How have internet platforms changed our lives – do we have more benefits or problems from using them?

January 26, 2022

Internet platforms are an integral part of our daily lives, and the ongoing global pandemic has led us to use Internet even more. We are working online, having zoom meetings, shopping online, meeting new people on social media…Our whole life today revolves around a large number of platforms that we are using. Internet gives us the opportunity to learn and progress but it is also a space that brings with it possible negative effects on our personal and professional lives. In order to resolve doubts about the possible harmful effects of the internet platforms I have been in contact with Daphnee Prates Iglesias –political scientist and internet governance expert from Brazil, currently based in Germany. Her research, supported by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, analyses the connections between the increasing use or misuse of new technologies and its implications to countries’ digital policies: in data privacy regulation, government transparency, and on the protection of human rights online. Currently Daphnee is a MA candidate of the North American Studies Programme at the University of Bonn, expert in the field of data protection, and I have asked her to give us brief insight on this imortant topic.

Daphnee, it is great opportunity to talk with you on this interesting topic and for the start I would like to know how we can protect our content that we are sharing on internet platforms?

One of the problem of today society is that we dont have digital literacy, we dont learn in scholl how to protect our data online. People need to understand that less you share on internet the more protected you would be. The more information you put about yourself online Internet platforms will have access to more of your data, and we are not talking about someones need to know where you live or number of your passport but it is more about the fact that they will know how you use the internet, and therefore they can sell more things to you without your consent. But on the other hand, the more data you put online the more vulnerable you are to internet criminals, and these are the people who can actually hack and make use of the information, like your address, and personal data to stalk you, to blackmail you. Once people decide to go online and use services of internet platforms, we should put as minimum information as demanded from the internet platform in order  for service to work. Each platform has minimum amount for service to work.

We also need to have strong passwords, we cant always use same password for every platform, I usually recommend to people to have password manager if they have problem to memorize it, and it is also not good idea to write them down, and if you are person at risk, lets say journalist or activist, or you need to use platforms for your work, I would recommend you to use VPN, with VPN you are connected to network that is not part of your country, and people cannot trace where you are from or what you are doing on internet. VPN is virtual private network and it basically mimics network outside the place where you are, so for instance, I am in Germany and Germany has very strict copyrights issues, and for example because that websites from the US or other countries are not available in the country, so because of that many people are using VPN and access to information and materials from another country. VPN is operating on a level of internet protocols. Each country has a protocol asigned to it so each protocol has its own number and when I am using VPN I am basically telling to my computer not to connect to protocol number that is asigned for Germany, but to connect to protocol numbers in lets say Brasil, and there is specific protocol numbers for Brasil, and then I can navigate internet as I am in Brasil.   

But to use VPN you really need good connection and good equipment. It is also good idea to use VPN when we are traveling to a lot of different countries and to use just our network and not local open networks to prevent invasion on our computer and data.

It is also very important if we are using a lot of applications to be sure that our apps are updated, because updates happens for a reason, usually security breach  in one moment happend so it is important to updated to latest version.

Also, it is very important to use common sence and not to publish all the things that are happening in our lives, because things can become viral very fast and sometimes you dont know reprecution of it to your personal or professional life.

How internet and internet platforms are ,,mapping our brain and soul,, – making some kind of map of everything we are searching online, of what we are shopping, vieving…do we need to concern on that?

People need to understand  that Internet platforms are collecting our data, but it is not on as personal level as we usually think. They see us as a number, as a user that is navigating through network and they are usually using and categorizing data of what we are purchasing. They are not characterizing us as a real persons but just as a numbers and big data, information that they can use and sell those information to advertisers, because platforms are not social, they are big advertising tool, that is how they are making money, selling the information that we are providing them for free in order to use platforms. Those advertisers could be a small local business, bakery in your street or big international company that wants to know how people are using their product, what they are buying or what they are avoiding. So transactions is between platforms and other business copmanies. As users, we are allowing this because this is in terms of service of the platforms, we are allowing them to collect our data and to share it with any other companies that they have business with. Even if you dont read the terms and you click ok, you are still complaining to it. If you are not allowing it you will not be able to use that platform. Either you have full access to service or you dont have access at all.

Today we have idea that internet platforms are mapping everything we do because of survailance…What social media are doing is not noble, and today line between what we should allow and what not for them in a name of having data is very blur, everything that they are working on is making profite When governments are running criminal investigation and they need to get information from social platforms they can demand that information legaly from the platform, and it is a matter between platform and government if they will allow or refuse to give information and data of their users.       GDPR has an article that says that all privacy levelscan fall down if the topic of discussion of privacy is connected to the state and public safety. GDPR – General Data Protection Regulation is a privacy and security regulation passed by the EU, in effect since 2018, to ensure confidentiality, fairness, transparency, and accountability during personal data processing. Although it was developed having in mind what happens in the Union, it is applicable in organisations all around the world, given that they collect data on EU residents. Penalties for wrongdoings can reach millions of euros.

There is no way to relate yourself through internet if it is not through some platform. So that means that every data and information that we are sharing while we are on internet are part of some specific platform. I like two analogies related to this topic. First is about library analogy – internet is a library and every book in that library is a platform, it is a space where you can wrap a page, read or analogy where internet is described as a little town where all public or private houses, schools, bars etc are different internet platforms. 

