Unwarranted government surveillance is an intrusion on basic human rights that threatens the very foundations of a democratic society. I call on all web users to demand better legal protection and due process safeguards for the privacy of their online communications, including their right to be informed when someone requests or stores their data.
Since <Blink> won’t blink in Blink, Firefox would be the only remaining browser that allows text to actually flash using the <Blink> element.
Vijit Assar, The Evolution of the Web, In a Blink, The New Yorker.
FJP: It must have been really fun to write that sentence. The whole piece is worth a read if you want an easy enough 101 on the history of internet browsers and what’s coming next. Which, if you use a web browser, you should. And it’s in The New Yorker, so you can show this to your grandma and maybe she’ll read it too.
Rumor has it that online presence is everything. The image of who you are on the Internet is who people assume you are in real life, and you get to own and craft that image yourself. But, what happens if you surrender that image to someone (or something) else, and how you’re represented is at the mercy of the executor?
DeadSocial, _LivesOn, and IfIDie are services that post social media messages on your behalf after you croak — with post-options ranging from personally written notes to messages generated by algorithms based on your social media habits. You can even select a trusted executor, like a member of your family or a close friend, to monitor the posts.
But what happens if that executor is in fact a family member, and he or she dies? Does the permission to control your online personality go to some dude hunched over a computer in a cubicle at _LivesOn? And by the time that happens, will it be a hundred years in the future, after everyone you knew personally is dead, and there’s no chance of the person or algorithm responsible for your posthumous personality to accurately represent you? Will the online-you eventually just become this character that’s been invented by Joe Shmoe?
If you’re sitting there thinking, “No corporation will be allowed to use me like that. Cyber-me or real-me, I’m still a person, not property,” then consider the current Myriad Genetics case — where the Supreme Court is contemplating whether or not it will be okay to patent human genes.
Can genes be patented? This spring, the Supreme Court will hear a case that may well decide the question, and the consequences for American biomedicine could be huge. Over three years ago, in May 2009, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Public Patent Foundation (PPF) filed a lawsuit in the Federal District Court for the Southern District of New York seeking to overturn the patents on DNA isolated from two human genes. Called BRCA1 and BRCA2, the genes significantly increase a woman’s risk of breast and ovarian cancer. The main defendant was the Myriad Genetics Corporation, a biotechnology firm in Utah that controls the patents—and is legally entitled for the life of the patent (now twenty years) to exclude all others from using these genes in breast cancer research, diagnostics, and treatment. Other defendants were the University of Utah Research Foundation, which had come to own the patents, and the United States Patent and Trademark Office (PTO), which had granted them.
If courts are actually considering patenting genes, would it be so farfetched to assume that a company would want to patent our online presence if we gave them access to our social media accounts?
And if we did grant them this access, should we consider the option to patent our online brands so corporations can’t do whatever they want with those brands after we die? How long will these patents last? Is it inevitable that our social media selves will have no choice but to be cyber-enslaved?
And this gets to the fundamental problem with Google Fiber: It’s totally awesome, and totally unnecessary. During my time in Kansas City, I spoke to several local businesspeople, aspiring startup founders, and a few city boosters. They were all thrilled that Google had come to town, and the few who’d gotten access to the Google pipe said they really loved it. But I couldn’t find a single person who’d found a way to use Google Fiber to anywhere near its potential—or even a half or quarter of what it can do. It was even difficult to find people who could fully utilize Google Fiber in their imaginations. As hard as people tried, few could even think up ways to do something truly amazing with the world’s fastest Internet.
Slate’s Farhad Manjoo in What Do You Do With the World’s Fastest Internet Service?
In March of 2010, Google announced its intention to build super-fast fiber-optic Internet service in “a small number of trial locations across the United States.” A year later, after receiving more than 1,000 applications from cities and towns across the country, Google chose Kansas City as its first location. Last November, Google began installing service in people’s homes. For $70 a month, the company offers Kansas City residents a 1-gigabit Internet line—the fastest home Internet service available anywhere in the world, about 150 times faster than the average American broadband speed of 6.7 Mbps. (You also get 1 terabyte of online storage as part of the deal, something Google normally sells for $50 a month.) For $120 a month, you get the 1-Gb line plus cable-like TV service, as well as a Nexus 7 tablet that you can use as your remote. There’s also a “free” plan: After you pay a $300 construction fee—which you can split into 12 payments of $25—Google will provide your home with a 5-Mbps Internet line for “at least seven years,” and probably indefinitely. (Legally, the company needed to provide an end date for service.)
Besides stream and download really fast, Manjoo can’t conceive much else to do with it and finds Google’s “do anything you want” answer singularly unhelpful. Thoughts?