It’s Getting Personal – Protection of the Vulnerable User
Posted by lizmathews01
Jonathan Zittrain (2015) talks about the trajectory of the Internet and the potential roles needed to regulate it. If the Internet does define our perception of the world as he says, then it becomes a critical issue for society to say when it goes a step too far or falls short of “doing good.”
For me, “doing good” means not contributing to the spread of misinformation or acting out of financial obligation. I believe that only truths should exist online or in print, and short of that, disclaimers about the level of confidence used to publish information should be present on every page. As television, radio, and other mediums have been forced to comply with regulations, so too should the Internet.
Zittrain also introduces the analogy to fiduciary duty or looking out for a client’s best interest. Right now there is no stipulation that a search engine or any other online source needs to give information that is verified or should be working for the benefit of the user. At the end of his talk, he says that academics should care about these issues because they will continue to need to navigate them. He does not mention a specific responsibility or call to action, but five years later we can see how his talk accurately forecasted the current online landscape.
So what about now?
We know that algorithm math has power over many aspects of our culture and even the decisions we make. It predicts and calculates based on data we volunteered without thinking about it. How many unnecessary questions do we answer because they are required fields in order to create an account?
We also know that key manipulators are paying attention to make the data work for their goals: whether through increased sales, control of their market, or less obvious end results. Is the Internet a lawless arena, or can we work towards transparency and established rules? Finally, are we willing to give up the freedoms we have enjoyed for a more regulated Internet experience? Or would we rather place all of this responsibility on the user – a user who may not understand when the math is working with or against him or her.
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