Law in the Internet Society
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World Wide Web – or wieso, weshalb, warum?

-- By MarvinGalloway - 09 Oct 2020

The title of this essay refers to words that could be translated to mean the very same thing. The German words, wieso, weshalb, and warum, in practice, translate to the English word why. They are used to ask a simple question in various different ways, which this essay is also attempting to do. Can there be an explanation for the perception of younger generations apparently being readily comfortable to engage with the internet while expressing less concern for the use of their data?


Whether we are talking about social media platforms, search engines, streaming services, video-chat software, e-commerce websites, or many others ranging from internet-connected personal assistants to chat applications, a common theme that unites most commercially successful versions of these is the willingness with which more and more people have embraced them to become part of their daily lives and routines. Various surveys have shown that across generations, the way that we interact with the internet and our views of it are rather similar than different. However, while topics such as data collection and security, privacy protection, and open access have been frequently discussed in academia, politics, and to some extent, mainstream media, many of us seem to acknowledge the fact that concerns are valid, yet not everybody chooses to critically review their own habits and to question the capitalist structure on which the mentioned products or services are built upon, and the role that we (specifically, our data) play individually within the larger system. Most striking may be the observation that there seems to be a considerable gap between generations when it comes to cyber security education. One study suggests that about 59% of respondents aged 18 to 22 did not receive instructional or informative training focused on digital technologies. For comparisons sake, the same survey indicated that only 41% of people aged 23 to 35, and 43% of people older than 36 years of age said the same. The authors theorized that this stark difference could possibly be explained by regular training received in workplace settings, generally more available to older participants, although noting that such education may be most needed for the younger demographic.


Perhaps it is the selbstverständlichkeit, to borrow another word from the German language, the taking for granted or obvious nature of a state of being, which has shaped my generations relationship with technology and big data, that is to blame for the current dynamic that exists. Our world has changed dramatically, at an exponential rate. My first cell phone was a Siemens A52. My families first personal computer used a Windows 2000 operating system and I still recall the lengthy process of having to dial into the quite expensive 2,000 kbit connection. We treated these things as revelations, as ways to connect to the world and lower transaction costs. Yet, we did so without much caution or concern regarding our own relationship with the tools we were using. Personally, I never thought much about the type of content I interacted with online or who might track my every action. The secondary education I received was broad and general when it came to the internet and the only computer-focused course that was available to me was geared toward coding a rather simple set of instructions inside a computer game. Granted, this occurred relatively early in my life, in the 6th grade to be exact, yet this was also roughly the same time during which many in my generation began actively engaging online.


While numerous experts and consumer protection advocates warned us for years about the dangers of data collection and algorithms that are designed to predict our behavior in order to benefit all kinds of actors, whether political, commercial, or others, we ignored such alarmist notions. The earlier mentioned survey found that 18- to 22-year-old respondents were less concerned about the impact of what they post online (17% stating that was “rarely” or “never” the case) as compared to their older counterparts (between 6% and 11%). Additionally, older generations seemed to be more aware and cautious of privacy concerns, with 92% of people older than 36 and 93% of individuals aged 23 to 35 saying that they would want “a little more” or “a lot more” privacy online. In the young demographic, contrastingly, this was only the case for 81% with 19% stating that they did not want more privacy. Could it then be that the lack of cyber security education correlates with our awareness of important privacy issues? I believe so, many of us blindly engaged in various types of transparency when it came to our communications, interactions, and actions in the web. We likely did so because we were not aware of prevalent concerns and therefore did not bother to engage in a critical discourse that would have allowed us to question what happens to our data and what purposes it could be used for. After all, using social media services, for example, has replaced to a certain extent many of our normal human interactions. One who chose not to partake, in effect isolated him or herself from our peers. It would be difficult to assign blame for this development to the very users to whom social media sites are advertised towards, a particular young demographic. Many of us came into contact with these services at very young ages during which one could not necessarily have expected us to engage in critical thought regarding future privacy concerns. Thus, it may be that the answer to the question of, wieso, weshalb, and warum is that we simply did not know, and to some extent still do not know now. The ever-growing threat of tracking, data harvesting, and identity theft has not affected my generations engagment with the internet, however, comprehensive education may. We could learn from our experience and instead of merely sounding the alarm about threats to privacy, attempt to institute educational programs that both inform and present alternatives to established data collection services.

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r4 - 31 Jan 2021 - 23:09:01 - MarvinGalloway
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