‘We Didn’t Lose Control Of Our Personal Data — It Was Stolen From Us By People Farmers’

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Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the worldwide web, wrote an open-letter over the weekend to mark the 28th anniversary of his invention. In his letter, he shared three worrisome things that happened over the last twelve months. In his letter, Berners-Lee pointed out three things that occurred over the past 12 months that has him worried: we do not assume control of our personal data anymore; how easy it is for misinformation to spread on the web; and lack of transparency on political advertising on the web. Cyborg rights activist Aral Balkan wrote a piece yesterday arguing that perhaps Berners-Lee is being modest about the things that concern him. From the article: It’s important to note that these (those three worrisome things) are not trends and that they’ve been in the making for far longer than twelve months. They are symptoms that are inextricably linked to the core nature of the Web as it exists within the greater socio-technological system we live under today that we call Surveillance Capitalism. Tim says we’ve “lost control of our personal data.” This is not entirely accurate. We didn’t lose control; it was stolen from us by Silicon Valley. It is stolen from you every day by people farmers; the Googles and the Facebooks of the world. It is stolen from you by an industry of data brokers, the publishing behavioural advertising industry (“adtech”), and a long tail of Silicon Valley startups hungry for an exit to one of the more established players or looking to compete with them to own a share of you. The elephants in the room — Google and Facebook — stand silently in the wings, unmentioned except as allies later on in the letter where they’re portrayed trying to “combat the problem” of misinformation. Is it perhaps foolish to expect anything more when Google is one of the biggest contributors to recent web standards at the W3C and when Google and Facebook both help fund the Web Foundation? Let me state it plainly: Google and Facebook are not allies in our fight for an equitable future — they are the enemy. These platform monopolies are factory farms for human beings; farming us for every gram of insight they can extract. If, as Tim states, the core challenge for the Web today is combating people farming, and if we know who the people farmers are, shouldn’t we be strongly regulating them to curb their abuses?

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