Law in the Internet Society


-- By KifayaAbdulkadir - 09 Dec 2021

From time immemorial, we have been in a hyperbolic boxing ring with Big Tech, getting obliterated yet throwing the same punches. Is it perhaps time to switch stances? We are at a point in society where our lives are intertwined with technology that envisioning a future without one is idealistic. Much of what is our current reality was some time ago considered a dystopian future. Tech monopolies have amassed so much power that they have been able to usurp our rights without legal consequences. While we can agree that technology has brought about numerous challenges, is the best way to completely detach from it? For all of its evils, technology has drastically changed our lives and in some ways, for the better. We cannot realistically plan a future centered on the elimination of technology unless we opt to go completely off-grid. But at the same time, coexisting with it should not mean sacrificing our fundamental human rights.

So what is the solution to dealing with this enigma?

Numerous recommendations have been proposed — users have been advised to transition to alternative applications in an attempt to minimize dependency on Big Tech. Suggestions such as using ‘duckduckgo’ instead of google have been proposed, as these alternative sites do not mine as much data as the big tech. On the legal side, the government has been doubling down on anti-trust laws in an attempt to reduce the monopoly of these large companies. Increasing competition in the technology field would supposedly incentivize these platforms to give their best. Once consumers have a wide variety of options to pick from then they can settle on those that prioritize their privacy. However, anti-trust laws alone cannot suffice in a world of ever evolving technology. And though there is speculation that Big Tech might be moving away from trading private data, I must confess I am slightly unconvinced about the plausibility of this scenario. Let’s assume hypothetically Big Tech companies do actually decide to step away from trading private data, who is to say other companies won’t step in to fill the vacuum? In the capitalistic world that we reside in, there will always be buyers and sellers, regardless of a change in the ‘service providers’.

So what are our options? Cutting of technology as we’ve seen is not a solution. We also cannot place the task entirely on users to be vigilant in protecting their privacy. Relying on these platforms to develop a conscience and prioritize the consumers rights is obviously out of question. Additionally, given the multi-faceted nature of technology, we cannot rely on the law alone to fix this concern.

The challenges of technology being confronted today have been long debated for years yet it has continued to maintain its stronghold. The main reason for this is that we have left the future of technology entirely in the hands of technologists. We have let them decide for us what is important and when faced with competing values, they will always prioritize profit over human values. In order to conquer this behemoth, we need to change the manner in which technology products are created and subsequently used. There is a power imbalance between consumers and tech companies- one which they have exploited to our detriment. The only way to reclaim our rights is to become a well-informed society. A surveillance economy is not the only option available for our use of technology, it is the option big tech prefers because it is more profitable for them. If we are aware of the better options available to technologists in innovation then perhaps we can sway the path of technological development.

If we change our position from being merely consumers to prosumers, then we can achieve the desirable outcome we seek- a harmonious coexistence with technology- one that is rooted in the protection of our human values. In the words of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: ‘If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.’ If we deeply learn about digital technology, about the algorithms and the functioning of the system then we can avoid being used by it. This approach to addressing the problem is not one that can be achieved by individuals or by one generation alone. Shielding children from the dangers of technology will not help curb the problem. Education is the engine through which we can achieve change. By teaching young children about design of technological products and the ethical concerns behind them, then we can raise a generation of knowledgeable, civic minded citizens that will prioritize social concern in technological development. Only then can we trust that the next phase of technology will better protect our human rights.

We are the key to a better digital future. The reason why the legal solutions provided thus far have been woefully inadequate and myopic is because regulators have been playing catch up with Big Tech. Technology is evolving exponentially and because the law is very slow in keeping up, regulatory gaps are being exposed. This is why companies have continuously been able to skirt the operation of the law. By the time a regulation has been implemented, these companies have introduced new innovations that raise new legal and ethical implications, not fitting into the already available categories. By being prosumers, we blur the lines between technologists and consumers. Legal interventions can then be holistic as they arise from a fully informed perspective, with lawyers, technologists, policy makers and consumers at the decision making table.

The more technology advances, the more intrusive it will get and the more problems we will face. If we can intervene at the inception stage then this will help curb the problem before it becomes intractable. Big Tech has proven to us they cannot be trusted to be proper custodians of technology. This is a systemic problem that cannot be addressed by individuals alone. It requires an overhaul of the entire system. Every citizen, not only technologists, should have a voice in determination of things that will affect us. By weakening technologists epistemic monopoly, then we empower consumers to govern technology instead of Big Tech governing us.

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r3 - 11 Jan 2022 - 22:46:35 - KifayaAbdulkadir
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