There is no Internet Savior: To fix the Internet’s problems, we’ll need to work together

@talks: Solutions to the Social Dilemma — A virtual discussion series

How many extremely knowledgeable and relentlessly creative Internet experts does it take to unscrew a lightbulb?

If that lightbulb is the Internet’s problems — quite a lot.

Three individuals in a brainstorming session plot ideas on a whiteboard.

On December 3rd, we invited three notable figures in the data privacy landscape to join us for a fascinating, even inspiring, discussion about the future of the Internet. Among these were:

Enoch Liang of Andrew Yang’s Data Dividend Project (DDP). A California-based lawyer and entrepreneur, Enoch started the Data Dividend Project with Andrew Yang to help consumers collectively exercise their data rights and bargain with tech companies.

Dr. Jennifer King, Director of Consumer Privacy at the Center for Internet and Society, Stanford Law School. A recognized expert in information privacy, Dr. King examines the public’s understanding and expectations of online privacy and the policy implications of emerging technologies.

Our very own Kevin Nickels, CPO of The @ Company. For Kevin, The @ Company represents the embodiment of a passion that he has been pondering for more than a decade — technology that empowers individuals to control their digital selves. He views this as a vitally important solution needed to address some of society’s most vexing problems.

In this hour-long conversation, we touched upon recently passed policy (California Prop 24), data privacy as a collective action problem, and potential technology solutions. We’ve included some highlights from our conversation below.

There are no 5 easy steps to protect your online privacy

According to Dr. King, articles advertising 5 easy steps to protect your online privacy are missing the point. They perpetuate the false belief that data privacy is a personal issue: If you make a few small tweaks to your lifestyle, then you can reclaim control over your data.

Dr. King maintains that this couldn’t be farther from the truth. In our current Internet, individuals can’t control how they interact online. Unless they want to become “electronic hermits,” the average person must “take it or leave it,” having no choice but to relinquish their right to digital privacy.

Nickels adds, “Security at the enterprise-level today is an illusion of security.” Behind every data security system, there is a human administrator that holds the keys to the database. Who’s to say that this person might not one day decide to exploit everyone’s data for nefarious purposes?

Everyone has to work together

“This problem is broader than all of us individually can tackle,” says Dr. King. “We need to think of other solutions that allow us to collectively wage power and gain control over data.”

Enoch agrees. In his eyes, the solution to the Social Dilemma is multifaceted, much like the four legs of a chair. These four legs include:

“Step one [to rebuilding the Internet] is realizing that you can’t control something that you don’t know about,” says Dr. King. Many people are unaware of the ways their data is mishandled or at risk. Research shows that most people are discontented when they discover the repercussions of practices like data-driven advertising or social media algorithms.

Documentaries like Netflix’s The Social Dilemma are part of the movement to educate consumers about the impacts of technology. (The documentary has since then garnered criticism about its focus on the “prodigal tech bro,” but the point made on how people’s data is being used to manipulate them is well-taken.)

Banner of The Social Dilemma
Banner of The Social Dilemma
Source: Cinema Blend

The Data Dividend Project (DDP), spearheaded by Andrew Yang, also falls within this category. “Its goal,” says Liang, “is to educate consumers as to what’s happening to their data, how much money technology companies are making off of it, what rights they do have. Those individual rights are much more effective if they’re bundled into collective rights and collective action is taken.”

In an Internet that conditions people to behave in certain ways without them even realizing it, the question Nickels asked himself was, “‘How do we encourage online behavior that engenders a network of trust, where interactions are based on trust?’”

The answer that he and fellow co-founders Colin Constable and Barbara Tallent landed on was the @protocol. By encouraging everyone to ask for permission before using someone else’s data, the @protocol makes it possible for people to build trust with others online. (Learn more about how this network of trust is built.)

“Tech gets free reign for 10 or 15 years until some scandals happen and people in Congress start waking up,” says Liang, “but it’s too little, too late. Pandora’s box has already been open for 10 or 15 years.”

“Law and regulations are no good on the books if there isn’t any enforcement,” says Liang. One way he sees this being upheld is through DDP, which encourages people to lay claim to their data.

“If you had a Yahoo account, the settlement there was $125 million plus. If you were a resident of Illinois and had a Facebook account, the settlement there was $650 million,” Liang says. “How many of us actually laid claim to that? The average claims rate for a class actions settlement is somewhere in the range of 3–5%. DDP has been trying to help consumers navigate that claims process and help you realize that there is money out there, and you should be laying claims to it.”

The talk gave us a lot to think about, especially regarding the future of the Internet. Sure, the Internet isn’t perfect, but as Internet Optimists we’re daring to believe in a better Internet.

If you weren’t able to attend, no worries! Watch the full Zoom session here.

At The @ Company we are technologists, creators, and builders with one thing in common: We love the Internet. You could go so far as to call us Internet optimists.

Though we acknowledge that the Internet has deep flaws, we believe that we can extract all its goodness without sacrificing our privacy, time, and control over our digital identities. We’ve committed ourselves to the creation of a more human Internet where privacy is a fundamental right and everyone owns their own data.

Let’s say goodbye to the fear and paranoia caused by data breaches and unsolicited online surveillance. With the power of the @protocol, we’re resolving these long-standing issues with a spirit of exploration and fun.

Learn more about us here.

Now for some Internet Optimism

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