By Kirstie Yu,
Former Vice President Al Gore visited UC San Diego on February 10, 2013, to discuss his latest book, The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change. During the course of the night at Mandeville Auditorium, Mr. Gore talked about the six aspects of our society he believes will strongly influence the future of the world. These aspects include the emergence of “Earth Inc.” from increased economic globalization, the evolution of “the Global Mind” from more advanced global communication, the shift of political power both globally and within the United States, population and economic growth that is beginning to reach natural resources’ limits, biotechnological revolutions that are changing evolution, and, of course, human impact on the environment. He noted that there will continue to be unknown negative socioeconomic impacts on our globe, but identifying these drivers allows us to make knowledge-based decisions in the future, hopefully forestalling these issues indefinitely. The most intriguing of these drivers is the development of the Global Mind. Potential challenges with digital privacy and cybersecurity are issues demanding a response. Indeed, it seems the only way to quell this innovative form of trespassing is through regulation of the Internet that must be enacted through both national and global institutions.
The evolution of the “Global Mind” has emerged from the expansion of the Internet and groundbreaking communication technology in the past decade that allows for the instantaneous sharing of information and thoughts. However, Mr. Gore indicated that this information is shared not only to one another, but also to an increasing array of intelligent devices which are changing the way we organize businesses and conduct ourselves in the marketplace. More than ever, the Digital Revolution is allowing us to share knowledge with increasing rapidity, leading to the creation of the Global Mind, a “commonwealth of all the world’s information, accessible to all the world’s people” (Gore 45).
Due to this constant access of information, the Global Mind lets individuals everywhere be more efficient and productive in their daily lives. The former Vice President brought up the example of how common it is nowadays to be engaged in a discussion at the dinner table or a meeting and to reach a point where someone will immediately be able to find the answer to a question through a quick search on his or her smartphone. The advent of social media has also emerged as a hassle-free medium to share our thoughts and feelings. Although global communication is being revolutionized at a blinding pace through the development of the Global Mind, a question arises: how does society protect both individual and collective rights without becoming the thought police of our collective conscious?
First, our privacy is jeopardized through the emergence of a “stalker economy.” Mr. Gore pointed out that looking up a word right now on Dictionary.com will automatically put 234 small computer programs called cookies on your device that will track your movement around the Internet. Advertisements that are related to recent searches and visits to websites are taken by these companies to be personal interests, resulting in the all-too vexing sidebar ad. Mr. Gore notes that even though it may sometimes be nice to see advertisements relevant to one’s interests, it is disturbing to know that data is collected without our consent and shared with various advertisers. The most troubling part is that even if we want to stop our information from being tracked, there is little we as Internet consumers can do about it. Although individual users can change their cookies settings or physically delete cookies, many websites will not allow users to view its content unless cookies are allowed. This greatly limits the amount of information a user can access. However, companies such as Apple and political powers such as the European Union have stepped up and taken action towards protecting Internet users from a drastic invasion of privacy.
In order to adequately protect the privacy of an ever-increasing amount of Internet users, political institutions and companies need to actively pass legislation and set down rules for software developers. The European Union and Apple have offered solutions toward protecting the privacy of Internet consumers, most notably by having websites and applications explicitly ask for permission before taking information from the user. First, in November 2009, the “European Parliament approved a directive on Internet that…required opt-in before websites could install cookies on the user’s computer” (Bradner). However, the countries of the EU have had the freedom to pass whatever legislation they deem necessary, resulting in a lack of uniformity. This has led to criticism about how disruptive it is for a pop-up window asking to store cookies to appear on every website visited, but this issue extends beyond the sphere of individual choice by imposing a threat upon national independence and collective security.
