The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Internet

The Internet is pretty neat, but this week I’ve been thinking about its dark side. I’m fairly sure that my negative thoughts have nothing to do with the iPad. (Like Steven Johnson and Dan Sinker, I’m more excited by what it portends than I am worried by the lack of generativity.)

None of the phenomena described below are news to anyone who has been paying attention. Often we get so excited about technology’s potential that we fail to think critically about what it can and cannot do and we do not fully account for its seamier sides. (Or maybe I’m just not getting enough sleep.”

Things I saw this week that put me in this state of mind:

  • As reported by John Markoff in the NYT, the Information Warfare Monitor and the Shadowserver Foundation uncovered a “Shadow Network” that “systematically hacked into personal computers in government offices on several continents.” The Shadows in the Cloud report “illustrates the increasingly dangerous ecosystem of crime and espionage and its embeddedness in the fabric of global cyberspace.”
  • North Korea reportedly has developed Red Star,  an operating system “aimed at monitoring user activity.”
  • Hundreds of WordPress users have been victimized by the Networkads malware attack.
  • A copy of Access Controlled: The Shaping of Power, Rights, and Rule in Cyberspace by the Open Net Initiative arrived in my inbox. “As the Internet has grown in political significance, an architecture of control– through technology, regulation, norms and political calculs– has emerged to shape a new geopolitical information landscape,” write Ron Deibert and Rafal Rohozinski in their introduction.  “First-generation filtering techniques may be gradually superseded by a variety of second-generation controls that are more subtle and fluid and deeply integrated into social relations…”
  • Jenny C. Aker and Isaac M. Mbiti  look at the impact of mobile phones in Africa. They found “some good reasons to believe that mobile phones could be the gateway to better lives and livelihoods for poor people.” However, they also point to the “larger problem of infrastructure and governance…problems that investment in telecommunications alone cannot solve. Mobile phones…cannot replace crucial public goods such as roads, power, and water.
  • The announced iPhone ad network is more than a way for Apple to “help our developers make money so they can survive and keep the prices of their apps reasonable.Kim-Mai Cutler notes that location-sensitive iAds could target you based on years and years of your location history…I could push you a coupon to a Starbucks if you’re standing near one now. Or I could push you coupons at certain times of the day, knowing your habitual route to work or your occasional penchant for dropping into a Starbucks at 3 p.m. on Wednesdays.”
  • During a panel discussion at Columbia College, Dan Sinker reminded me of a study (“Home Computer Use and the Development of Human Capital” by Ofer Malamud and Cristian Pop-Eleches) that found a correlation between computer use and lower grades in math and science.

One thought on “The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Internet

  1. Fair enough, you’re not saying the Internet’s bad, you’re just saying we need to remember it’s not good (as in benevolent).

    I still bristle at studies like that last one, though. Essential for science, of course, but always dangerous when solitary findings are circulated in mass media. Surely digital media should become increasingly part of the classroom, just as they are increasingly part of our world. I’m sure the study’s authors and its readership are aware of this — I worry that the audience for its soundbite may not be so canny.

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