Recently it was brought to my attention that 40% of my beloved Internet got booted in a crazy ban-bot related incident. For a whole few minutes, I believe, the Internet felt like a little kid getting beaten on like a nerdy freshman. And, according to this dude Jon Evans who covered the event, the ban-bot rampage happened on none other than the monolithic site Facebook. As many know, Facebook is one of just a few mega-giant corporate web presences who own way too much of not only physical wealth, but also mad amounts of highly sensitive data. The Book (as some people have called it and may or may not know how biblical and scary this sounds), along with Apple, Amazon, Google, and Microsoft, now have one hell of a hold on the ethereal cloud that is the Internet.
This is a real problem, not only cause we’re dumping our emotions, thoughts, and secrets into what Evans cites as “Stacks” (Bruce Sterling said it first), a science fiction-sounding slang for giant companies acting as pillars holding up and controlling the cloud. It’s also a real issue because most people seem to be completely fine with the idea that so few companies own so much data. And this is data like birthdays, school standings, medical records, and everything you search for.
So, basically, a few huge corporations make it super simple to pour what little you have of your personal identity into a fat virtual sack of information.
What’s terrible is how easy it is. Computer savvy, anarchic folks try to believe that there is a majority of people desiring the control of their own data, their own hands on the identity satchel. However, peer-to-peer sharing to the regular dude or lady seems a whole bunch more work, and sounds more difficult technically (although it’s not all that terribly hard with a basic knowledge of computers and wishing for the teensiest bit of control). And it’s not as marvelously simple as uploading everything you are to an automated mega-service that will keep it nice and “safe” for you. As a frequent user of Facebook and Google, and an owner of a MacBook, I have to say that if I had to stop utilizing these services and learn even the slightest bit of programming, the recovery from the technological hangover would be tremendous.
This is not to say I don’t disagree with hopeful hackers who want to take down the business goliaths. It’d be better if the Internet (like the collective super brain it is) were given to its subjects, available as peer-to-peer data rather than holed up in guarded castles made of money. BitTorrent and Skype (says Evans) are good examples of the Stacks not having full control of our beloved Internet, so there’s hope at least.
If the great big corporations were to collapse, though, all our data would go with them. They have so much control, what happens if they’re backed into a corner? I don’t want to be all up in Orwell’s business (more like Terry Gilliam’s), but there’s a whole lot of power swimming around the cyber world, and our online identities are leverage like we wouldn’t believe. We’re spreading ourselves into this interface, and then often forget about a single drunk photo that Facebook owns and can use against us. I’m not urging some great escape from the Internet (I LOVE the Internet), but it’d do us some good to learn how to track our data and keep it close, like we would our own physical brains. Once the lords of convenience die or something, we don’t want to be in trouble. Don’t worry, it’ll be hard for me too, especially because iPhones now come in so many cool colors, damn it!