Opinion: tech support of a different kind

Images via Wikimedia Commons

By Matteo Di Maio

As my household’s resident teenager, I’m also its resident tech support. For the most part, the job is about orientating cameras, or digging up passwords from under the couch.

Today, though, I though I’d share some tech support of a different kind—to do with our collective role in the future of the internet.

Think back to the dawn of the web, in the late 90s. The internet back then was a niche place, popular among techno-utopians—those with lofty aspirations about the power of ubiquitous, free information, of a world in which borders don’t exist, in which anyone can connect to anyone else. This, as it’s now christened, was Web 1.0.

Then came Web 2.0. This is the web of Facebook, and Amazon, and Google search. It’s interactive. It’s the web of targeted advertising. Unlike Web 1.0, which was free because of anarchist, utopian ideals, this web is free because you pay with your data. In Silicon Valley, the saying is: “if it’s free, the customer is you.” This is the web we live in now.

What, the natural question might be, is Web 3.0?

That’s the web we’re fashioning now. And we have some power over what it will look like. It could be a web in which new technologies like satellite surveillance and artificial intelligence make web tracking more seamless, more accurate, and more omnipotent. Or it could be our chance to build that first web, in reality.

As the New York Times noted: us democratic westerners would “surely rise up in outrage if the government attempted to mandate that every person above the age of 12 carry a tracking device that revealed their location 24 hours a day. Yet, in the decade since Apple’s App Store was created, Americans have, app by app, consented to just such a system run by private companies.”

So go to locations settings and make sure apps can only locate you when you’re using them.

If you use What’s App, switch to Signal. Signal is run by a non-profit, sustained on donations. All your messages and chats are encrypted at each end.  It also isn’t feeding metadata from your conversations into Facebook’s profile of you.

Speaking of Facebook, you should go to “settings”, “your Facebook information”, and then click on “off Facebook activity”.  Turn all these functions off.

You can do a similar thing with Google. Go to adssettings.Google.com, and sign in. You’ll get a snap shot of all the things Google knows about you, from “married”, to “has an income of 50k+”, to “likes vintage cars”. Turn ad personalization off at the top. Additionally, set your search engine to DuckDuckGo in your iPhone settings, at “safari”, “search engine”, DuckDuckGo.

DuckDuckGo is a privacy preserving search engine, which doesn’t syndicate trackers across the web, and is powered by non-targeted ads and donations.

If you want to go a step further, use Brave as your browser.

You should care about privacy because when you give up information, you allow manipulation. Facebook uses this data to construct a uniquely personalised news feed, for example. This creates echo chambers of thought, in which you only see the news you like. This is not how you should go about understanding reality.

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