The Pew Research Internet Project published a new report this week, looking at privacy online. They surveyed a group of experts, thought leaders, innovators, and me for our thoughts. Overall it’s a sobering document, finding privacy on the wane, driven by governments, businesses, and user behavior.
Here’s their lead question:
Will policy makers and technology innovators create a secure, popularly accepted, and trusted privacy-rights infrastructure by 2025 that allows for business innovation and monetization while also offering individuals choices for protecting their personal information in easy-to-use formats?
And here’s my response:
“Too many state and business interests prevent this. Governments, from local to national, want to improve their dataveillance for all kinds of purposes: war fighting, crime detection, taxes, and basic intelligence about economics and the environment. Companies badly want data about customers, and some base their business models on that. I do not see this changing much.”
Could anything challenge this situation? Me:
“Citizen action is probably the best option, much as it was for crypto in the 1990s. But, I do not see that winning over governments and big business… In the United States, both political parties and the clear majority of citizens cheerfully cede privacy.”
Some folks expressed hopes for Millenials. I hope they’re right, but think they have an enormously uphill battle ahead, if they actually choose to fight it.
Legal safeguards against government snooping on our communications were eroded or bypassed in many countries in the past year, with 84% of Web Index countries failing our test for basic privacy safeguards, up from 63% in the 2013 Index.
Almost 40% of countries blocked politically or socially sensitive Web content to a moderate or extreme degree in the past year, up from 32% in 2013.
In 74% of Web Index countries, lack of net neutrality means that ability to pay may limit the content and services users can access.
One in five female Internet users live in countries where harassment and abuse of women online is extremely unlikely to be punished…
[E]fforts to hijack the Internet as an instrument of surveillance and control are clearly increasing.
This is a damning, powerful statement based on extensive observation.
The United States gets the good-news, bad-news, more bad-news treatment. The reports singles out America for excessive copyright laws and enforcement, escalating income inequality, bad ISPs, and, of course, global leadership in surveillance.
And yet there are some positive elements in this new Web Index, like everything the Nordic countries do, apparently, as well as some aspects of education:
Education is a bright spot, with over 80% of high-income countries and almost 50% of low- and middle-income countries expanding the use of technology in poor and marginalised schools.
Things are actually more complex than that, as the report goes on to discuss. Kudos for asking nations to increase secondary school funding – indeed, for high quality public education for everyone.
It’s important for educators to know just how central this report deems education to be. Schools and learning are keys to solving many of the problems the Web Index identifies.
Back in March I posted about Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s critique of where the Web was headed, and called for educators to get involved in helping address these problems. Jim Groom agreed, and demurely mentioned his excellent work at the University of Mary Washington, from the great ds106 cMOOC to the Domain of One’s Own initiative. We could also point to the growth of OER and the steady advance of open access as evidence of some academics fighting the good fight.
Where is everyone else? Where are the provosts, the CIOs, the trustees, the dwindling numbers of tenured faculty, the presidents? Too few of us are involved, or even listening. American educators need another great awakening – to the state of the Web, its perils, and its very great potential.
I’ll do my part.