Fire was one of the best inventions by humankind. Despite the risks associated with it, fire has proven to be a boon for us. Similarly, new-age technologies, like the Internet, are proving to be great levellers because they treat all users as equal. However, several applications associated with the Internet are turning out to be nuisance. “Now tech companies are under fire for creating problems instead of solving them,” says a report in The New York Times. “Social media might have originally promised liberation, but it proved an even more useful tool for stoking anger. The manipulation was so efficient and so lacking in transparency that the companies themselves barely noticed it was happening. Tech companies have accrued a tremendous amount of power and influence... the Internet long ago became a business, which means the companies’ first imperative is to do right by their stockholders.”
As I pointed out in my previous article, we, the users of this technology, especially Internet and Internet of Things (IoT), are now more like a product than consumers for the developers and service-providers. What is more dangerous is the spread of IoT devices, like cameras, watches, house-cleaning robots or smart refrigerators, etc. Not only are these encroaching on our lives, but could also make it us more vulnerable in terms of safety and security. Explaining these aspects, Bruce Schneier, chief technology officer of IBM Resilient, in his blogpost, says, “Markets, as we have repeatedly learned over the past century, are terrible mechanisms for improving the safety of products and services. It was true for automobile, food, restaurant, airplane, fire, and financial-instrument safety. The reasons are complicated, but basically, sellers do not compete on safety features because buyers cannot efficiently differentiate products based on safety considerations. The race-to-the-bottom mechanism that markets use to minimise prices also minimises quality. Without government intervention, the IoT remains dangerously insecure.”
For example, many mobile phones run on Android. Yet, some, like those from Samsung, come preloaded with software (bloatware) installed by the manufacturer, which the user may not even need. Other phones may have plain Android installed. Both run fine; but the user may not know, or may be uninterested in, the security level of any of the mobiles. Unfortunately, even governments, except a few from Europe, are least interested in reining in the spread and, thus, dangers of Internet and IoT devices. In June 2017, the European Union levied a fine of $2.7 billion on Google, for putting its own products above those of its rivals in the searches. Germany has a new law that penalises websites for not taking down hate speeches. As far as India is concerned, the less said, the better. It is really shocking, but true, that in a country that recognises right to privacy as fundamental right, there is no protection available for citizens from threats and coercions originating from the cyberspace and even from government departments.
So what is the solution? One could be to disconnect (from Internet) to remain sane and sober. According to a report from the union ministry of health and family welfare, there is an alarming rise in new disorders that occur due to heavy usage of Internet and social media. This report is based on a survey conducted over six months and shows Mumbai, Kolkata and Bengaluru as the top-3 cities where people require psychiatric help. Some may argue that disconnecting from the Internet is not possible anymore. If not all the time, you can at least cut down the time you spend online. Start by putting mobile phones in ‘do-not-disturb’ or ‘privacy mode’ while sleeping. Minimise use of social media, like Facebook, WhatsApp or Twitter, especially from mobile devices. Remember, material things are meant and created for us. We, humans, are not created for materialistic things. Mobile phones were invented for us as a tool for communication. We were not invented for mobiles or any other device that turns us into an addict.