Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Final Frontier

The internet might be that last great frontier. We may not terraform Mars or explore other galaxies with manned space-craft. Presently, our society is more interested in cyberspace than outer space.

There's been two new stories involving the internet that keep rolling around in my brain. I'm certain they mean something grand and future-impacting, but I'm not certain that isn't just me stuck in extrapolation mode thanks to the YA manuscript.

Last month it was the MySpace Suicide Case, and how it was going to trial. The focus of this case should be that no, not everything on the internet is true and not everyone is telling the truth. Ten years ago, we had this hammered into us. There were news cases about child abductions, and meeting someone who you'd only interacted with online was a huge thing.

The internet has become so ingrained in our lives and our society, that we often take for granted that even with a transparent life that blogging, myspace, facebook can provide—sometimes that glass is tinted and we're just seeing what we want to.

But this case goes deeper than look out for yourself online. The criminal charge being used in the trial is a computer fraud clause. How it's being done, is that the woman is being indited for presenting false information on a myspace profile, thus violating one of the terms of the user agreement. Imagine they convict her, and the US has precedent of someone getting jail time for violating a user agreement.

When was the last time you read through a user agreement and didn't just hit "agree" or click the ticky box? More importantly, what if you don't have your real name on your facebook account? Precedent to have you thrown in jail for it would exist.

Now, you say, that's silly. I'm not doing anything malicious. I just want to protect my privacy.

Exactly. What if society doesn't want you to have that ability? If we go fully transparent, which is one of the possible directions of the internet, the only privacy allowed will be what is regulated as private. Who is making those decisions? The same government that doesn't need a warrant to tap your phones or read through all your text messages and email, because they don't have to tell you what they're doing?

That's not glass, that's a one-way mirror. We don't live transparently—we live with the illusion of transparency. The myspace case proves how fragile that illusion is. We think we're living transparent lives, all connected together through our social networks, but we're really just nodes sharing data—passing ones and zeros along.

That data could be false, but we consent to believe that it is true. We have to if we want the internet to continue to function. But if someone decides to enforce that information is "trufax," we lose freedom of choice over what is private and what is public. No longer is it at our discretion of what we volunteer to associates, acquaintances, or friends. It becomes data that someone else has decided we must share.

That's the aspect of the transparent life that worries me—control. Individuals want to control technology. Think about it—more software and gadgets are being made "user-friendly." Which is great, until a user wants to do something outside the parameters of that "easy interface." (Which is trickling through our society—see our difficulties with marketing books and movies that don't fit into a clearly defined genre.)

Ten—five, possibly even two years ago, the notion of policing the internet would be impossible to most users. We initially discussed how it might be necessary for our protection, but ultimately, we fended for ourselves and learned how to adapt to a lawless land.

Monday, June 9th, 2008, internet policing was born. Officially, of course, as we wouldn't have a Net Neutrality cause if there weren't already attempts to domesticate the wild transparent-blue yonder. What happened on Monday? News broke of how three of America's biggest ISPs have agreed to work with the government to stop child pornography from spreading through the internet. Until now, ISPs (Internet Service Providers) have officially refused to police content, as they maintained they were just portals.

Child porn is bad. Yes, we should stop it. It's also not cool to maliciously role play on myspace with non-players. But does it stop there? Or does it just keep going—more regulations, more laws. User-friendlier access at the cost of limiting what can be accessed. Easier and easier interfaces to keep us from making poor choices.

I know, much like the Wild West, this is just the growing pains of a once unknown territory becoming populated by settlers, not explorers. However, I can't help but see this as enforcing that you don't have to hold yourself accountable, because someone else should do it for you.

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