It’s easy to think of the Internet as open, infinite — but that perspective is a reflection of a pretty privileged position, and of a consumer’s perspective, too. This week, the Guardian is running a very interesting series with a somewhat reactionary name: the Battle for the Internet. What’s at stake in this battle? Oh, just your personal information, digital wall-building, and the “destruction of human rights.”
The series aims to “take stock of the new battlegrounds for the Internet,” using military rhetoric to raise awareness about the severe implications of both the limitations and the availability of data online today. Chief among the concerns brought to light are the actions of three controlling forces: Apple, Facebook, and China. It’s a global conversation: articles have been translated into Russian and Mandarin, too.
Tim Berners-Lee, the man who, to oversimplify wildly, created the Internet (check out the screenshot below!), expands on long-held concerns about online privacy. He warns that behemoths like Google and Facebook, though they seem infallible now, are still subject to the “huge state of flux” that characterizes the Internet.
Berners-Lee predicts that users will put more and more pressure on large digital companies and networks to release personal data and to give up control of where it’s stored. He champions personal choice and freedom on the Web, raising questions about native apps that restrict the sharing of information: “I should be able to pick which applications I use for managing my life, I should be able to pick which content I look at, and I should be able to pick which device I use...and I’d like those to be independent choices.” The Guardian notes, of course, the clear jab at Apple.
Google’s Sergey Brin is equally alarmed about what he calls the “walled gardens” of massive systems — Apple, Facebook, and the native app. Coming from Google, he’s concerned that data on these platforms “is not crawlable by web crawlers.”
The most significant — and, Brin and Berners-Lee imply, dangerous — implication of such online giants is that of control of personal data being taken away from users and given to companies — or governments. It’s fascinating to see some of the most significant and powerful figures in the digital sphere wrestle with these questions: nobody has any answers yet.