The ugly side of the internet

In the 21st century, the internet has changed the nature of our daily lives. However, much like money, or “the root of all evil”, it has become a medium through which elite groups can collude and exploit its users…

Have you ever been tagged in a photo on social media that you’ve immediately untagged yourself from and asked your friend to “delete”? The idea of a web footprint, or the information that an individual freely surrenders to various web pages such as Facebook or other public or private platforms, has long been an issue that has been largely ignored by the majority of internet users. We all know that we need to be cautious about what we post on Facebook or Twitter, because there is a chance that your potential employer or someone else will be able to access an intimate moment of your life that you would rather keep out of sight. The very idea of the invasion of one’s privacy is a very, very scary idea, and boils down to the insecure nature of the internet itself.

A centralized ISP

The internet, in its current form, is accessed through a centralized ISP (Internet Service Provider), such as AT&T, which means that data needs to be sent and exchanged through the ISP’s systems or a core network. This involves high capacity communication facilities that connect primary nodes. In other words, when you plug your Ethernet cable in, or connect to WIFI, with your laptop/PC/cellphone/tablet you are connecting to their network infrastructure, along with other users. You are connecting to systems that allow your service provider, and any government organisations they permit, to access the data you’re transmitting, including the data you’d rather not have shared.

This is why Facebook is able to create algorithms that promote advertisers that cater to your needs. It seems innocent and benign, because perhaps they just use your age, gender and interests to categorise you as part of a certain demographic. But what else do they have access to? Facebook is always asserting that they are committed to protecting your privacy, but have you read every sentence of their terms and conditions? if so, then you are in a tiny minority. Then you need to ask yourself, do you trust a multi-billion-dollar enterprise? What makes the biggest social media platform on earth any different to any other massive corporation that pays lip service to your rights, but is financially motivated and will part with any information for the right price if they think they can get away with it? The same question should be asked about your service provider. The most intimate moments of your life that you share through messenger apps, your purchases while online shopping, and other interactions, are there for anyone to see. It’s not as simple as deleting your browser history…

And, if this isn’t enough, the transmission of data doesn’t just go one way. Net neutrality – the laws governing service providers with regards to providing equal access to all web pages – has become a major point of discussion in the media and is being put at risk by governments, such as the US, making changes to existing protective legislation. If a service provider can throttle your bandwidth to discourage you from accessing a certain website, be it a media outlet or otherwise, it can potentially also be the loaded gun that is pointed at your head in a cyberwar. This extends to commercial services. What if Amazon wants to divert customers from Takealot to their own website by encouraging ISPs to slow down access on Takealot’s website, subtly compelling them to move over to their platform?

How do we change this?

To protect one’s information and only allow it to be accessible to the user as well as maintain net neutrality, we can transmit information through multiple nodes and access points under community control, rather than giant organizations. Kim Schmitz (a.k.a. Kim Dotcom) is a well-known, wanted hacker on the Internet. He is founder of Megaupload and certain other websites that have the Internet police on their heels to extradite him to the US and put him on trial for various alleged crimes. After Megaupload was shut down, Dotcom turned his attention to a new project, Meganet, which is a decentralized platform that won’t use ISPs, and will protect your information from government or corporate spying. The idea is to transmit data from one user to the next through a piece of hardware that facilitates this. From there on, you connect to other users through a community that’s all connected to their private software. This not only protects your information, but it prevents throttling and reduces costs. The only question that remains is how one encrypts the information and verifies the identity of each user. This is an interesting solution, but there is a new kid on the block with some very interesting technology.

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