When the Internet began to evolve away from a purely text-based system delivered through phone connections and to include color graphics back in the early nineties, I recall the excitement and hopefulness we had that this wonderful new medium was going to change the world --- in a good way. We finally had the tool we needed to connect everyone on the planet to each other. We could begin to really solve our problems collaboratively because we could communicate universally.
What we failed to fully realize at that point, I think, was that GOSSIP is also a form of communication. Looking back, I believe that we were mesmerized by the good the Internet could contribute to the progress of mankind and overlooked the possibility that it might also have a dark side.
If all computers are connected then, at least in theory, if you could hack into one, you could use that as a starting point to invade all other computers on the network. When we had only single stand-alone (mainframe) computing, security was relatively easy . When I worked for the Navy, we programmers all had to show our badges to guards to gain access to the computer areas. Granted a bad actor could still figure out how to hack into the machine but given that we all had to have Top Secret clearances which entails a very very thorough investigation into your past, the chances were small.
We knew very soon that we would have to deal with issue of security against hackers ( see the excellent book, “the Cuckoo’s Egg” by Clifford Stoll written almost 30 years ago) but what we did not anticipate was the issue of Privacy. Anytime you have a networked (connected) society you will have its members concerned about their personal privacy. I’m not a psychologist or sociologist so I can’t say why this is. I can guess that it’s a good evolutionary trait so your genes can get into the next generation. I also think that we choose our friends based on how much privacy we feel we can give up to them. My best friends I trust the most and I require the least privacy from them.
So we had to balance two possibly conflicting goals: to insure Security as well as Privacy because the goals of Security very quickly started to poke their noses into our individual Privacy. (Note that Privacy and Security sometimes overlap in that we sometimes view protecting our privacy as part of the security system. Confusing huh?)
It was only a very short time before non-governmental businesses and corporations followed suit. Not only could they hawk their products and services to a global audience, they could buy user profiles from other companies that tracked where users spent most of the time. Currently the top three places are Facebook, Google and Reddit and they all sell user information. When I spend time on the Internet looking at used cars, it should come as no surprise to see pop-up ads on that subject.
Recently I turned on my smartphone and on the home screen was a frowny face followed by the message:
“3 people have unfriended you. Discover who unfriended you now! It’s safe and it’s free!”
Fortunately, I learned a long time ago that if someone advertises their product or service as “absolutely free!” you should feel free to hang up or look for the exit. This message cost someone some money so that it would pop up for me and I don’t believe the business model of giving away your product has ever succeeded .
Especially bothersome is the fact that this come-on must work well enough for the advertiser to continue to pay to display it. This means there are enough people who care enough about being unfriended to follow this link. I understand that no one enjoys being unfriended but what’s the protocol here? Do I risk further humiliation by asking the ex-friends why I’ve been dumped or the uncertainty of never knowing why? Certainly the advertiser hopes that I will grit my teeth and follow the link to find out who these 3 turncoats are. Oh, and on the way I’m sure I’ll be offered the opportunity to upgrade this service --- for a small fee.
For much much more information just search on the phrase: “the true purpose of social media sites is to sell advertising”