2017: The Year the Internet Lost its Groove

01/16/2018 03:47 pm ET

It never said anything as grandiose as “of the people, by the people, for the people,” yet there are many of us who believe that these sentiments should be applied to the web. Instead it’s become big business, a cross between a world-wide shopping catalog and a place for people to say whatever outrageous thing will bring them a Warholian moment and a PT Barnum’s circus act.

Despite the fact that it has been around for nearly forty years, the Internet needs to find its groove again. The power rests in the hands of too few; their currency is your information, and they’re sloppy as hell with how they treat it.

Without some soul searching about the one and future web, we’re in trouble. Luddites are going to seem forward-thinking.

2017, The Year in Review

Data Breaches Abound

They took our data without permission and then lost it. On September 8, Equifax admitted that the data of 143 million customers had been stolen over a period between May and June. (What took them six months to report the loss is another story). The failure of such a large company to protect its data was a clear indication of downright sloppiness. The messaging they used to inform the public was filled with deceit. At the core, the hack came from vulnerabilities in the system; poor security measures. The big question? Why do companies like Experian and Equifax even exist? They amass our data, label us with a credit score, and then sell our data back to companies who want to know if we’re a good risk, all without our consent or knowledge. A totally ineffective solution to the credit problem.

The Russian Hacking Problem

Any Joe Schmoe can buy an ad that spews misinformation, and that includes a Joe Schmoe country.

We may never know to what extent the placement of Russian ads on American websites affected the results of the Presidential Race of 2016, but we know it did. Russian money placed ads on Google, Twitter and Facebook, seemingly for the sole purpose of spreading misinformation and dividing us as a country. Subtle, and meant to divide us as a nation, here’s a stroll down the memory lane of ads.

Ransomware

Hold up there, partner. Want to access your business data? Then you’ll need to pay the ransom. That’s how Ransomware works. Highjack data and demand a reward for its return. WannaCry was a particularly insidious version of this, exploiting a simple vulnerability in older MS operating systems that had not been upgraded. Digital extortion is already costing businesses billions of dollars a year and is expected to continue to rise. According to most sources, Ransomware attacks are growing at a yearly rate of 350 percent. A report by Cybersecurity Ventures predicts that cybercrime will cost the world over $6 trillion annually by 2021, making it more profitable than the global trade of all major illegal drugs combined.

Proliferation of IoT Devices

Soon there will be more machines on the planet than people. By a lot. What happens when machines start transacting and conversing with each other? You’ve all heard the stories of web cams that spy on you, or that Alexa may or may not be listening in on your conversation.

What precautions has the industry taken to make sure that privacy is an integral part of the machine? Without the surety of unhackable privacy, these new machines, the mainstay of the future of CE devices, will not exactly be flying off the shelves.

Fake News

Nobody visits the Internet anymore without their detective hat on. How sad to “not believe” before we “believe” what we see and read. From technologists who are building in-article ‘trust indicator’ features, to artificial intelligence systems that can both spot and shut down fake news early on, I’m hopeful we can create new solutions to this huge problem.

Uber, The Poster Child For Bad Behavior

How desperate do you need to be to gain a competitive edge? Seems as if Uber, when it wasn’t rigging the system to deceive law enforcement, was mistreating drivers, and harassing its female staff. You gotta work hard to screw up as often and as publicly as Uber did in 2017. I heard Joe Zimmer, co-founder of Lyft speak the other night. His company is working hard to be the anti Uber. I hope we vote with our pockets to restore Internet decency to ridesharing apps.

The Narcissism Platform

From overnight YouTube stars, to online videos meant to shock our senses, to the need of too many of us to validate our lives by sharing each moment publicly, the Internet has magnified our collective narcissism.

Silicon Valley’s Insensitivity

You can read Emily Chang’s Brotopia, or her scathing Vanity Fair article about the Valley’s debauchery that would put Andy Warhol’s to shame. Those are but two of the thousands of articles that flooded the news this year about a homogeneity and dysfunctionality in the Valley that need remedying if indeed the Internet represents all.

Trial by Twitter

Twitter may not be profitable yet, but the Trump presidency has institutionalized it as a political platform of choice. Which also tends to mean it’s a political platform based on saying the first thing that pops into your head, often taken out of context. A government of 140 (or even 280) characters can’t involve much deep contemplation.

The good news? We are closer to reporters, first hand opinion and our politicians than ever before. The bad news is that it’s pretty common for Twitter to reveal a scandal, hear the arguments and serve its verdict-populi before anyone else saw it coming. While I certainly don’t condone Al Franken, Garrison Keillor, James Levine, or others for their alleged behaviors, I do worry that Trial by Twitter has become the norm.

A Kid is a Special Species

If you don’t teach kids good Internet habits at a young age, it’s pretty clear that the race for sharp, trained Internet-savvy adults will be lost. YouTube, amongst others, has been repeatedly accused of letting pornography and inappropriate videos slip into theoretically “kids safe versions” of programs like YouTube kids.

YouTube uses a combination of algorithms and humans to police their videos for inappropriate content. But vulgar and disturbing videos seem to slip through: suicide attempts, cartoon characters urinating, and more.

If we want our next gen to use the internet at an early age, if only to stay competitive with the rest of the world, we’d better figure it out.

Net Neutrality Overturned

And to start the year off, we had Ajit Pai, the new FCC Chairman appointed by President Trump, eliminate the Obama era rules that made it impossible to allow companies to charge a premium price for some types of data. As I write this, it looks as though the Congress and the Senate will muster up enough votes to overturn this terrible idea that would make the Internet a place where those who could pay more would receive more.

So welcome to 2018, the year the top tech companies control the vast majority of what happens on the web. The Internet is a worldwide treasure, and it’s our job to protect it from any force that seeks to change that. Let’s start the new year with a big piece of humble pie, face up to 2017’s biggest problems, and get our Internet groove back.

Robin Raskin is founder of Living in Digital Times (LIDT), a team of technophiles who bring together top experts and the latest innovations that intersect lifestyle and technology. LIDT produces conferences and expos at CES and throughout the year focusing on how technology enhances every aspect of our lives through the eyes of today’s digital consumer.

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