The Progressive Ensign

insights and analytics to build an economy that works for all

Category: Internet

Our Internet Purchases Are Private, Let’s Keep It That Way

(Editor Note: Insight Bytes focus on key economic issues and solutions for all of us, on Thursdays we spotlight in more depth Solutions to issues we have identified. Fridays we focus on how to build the Common Good. Please right click on images to see them larger in a separate tab. Click on the Index Topic Name at the beginning of each post to see more posts on that topic on PC or Laptop.)

Image: scienceprogress.org

A year ago, Mastercard sold consumer store transaction data to Google, who sells the store transaction information and correlates it to searches for the same product or service to advertisers.  Advertisers can see patterns in consumer behavior from the ads that are run and whether a prospective buyer went to the store to buy the item or online (online tracking databases). This strategy by Google is focused on Amazon’s business, and their recent moves into in store retail to dominate emerging sectors.

Google is dominant in digital advertising:

Sources: eMarker, Recode – 2018

In digital advertising Google has 2 times the share of its next largest competitor – Facebook.  In mobile advertising, Google has a 1.5 times greater share of the advertising business. In short, Google is the digital advertising player for most advertisers to work with, and Google is interested in maintaining that dominant position versus possible competitors like Amazon. Amazon now has 50 % of the eCommerce business in the U.S. The eCommerce behemoth is in a position to both track consumer behavior and offer point of decision purchase capabilities.

So, what does this mean for us as users and our privacy?  Google is no longer a company just setting up a partnering relationship with Mastercard, they are controlling the retail market and manipulating data to put us under constant surveillance. We did not give our permission to Google to constantly put us under surveillance.  It is dangerous to our private lives to have a big corporation or partners knowing everything we are doing and buying.  What happens if hackers break into these databases and begin to use the data to find us or siphon off our purchases or find out our transaction information or credit card data?

Next Steps:

First principle is that we own our data, and we own the patterns of our searches that is our propriety information because it is our behavior and is not owned by the company. When users search on Google, they are looking for an idea, a product or a service or a person – not to be spied on.  Recently, Google was still keeping user location even when the user turned off  location services.  A couple of years ago Google tracked words in user email messages and sold the information to advertisers, so if a user mentioned their child’s bike, all the sudden bike ads were showing up in the side bar – they finally ended this practice after a lot of complaints it was just too spooky.

Second, Google and Internet companies can’t build trust with users if they are constantly telling us one thing and doing something else to their benefit and not ours. The U.S. should look at implementation of a policy like the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) plan which could be widened to include schemes like the Google – Mastercard deal. The GDPR provides users with control over their personal data and how or if it may be transmitted outside of the country. The GDPR policy particularly focuses on personally identifiable information and how this information is to be handled in a confidential manner, not disclosed to third parties and the information made anonymous to outsiders.  In a provision we particularly like the information processor (ie Google) must enable users to be able to erase their information on the system.

We need to take a stand as a user community that user rights come first. User’s own their data not the processors.  Users should have control over any processing of that data and who has access to their personal data. Otherwise, we are opening our citizens to corporate spying for any reason, and targeting of the linked Mastercard – Google profile data to hackers.

The Internet Connects Us All in Common

 

Image:  Your Little Planet

We all enjoy the connectivity the Internet provides us today with instant messaging, email, hyperlinking, websites and news.  It was built by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) contracting with universities and research centers to build a powerful internetworking protocol and network for the Department of Defense beginning in 1969.  The network evolved with more research centers and government organizations using the system for communication and joint projects.  By the mid 1990s the Internet was opened to the public primarily for email, though soon websites and messaging systems were established.  Commercial common carriers were offered government contracts to provide more communication network support and services.  In 1993 the Internet provided 1 % of all two way communications, by 2000 51 % of all communications were over the Internet, then growth exploded to 97 % of all telecommunications information in 2007.

Built by taxpayer money by DARPA  for military communications,  next universities and research centers, then open to the public and commercial enterprises. So, why do companies like AT & T, Verizon, and Comcast think they should control how Internet is offered to our people?  We paid for it, as it evolved the Internet was envisioned as a wonderful new way to engage citizens in the political process and to level the playing field for new companies.

We certainly, have seen how innovation with a plethora of new services has emerged in the last 20 years, yet now a few giants run the content side: Google, Facebook, Netflix, Disney and the network side run by AT &T, Verizon, and Comcast.  As the content companies merge with networking companies we have huge companies deciding how to make more money from a network entity that is actually a public trust built by taxpayer money.

One way we see inequality growing is access to the Internet for many in poor, or rural  regions of the country is limited in speed and services.  Without Internet speedy Internet access or innovative services for universities, hospitals, and companies in these regions it is difficult for the working class to gain the skills to get a better job, or companies to compete with their high speed competitors.  Investment is declining in some regions of the Midwest and South due to poor Internet infrastructure which means fewer jobs for people living in the area.

The Internet is really a Common Good. It is a utility, not a platform for companies to make profits and not take responsibility for equity in access, speed and content which was the original purpose in designing the Internet as a peer to peer protocol rather than hierarchical.

The present GOP administration installed a company lobbyist as chair of the FCC who immediately decided that the network neutrality doctrine of the Obama administration should be overturned, giving control to for profit entities to charge whatever they wanted for speedy access or content. It is as if we turned the interstate system of freeways over to GM, so GM could give special lanes to GM cars and the others would have to go in slower lanes.

No, we don’t see the Common Good being protected by a for profit doctrine, it just can’t do the job.  Recently, when firefighters in the California Mendocino fire went over their mobile data plan limit, Verizon throttled their data transmission to 1/200 of the speed.  After the outrage over such predatory practices Verizon relented and will now offer all western state first responders standard data plans without throttling.  Why should they even be able to throttle?  If a user needs more data then just charge more over a certain limit – but throttling their network speed is coercive.

Network neutrality for all content, all websites, all messaging is the just doctrine for a Common Good like the Internet built with public funds. The fact that corporations think they should be able to do whatever they want shows once again that The Elite has control and power over the public interest.  Their position needs to shift to supporting the public interest as priority one, not profits. We need to have the common carriers see they have a public trust, and social responsibility in operating a public Internet utility.

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