Internet remembers everything? Every image, social media post, content that we are publishing is on internet for ever and that can cause us problems, in our private or professional life. Is that true and what we can do about it if we want to delete some content that we shared?

I wouldnt say that internet remembers but I would say that information and data definettly stays there. There is a joke about millenials that it is the last generation that has nothing compromising on the internet because when millenials came to the internet there was not social media and platforms similar to modern way of using internet. Internet doesnt rememner your posts in a way that it put in front of your face and tell you ,,hey I know what you were posting last year,, but your data and posts definetly stays there in connections, and if it is not on a platform level, it is definetly in the dark web. It can be also on some other level, on some forum, people can monetize that data or use it as trade.  I have couple of examples of this matter.  There was a person from Austria, he did his time in jail and when he left the jail he couldnt find a job because every time he types his name on Google the first result that appears was his criminal record and sentence. So he sued Google to remove and delete those information. Google respond that their mission is that all information worldwide are available to their users everywhere and after years that case went to the European Court of Justice and ECJ made precedent in this case and it says that if the information is too personal, and if that information is to degrading and can cause humiliation it can be disindexed, so it wouldnt be shown on Google search anymore. Considering that 98% of world is using Google to find information that they need that basicly means that nobody would know anymore about his previous sentence. That is the reason why today when you are googling something in European Union, in the bottom of the page you can read that some of the information can be omitted. That is the case in European Union, but this is not the case in the resto of the world. EU is the most complicated space for internet platforms to operate but they still have to because it is a huge market in economic terms. My second example is from Brasil, in the beginning of 2000“ there was bar mitsvah video of one boy uploaded on youtube, it was private party of one familly with images of their private life. Somehow this video went on youtube and become very viral and boy started to recieve threats, people were mocking him, his familly and whole video. After some time video have dissapered from youtube, but at that time a lot of people already made a copy of the video to their own hard drives, so each time that they delete video it was soon up again on the platform. His familly sued Google to remove video from youtube, and Google refused to do it. After couple of years court in Brasil decided that video must be removed because it is causing problem to minor, and you cannot expose the minor in that way. Google removed and deleted the video from the youtube after Brasil court decision. 3 years ago that video appear on youtube again, and all of a sudden all of Brasilian portals and users were commenting again about this person and his familly.

 Apparently because he is not minor any more there is no reason for the video not to be online but that has affected him so much that he left the country with his familly. So yes, such a small thing, post on social network or video on youtube can cause major problem to private or professional life.

We are living in our own platform  bubble, but if some information is deleted and disapered from our bubble that doesnt means that it is not in some other platform buuble, in some other spaces and in extreme cases on the dark web. Dark web and deep web are sectors of the web that people use for criminal activities. You dont go there by normal connections, you need to have IP that connects you to that area, and this is space where you are allow to do anything. It is space where drug dealers and human trafickers operates, where pedofiles exchange their information and files, where people that are extremists meet on forums. It is part of the structure of the internet. Think of it as an underground level of internet, and you can only get there via a tool and that tool is an internet protocol that can takes you there. That has always exsisted, from the beginning of internet all this spaces were equal. In the beginning internet was place where everyone can be free, in one space people were chating with their friend but also exchanging nude pictures of minors. With advencement of internet those that sector was going down, but you cannot eliminate them, because when you put something on the internet, it wil always be there. Extremists are now leaving this spaces and they are starting to use our own intenet bubbles and uses platforms that are part of our daily use. They do same things as they were doing undercovered, but now they are using legal platforms so it can legitimate their actions

They are listening to us? In recent years smart devices are ,,listening to us,, and making some kind of espiounage to our lives. Can we prevent that and what they are doing with all of those information?

Smart devices such are smart vacuum cleaner, smart tv or refregerator, they are sending information to their manifactures constantly, so they can improve their services, to update programs etc. Everything that you say to them, ask from them will be analized as a data that can be useful for them to improve their products so they can perform better. But there are also voice asistent. Problem of voice asistents are that they are built upon US system of English language so for them is very hard to recognize and understand somebody who is not native English speaker from America. Artificial inteligence behind it is very dumb in the sense that they can only relate to similar voices and inputs. The other problem with this systems is that in order to works they need to be with microphones open and ready 24/7 and they can pick up something, even if they we are not talking to them, and all the sounds and our words will be submited to their manifactures. And today there is also voice asistent with a camera and while you are talking to them it is used also as a security camera so it is scaning entyre environment. It is a new field and we have to deal with it more because if not it will backfire to us. There were the cases where manifactures and people who are processing data that devices are sending to them spoted the sounds of domestic violence in the recordings, and in those specific cases companies were not giving those information to police so it tell us that those companies are there just to make money and they have no social responcibility, they dont have ethics in what they are doing. In the end they just want to improve assistant or other kind of devices and to sell more.

We are giving consent to our smart phones that they can use microphones for recording, so in recent years they are using that consent, and making adds based on what we are speaking, but we cannot consider that as an act of espiounage because we are giving consent to them.

If you are sharing a network and someone else from that network is searching for something, you might have advertisments based on that search. Something that you newer searched or think about will appear on your screan as an advert.