Last updated: September 2014
Brave New World?
BBC Radio 4 news at 10am on 11th July 2014 reported that Israelis had been injured by rockets launched from Gaza and Lebanon. But the BBC broadcast made no mention of Palestinian deaths (over a thousand, about a quarter of which were children) or the devastating aerial bombardments.
Meanwhile the rest of the world is online sharing information about the atrocities being committed, once again, in the Gaza Strip. As a result, protests, organised largely on the net, erupt across the UK against the BBC’s portrayal of the situation and failure to report Israeli war crimes.
The internet has transformed the information we receive and how we interact with and create it. Twitter, Facebook and other sharing sites enable news, video and images to be transported instantly across the globe from individuals, from ordinary people. Now we can find
out what is really going on. As the mainstream media fails to report the truth, so it hastens its own demise.
But who are the companies that facilitate our online access to others and what motivates them? The shopping guides in this report cover the companies that we use to organise and report our news and that we give our most personal information to.
Our online activity feeds into a massive data mining project, which maps social networks in a way never previously possible. We’re also individually monitored to find out what makes us tick, often in order to sell us things.
Yahoo! wants to know your phone number, Twitter wants access to your email address book, LinkedIn wants to know who you work with, Google wants to know your mate’s way home and Facebook wants you to give it my future autobiography.
You can’t use your (Android) smartphone to send photos on Twitter unless you log in with a Google email account to set up the app. Before you know it, your location and activities are logged and connected to your email account and browsing history. Are we collectively walking down a blind alley?
Google is emerging as the master of creating an online personalised ecosystem which has advertising at its heart.
In July 2014, the British government pushed through emergency legislation in just three days, without parliamentary scrutiny, requiring Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to store our private information. Privacy International are a key organisation calling the government to account for internet-based state intrusion, has it gone too far?
With its dual powers of spreading knowledge and monitoring behaviour, the Internet appears to hold both our salvation and our destruction. We now also know that manipulation takes place (see social networks guide), which takes our relationship with the companies that operate in the virtual world to a dangerous place.
In the real world
The personal information that we give to internet companies doesn’t just go into a ‘cloud’, it gets stored on physical infrastructure, with an accompanying ecological footprint. Google and Facebook’s data centres, for instance, are huge facilities.
Not all companies have their own architecture. Reddit, active in the fight for internet freedom buys it from Amazon Web Services, a particularly shady part of the corporate beast that Ethical Consumer is calling for a boycott of.