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What is the Open Web?
Written by 4NTS.
Technology is a fundamental economic and cultural force that has permeated all aspects of human existence. It has changed the way we work, the way we communicate with one another, how we learn, and has generally allowed us to increase our living standards to an incredible degree. It provides endless possibilities for human development and is indeed the key to tackling many financial, social, and environmental challenges.
However, what is becoming evident is that technology is not only a tool to improve life, but also a tool to control it. And while the economic benefits of technological development have mostly benefited a few, its burdens are shared by the masses. Although nobody nowadays can do away with technology, we have very little influence over technological developments. Technology has been the domain of computer programmers and experts - alone - and that has reduced its users to become passive consumers of technology, unaware and unable to critically assess its influences. As a result, average people have suffered from a loss of agency while also becoming more vulnerable to exploitation and manipulation from technology providers.
A striking example of this new form of control is Big Data. Large data sets can be analyzed computationally to reveal patterns and trends relating to human behavior and interactions. Collection of this data relies on the use of technology by the population and people’s willingness to share personal information. It is collected from social networks, websites, apps, and any use of smart devices. What this digital infrastructure allows its owners to do is unprecedented in our history: To foresee human behavior, to study its patterns, and consequently to develop techniques of control and influence. Shoshana Zuboff has coined this use of private data to shape human behavior in accordance with the marketplace needs ‘Surveillance Capitalism’. Surveillance capitalism: “claims private human experiences for the market dynamic and repurposes private human experience as a free source of raw material for production and sale” (Shoshana Zuboff, 2019). It translates private experience into behavioral data, which then turns into predictions on human behavior which are then traded among businesses.
We are in an era of tech dominance where companies like Google, Amazon and Facebook have an unprecedented amount of control over people’s personal data. These companies effectively have the tools to stave off competition and to manipulate people’s behavior to increase their financial gains. As the internet is becoming central in our lives, we cannot allow financial returns to be prioritized over our freedom and well-being. Effectively we need to look for alternatives that will not only guarantee a better lifestyle, but also secure and strengthen our freedom of choice and opportunity.
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