The internet, in its intended form, is a free and open platform that should allow users voices to be heard equally. However, this isn’t the case. As a few major platforms expand their influence into all the corners of the web, smaller players get pushed aside. Because these huge companies control so much of the internet, they don’t have to offer user-centric experiences. If they want to track users and store all the information they can gather, they are free to do so, especially because they force users to opt in to data tracking.
An Internet Based On Trust Is Terrible for Users
Much of the internet is based on trust between the user and an opaque and unaccountable company. On the internet we tend to believe that because a lot of people are using a particular service, that it will store and use our data safely, securely, and ethically. However, this has proven to be completely untrue.
A report by the Digital Currency Initiative and the Center for Civic Media from MIT explains, “the platforms that host our networked public sphere and inform us about the world are unelected, unaccountable, and often impossible to audit or oversee.” This means that they are the authority and decision-maker for information on the internet.
Another issue is that each service on the web gathers and stores information on their own servers. This means that each has the responsibility to keep that information safe and private. User data is more vulnerable when it is stored by every company that gathers and uses it. However, as a more secure alternative, the internet could empower users by decentralizing the data ecosystem. Rather than giving one company all the control, and making them take on all the risk, we should take a decentralized approach. Not only is this good for consumers, whose information we are storing, but also for the companies we rely on.
The Internet Is Ruled By a Few Huge Companies
According to Parse.ly, a digital analytics company, publishers are now seeing the majority of their referral traffic coming from Google. At the beginning of 2017, traffic referred from social media sites was greater than from Google search. Early on in 2017, though, search traffic passed social as the number one referrer. Websites relying on search engines for the largest chunk of their traffic means that the websites the search engines choose to send people to is very important.
A search engine’s algorithm deciding which sites are worthy of top ranking could sway public opinion on key issues. If for political issues, a big search engine decided to only show views of left-leaning politicians and left-leaning commentary, the general public could shift their views accordingly. The responsibility that search engines have to deliver neutral results is extremely high, given the trust that the majority of internet users place in their hands.
Statcounter reports that Google controls around 88 percent of the search engine market in the US, and over 90 percent worldwide. If one company dictates which sites receive the most authority (via higher rankings), there is a huge risk of bias and incomplete representation of information. Not to mention using this dominance of information to direct people towards content that drives profits.
Angela Karl, in an article in TechGenix, explains the abilities of the major platforms to control or heavily influence the public’s access to content. “While this doesn’t always mean that there is an intentional censorship,” Karl says, “these companies could be inserting bias into their algorithms that then affect accessible content.”