This regulation was further challenged in December 2012, when the United States refused to sign the United Nations’ telecommunications treaty out of claims that Internet freedom was being restricted through a treaty that is too vague. Nevertheless, with the US’s unrestricted approach towards digital information proliferation, Internet consumers will continue to be exposed to dangers. The unconvincing, ignorant argument often postured in the defense of a lawless digital society boils down to: if one does not know what information is being taken from them, it cannot hurt them. Though it is a continuing process for EU countries to figure out the best practices for each nation, the consensus is a desire to satisfy the directive. To enact the requirement of opt-in for cookies sets a strong guideline that Internet websites must follow in order to maintain Internet users’ privacy rights, which definitely moves Internet privacy in the right direction.
Similarly, Apple’s iOS 6in Fall 2012, “Apple now requires apps to get explicit user permission before accessing Contacts, Calendars, Reminders, and Photos” in addition to location data (Golson). Apple was at the center of controversy over the geotagging of photos and uploading of users’ address books to its servers used by a popular application called Path in early February 2012. With the new opt-in service that asks for permission by mobile apps that potentially could store a large amount of consumers’ personal information, there has been a notable change in the amount of control a user has over the information he or she would like to share with apps. This is a smart move by Apple that results in stronger protection for its consumers who otherwise would have been completely oblivious as to how their personal information is being used without discretion or consent on the Internet.
Furthermore, invasions of privacy can also happen even if people are not surfing the web through the activities of “private hackers and cybercriminals who use techniques such as phishing – which employs enticing e-mail messages in order to trick people into clicking on an attachment” (Gore 82). This self-installing program infects a personal device, extracting private information without consent. In early 2013, large conglomerates like Sony and major US banks such as JP Morgan Chase & Co. and Bank of America have been hacked, resulting in slowed access to finances—prompting US intelligence leaders to say in March 2013 that “cyber attacks and cyber espionage have supplanted terrorism as the top security threat facing the United States” (Hosenball). Further threatening global stability, a private US security company has accused China of being the source of such hacks, an attack that China denied leading to countering claims that the US launched cyberattacks on their companies
Highlighting this at the individual level, a Russian website has posted the financial information and social security numbers of high profile celebrities and politicians, such as Mitt Romney, Tiger Woods, Beyoncé, Hillary Clinton, and even First Lady Michelle Obama earlier this month. It is alarming to see the seriousness of these attacks and the resulting projection of FBI and Secret Service investigations into the global cyberworld. This poses a great question of how the United Nations can effectively influence nations to sign its telecommunications treaty and how the United States government should create new laws in order to deter these cyberattacks, especially those from other countries.
The US government needs to address cybersecurity concerns through stronger legislation requiring consistency. The main problem is that the Internet is moving at such a rapid pace that security experts cannot keep up. Ed Amoroso, the Chief Security Officer for AT&T, deems that it is difficult for a nation to have a coherent technical and architectural strategy for preventing cyberattacks from crippling essential critical infrastructure services. A way to combat cyberattacks is strong regulation of the Internet requiring consistency for companies in terms of security and installation of deliberate deceptive traps called “honeypots.” If protection is not created for these companies, it is highly likely that the US economy may face another slowdown. With US refusal to accept the UN telecommunications treaty created in Dubai last December in its current state, the US needs to propose alternatives as to what specifically it is looking for in a global treaty that can protect the US from foreign hackers outside US jurisdiction. This treaty would not be focused solely on the US of course, but the sooner the US can accept a global telecommunications treaty, the sooner it can begin to find protection for its companies and Internet consumers.
No doubt, the Global Mind driver appeals the most to my generation because of our omni-present immersion into the tools of the Digital Revolution. The wealth of knowledge, personal thoughts, and feelings shared by people globally are available to us in ways that are only improving day by day. Nonetheless, the challenge the growing Global Mind brings to privacy and cybersecurity is one that needs to be discussed before the collection of our personal information and how much companies can learn about us through our activity on the Internet gets out of control. A delay of discussion of strong legislation for the Internet globally and within the US will result in a lack of adequate precautions that forebodes a civil society negatively impacted in the future.
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