Venkata: The internet of kings

Net neutrality, data mining and us.

Uma Venkata

People have decided to use the internet in adverse ways. 

Election meddling is everywhere, and it’s found easy footing here in the U.S. I believe U.S. intelligence agencies found this in their investigations. The internet also provides porn, which serves as sexual education for children. Just let that sink in. Recruitment for terrorist organizations in any country, for any ideology, has been streamlined. Actual terrorism — including for neo-Nazis or the mountains-out-of-molehills rage of the incels — can be expedited. And it has never been easier to traffic people. 

The internet has good things, too. Vast swaths of information, credible or otherwise, are immediate. Khan Academy is nice. So are cat videos and Facebook Messenger. Job applications were more arduous without internet, (and maybe that’s why the job search of the past seems so uncompetitive). But, if someone you love was trafficked for sex through internet convenience, none of these positives matter.

Then there’s the moral quandary of net neutrality. Net neutrality requires internet providers to treat all lawful content equally; not favor their own content; not withhold data or impede content as favors the provider; and not slow the internet of consumers who do not pay an extra premium for fast service. 

On June 9, under Federal Communications Commissions Chairman Ajit Pai, these rules were scrapped for “innovation.” Pai argued the people he spoke with across the country were not concerned if content would be blocked or discriminated against — only concerned with the want for fast internet. Nevertheless, providers can still block and discriminate without net neutrality. Perhaps these customers whose fortunes really do hinge on the internet are the ones who can’t quite afford to pay an unnecessary premium for service. The giant providers, however — Time Warner’s Spectrum, Comcast and others — did get their wish. 

Net neutrality isn’t a moral quandary at all. Net neutrality is about preserving internet for all, rather than profit for a few and further class disparity. That’s over for now. But this still hasn’t addressed other major players in the internet, like Facebook and Google.

In December, Google CEO Sundar Pichai testified before the House Judiciary Committee in the wake of uncertainty in Google’s data handling and privacy. The grave reality of Russian meddling was present. But it was clear — and comical — how much those representatives on the committee did not understand basic internet phenomena. Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-California, made her incredulous sentiments known when she asked Pichai why a Google search of “idiot” yielded photos of President Donald Trump. What they should have done was give Pichai an easel and have him explain how search functions work. (In lieu of that, Cornell University’s mathematics department has a fun and simple explanation for the PageRank algorithm.) However, apart from search woes, PageRank doesn’t explain what liberties Google does and doesn’t take since its growth from 1998. 

Facebook is a primary vehicle for a lot of wrongdoing. However, the consumers are partially responsible for buying into it. We’re the ones putting out information and photos of ourselves and our children. The notion that our web presence can remain private is a false security. Deep down, I think we all know that.

Facebook and Google do business; the onus is not all on them. As for ourselves, we need to think critically. Unless we do, internet players have no duty to play along.