Death by a Thousand Likes

Posted by Stephen Petrey on Tuesday, March 27, 2018

I’m hitting the rant-wheel again. Facebook’s potential data breach (nearly 5 million accounts affected) illustrates just how frail and weak the web has become.

It’s of our own doing too. We all jumped aboard the Facebook train and did so willingly. Well now, we’re paying the price. Almost two-thirds of all internet traffic are siphoned through the what has been dubbed, The Trinet. To be brief, Facebook and Google now control over 70% of the worlds internet traffic. That my friend, is not good. Good perhaps, for cat GIFs or dog memes. But, not so much for the health of the web.

The web, exists as a series of connected nodes. I link to something, you link to something… we all link to something! That’s the idea behind hypertext. Documents connected by hyperlinks. It’s a beautiful idea, and it’s what makes Wikipedia, blogs, and even “liking” things — so much fun.

An illustrated image o fa healthy network. Multiple nodes connected together. Unity and strength.
A healthy network. Connected, strong hyperlinks.

The problem, is when large networks (like Facebook) contain hyperlinks behind closed doors. For example, if I don’t have a Facebook account, I can’t see a lot of the content, events, or posts behind the blue gates of Facebook. Mainly, that’s because some people prefer private accounts, so a lot of that content is hidden for good reason. No judgement there. I get it. But, what private users might not realize, is that their interests and activity (regardless of your privacy settings) are publicly sold to the highest bidder. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Advertising is the crucible that has forged hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of online businesses and creators. Social media, newspapers, and bloggers all depend on that sweet sweet nectar: ad revenue. I’ve even taken a piece of that pie. Some ad networks spread web page bloat. Sending dreadfully large ad assets to otherwise small webpages, causing painfully long load times. Which, sucks. Or worse, cookie tracking. Not all ad networks are shitty though. Point is, it’s not all bad out there. But, ad networks need to get their shit together too. That will probably be something I rant about another day.

An illustrated example of a dying network. Unconnected, weak and dying.
A weak network, such as Facebook. Closed off, weak hyperlinks.

Alas, to make matters worse, last year several really terrible senators sponsored a bill that would allow ISPs to sell your browsing history to advertisers. Without consent from subscribers, mind you. Um, no thank you. It probably wouldn’t be a big deal with consent, but that’s not the point. It’s the shear amount of power and the continuing lack of responsibility from ISPs, and Silicon Valley has been the problem and will continue to be the problem…

Unless, we the people — setup government oversight. Which sadly, doesn’t seem like something this Whitehouse administration is keen on doing. This week, Paul Ford —  legendary hypertext crusader and author called for the US to create a Digital Protection Agency. I 100% agree. It’s in our best interest to keep our data safe and protected. We have consumer protections, environmental protections, safety boards, air traffic controllers, bank regulators, and financial comptrollers. Where’s the Sheriff of the Wild Wild Web?

I do have hope. The web is a resilient, transient, amorphous thing. It’s changed a lot in the past 30+ years. Hell, it’s changed me, for the better. If you too want to see a healthy web again, live extramurally. Dump Facebook. Buy your domain. Own a piece of the web, and fight the good fight. Don’t forget to vote others into office that feel the same way.


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