in Consent of the Networked Rebecca MacKinnon takes a deep dive into whether it actually has, discovering that for every story about the web’s empowering role in events such as the Arab Spring, there are many more about the quiet corrosion of civil liberties by companies and governments using the same digital technologies we have come to depend upon. A couple examples include:
- Flickr removed Egyptian activist Hossam el-Hamalwy’s photos.
- Shi Tao was jailed in China for 10 years after Yahoo gave his email account registration information to the Chinese government.
- Sudden changes in Facebook’s features and privacy settings exposed identities of protestors to police in Egypt and Iran.
- Apple removes politically controversial apps when governments ask, as well as for its own commercial reasons.
- Google struggles with cencorship demands from governments across the world–many of them democracies– as well as mounting public concern over the vast quantities of information it collects about its users.
So how can technology be governed to support the rights and liberties of users around the world? Cyber power and governance of the internet is one of the great unsolved problems of the twenty-first century. It seems the resolve of citizens like you and I will come to shape the way technology is used.
MacKinnon summed it up best by saying, “Whether we are simply users of technology, investors in technology companies, employees or executives of Internet-related companies, elected officials, or mid-ranking government bureaucrats, we all have a responsibility to do whatever we can to prevent abuse of digital power, and avoid abusing it ourselves.”