The other day, the news broke that the social network Facebook had 1 billion logins in a day. Now, we can question that figure in terms of meaningful logins; after all there are such things as bots and parody accounts on the site. Having said that, I doubt that the figure is far enough out for it to matter too much. What bothers me is that meaning of that figure for the open Internet and also for the future of privacy.
Facebook and other sites represent a walled garden of the kind that used to exist in the old days. I’ve heard people rail against Apple for having a walled garden ecosystem, Microsoft will doubtless go the same way and Google have been known to throw apps out of their app store. But all of this is a necessity if you propose to run a secure app ecosystem. You need to act as bouncer to kick out misbehaving apps. At the same time new apps need to be vetted. I suspect a better term than “walled garden” is “curated library”. There have been, and will continue to be, breaches; but this is a remarkably safe way, compared to the old “download setup and run it” method of installing things. I’ve seen too many PCs covered in random browser toolbars and other cruft to argue with a better alternative.
The walled gardens of the web are, I think, more dangerous. Understandably, they need to lock the content down as this represents their income base; to see it, you must sign up and become part of the content base. These networks do mean that it can be difficult, if not impossible, to remain well informed if you’re not part of it. The danger here is a two tier Internet. I have already seen content that’s only on Facebook, which raises the question in my mind: how long until we have official Facebook exclusives? The notion of one company gaining that kind of monopoly on the content and the conversation is frightening, suddenly “freedom of speech” becomes “complies with the Terms of Service”. People who want to communicate and stay informed shouldn’t have to be subject to the whims of one company in such a way.
I’ve mused on this blog about privacy and social network before. My concerns are based more around analysis than anything else. It’s a fair point that anything revealed on the public Internet can be analysed, and bots crawl every website. But, on a closed social networking site it’s the case that people reveal much more than they might on the pubic Internet. That data is analysed and I’m not at all sure that there’s enough awareness of that. From my Buddhist perspective, I’m thinking of the precept against taking that which is not freely given. If I encourage a person to trust me enough to give me something but I don’t make my full intentions completely obvious, then is what I’m doing ethical? I consider that the answer to this is “no”; because the thing could not have been freely given without full awareness of my intentions. Yes, these things are mentioned in the Term and Conditions, but they need to be upfront and clearer.
I’m liking this slippery slope less and less.