It is interesting to see that, only a few days after the web asked users to unite to fight against SOPA and PIPA, supposedly in order to preserve the freedom of the internet, both Google and Facebook have announced that they are implementing changes which will remove people’s rights to choice over their own privacy. Google is merging personal data from YouTube, Gmail, Google+ and more while Facebook is implementing Timeline, an application which will simplify the collation of data about us. Neither company is offering an opt-out. “It’ll be better like this,” they say. “Trust us.”
Maybe they’re right, perhaps the new systems will be wonderful to use, but that’s scarcely the point. Just a few short weeks ago the fear was that governments would be able to restrict what we are able to share on-line; now we have major web presences telling us that we will have no choice but to share everything that we are. You can almost see their point, though: if they don’t have access to all the information about us then how can they possibly sell it.
The internet was hailed as a brave new world when it first opened up to the masses – it was supposed to be about choice, freedom and empowerment of the people – but now it has become a corporate institution. This isn’t democracy; we are being offered nothing more than a choice between dictatorships: elected parties characterised by self-interest and protectionism or powerful, unelected companies with their own motives of self-interest and protectionism. Never mind the Big (Brother) Society and CCTV, every single thing that you do on-line will be monitored.
And so it seems that internet users are set to become the battleground upon which Facebook and Google, now apparent rivals, will fight it out. I’m reminded of the wars of old, when opposing monarchs would sit on hilltops and watch their populations slug it out beneath them – except that we aren’t actually the armies in this battle, of course; humans are, in fact, the treasure being fought over here. People are the currency of marketers and advertisers – we are truly human capital.
For anyone who ever worried about just being regarded as another number: fear not – you’re far more than that. You are a number preceded by a dollar sign. We will all be banked, no matter which way we turn, and the leviathans pay us no interest.