Weaponizing the Web

We’ve spent a lot of our class time discussing the impact of fake news and deregulation on the internet. We regularly ask “To regulate or not to regulate.”

This article and video from the Guardian featuring a whistleblower from Cambridge Analytica may create a greater impetus to regulate. It shows the vast and terrific powers beholden to those with access to big data. The former employee enumerates a list of disturbing practices from harvesting the data of non-app users via friends, the creation of targeted political content, and the inundation of material meant to influence users. He calls the process which deeply affected the past American election as a “grossly unethical experiment.” And called the company a full service propaganda machine.

Have “data scientists” gone too far? What do we a society do with people and corporations who seem bent on tearing down society to reform it in their image via digital media and psychological manipulation?

About a week ago Tim Berners-Lee celebrated the 29th birthday of his invention, the web, by calling for the regulation of social media platforms. He cites the concentration of power they’ve acquired, and their for-profit business model as being aspects contributing to the weaponization of the internet. This recent revelation may renew calls for stricter regulation. What should those regulations look like? And what should the associated remedies include to be meaningful?

One response to “Weaponizing the Web”

  1. rasmeet mohar

    This recent news was definitely at the top of my list for sharing this week. If there was ever a sign to regulate social media it would most definitely be this one. The impact of this data leak is beyond just an infringement of privacy rights, its a political tool that can and has been used to shape entire societies from allegedly the 2016 US Election to the Brexit referendum.

    I was interested in looking at how this news has impacted Canadian ideas of social media regulation so far. It turns out that Christopher Wylie, the whistleblower is a British Columbia native who had offered to develop the ability to use social media data in order to influence politics in Canada and specifically assist Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff. Ignatieff was not interested in capitalizing on these data harvesting techniques and rejected Wylie’s early proposal back in 2009 because it was seen as too invasive. It is said that some of his ideas were not even fully developed at the time but he still pursued them.

    Ignatieff’s response may potentially display the want for regulation from Canada and Canadian Privacy Commissioner Therrien states that they are currently looking into what privacy breaches Canadians have suffered because of this. Apparently, in March 2016 the privacy commissioner had even asked Parliament to “consider regulating the collection, use and disclosure of personal information by political parties.”

    Article links:


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