It has been a major breakthrough of the twentieth century that human beings have finally made the ultimate machine. The machine that started off as a room-full machinery and circuitry and has now become a necessity of the pocket. The need for connectivity opened new gates of innovation for the tech enthusiasts and entrepreneurs.
The internet won race of connections and thus, World Wide Web was born. Since the main aim was connectivity, we can’t blame the first gen internet for not doing anything else. The first look of the internet was indeed a fascinating one, at least for the ones who had worked with command-line interfaces only.
The first checkpoint i.e., connectivity, was undoubtedly achieved successfully. This brought in a number of opportunities for those who were willing to explore this new area. Apple, Amazon and Microsoft are prominent names when it comes to companies that set their feet solid when the online world was young.
To our eyes, the web 1.0 framework would seem nothing more than a collection of text and media, offering a view-only site. Primarily because the tools of the time (html mainly) didn’t allow much deviation from this track.
Quite bland, right?
But things turned around as more and more people felt the need to go online. Just as the world of advertising was high on slogans and print media in the mid twentieth century, now there was a need of taking the same potential online.
How do you make a new place more attractive? Add a bit of colors and creativity maybe? Or simply allow people to share their data?
So the next gen internet saw users becoming a part of the whole process. The Social Web added the element of participation for the users, which meant that now users had a greater role. Technologies like JSON and XML made the fabric of internet, more and more user-friendly. Offering more options with each year, web apps and customizable prefabricated widgets found their way into the mainstream as well as users’ lives quite swiftly.
As Tim Berners-Lee described:
“A collaborative medium, a place where we [could] all meet and read and write”.
Taking Tim’s thoughts forward, the “read” part was provided by web 1, while web 2 brought the “meeting” and “writing”. By giving the end users a way to communicate with the websites, a new factor, channels of data collection were opened. Giving the users the power to share, write and add stuff to the internet, the online world was made a lot more interactive and fun for the netizens. A vibrant place where people around the globe were connected through the internet and available to directly view, comment on, share and like (or dislike) each other’s media and text. The social media outlets were market leaders in web 2.0, with options upon options in their free global services.
It all sounds too good to be true, and of course there’s always a catch. And web 2.0 isn’t short of them.
Putting the whole process under a technical lens; the whole process allows the users to share their data online. With different options of data-sharing opening the gates of your data to the online world, we were indeed trained to portray ourselves as the fittest, most successful and most appealing versions of ourselves.
But when global giants like and Facebook and Google get exposed about their data-sharing or rather data-selling habits, a user is forced to think that they were never the beneficiaries. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that we are being trained to sell ourselves with every upload.
So, as the data is extracted from the users to be sold to the interested third-parties by the social media outlets, there can be various uses of the data.
On the bright side, the data is used to show us what we have been looking for on the internet. Or searches and cookies are then used to display more of what we want to see on the internet. So, it’s not a surprise to get football notification after you were looking for your favorite football star online. Customizing the experience by making sure that the users get what they like is a rather good thing to do with the data. Google, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat top the charts when it comes to users’ like and dislikes, and the whole idea of custom experience.
The other side of the coin brings about the question that where is the data going? And do we have a control or say over its usage?
A big no. The data being recorded and used by the corporations for a user-centered experience, that’s one thing. But the data being sold to other entities is another. Things become even complicated when the data is sold to those with motives other than the user’s feel of the process.
Individuals like Julianne Assange and Edward Snowden have exposed the involvement of state institutions in violating privacy laws, while monitoring users. The US elections of 2016 and the Brexit campaign saw the data firm, Cambridge Analytica come to the light as the world saw how whole populations can be manipulated using the right data tools. The Black Lives Matter and the Blue Lives Matter campaigns were also among the targets of manipulations by political rivals to cause a social divide among the US population.
The attention then comes to the point where we think that should we stop sharing our data. The answer lies in taking ownership of data by modifying the fabric of the internet in such a way that all netizens are safe from misuse of the latter.
Author: Humza Noor