Technological solutions to assist vulnerable user groups online

The majority of social network site users around the world are young people. Various issues regarding their involvement in social media have been well documented in many reports such as the one by ACMA in Australia.

As we have seen in cases around the globe, some of these youngsters are rather naïve.

Teenagers are inclined to place information on the net that can easily
be misused by others. Similarly, they might put unkind, sometimes vindictive
messages on these sites that they will probably regret if they read them five
or ten years later.

Yet nobody has any control over their own information once they have clicked ‘I agree’.

This feels wrong. It looks wrong. It is wrong.

Unless the digital media companies introduce permission-based concepts, heavy-handed regulations will eventually be imposed- either by individual countries or international bodies.

We find it incomprehensible that companies like Google and Facebook are not pre-empting this and beginning to introduce these permission-based services.

It would be in their interest to keep their fantastic services as free as possible from government interference.

If the information is conveyed appropriately and the benefits are well-presented and explained, most people will be willing to give up certain information in order to receive the attendant benefits – as long as they remain in control of their own information and the way it is used.

However, there may be some other developments that will make it possible to mitigate the internet monopoly.

New FttH networks based on a structural separation between the infrastructure and the services are going to make it possible to deliver parallel services over the one network.

One could use an electrical power board as an analogy here. It is possible to plug different appliances into the same electricity network, independently of each other.

A similar concept applies to structurally-separated, super-fast broadband networks.

I envisage that various organizations are going to provide their own services parallel to the common internet.

For example, the healthcare sector will run its own online system. So will the educational sector and smart home concepts could see energy providers taking a similar approach.

This can lead to competing online systems all offered over the one national (FttH) infrastructure.

So, for instance, schools that are now using Facebook to communicate between children and parents while on an excursion or school trip, or to display school work, will move to the education service, which will be delivered independently of – and more securely than – the regular internet.

This will be unlike the present situation, where all information shared between parents and children over Facebook instantly becomes public and accessible to the data-mining companies after the ‘I agree’ click.

These new technical developments will also lead to other regular internet services. These are services that are not sector-related and which have a far more public basis – but which could specialize in certain public activities.

For example, there could be an ultra-secure network that will be used for banking and financial transactions.

It is not inconceivable that social networks may be moved to a separate network – or may be forced to use a separate network – in order to better provide privacy security of personal data.

With billions of people now using social networks and social media, it is clear that these services are benefiting societies and economies around the world.

However, now that more and more people are becoming familiar with them and beginning to understand how they work, valid concerns are being raised about privacy and governance.

We have no doubt that unless permission-based concepts are introduced, heavy-handed regulation will be implemented which will seriously affect the whole concept of the internet.

This could be a disaster for the internet as we know it.

In particular, we should consider a technical solution to the privacy problem. However, we fear that this will take too long to achieve and in the meantime a number of horror stories will emerge that will prompt governments to take heavy-handed action.

At this point this is avoidable, but unfortunately there are no clear signs that the social network companies are prepared to take a lead.

Paul Budde

Paul Budde is the Managing Director of Paul Budde Communication Pty Limited, trading as BuddeComm (www.budde.com.au) an independent telecommunications research and consultancy organization. BuddeComm has 15 senior analysts and a large international network of researchers and telecoms experts.

One comment

  1. In response to a question from Albert J Brewer (Lawyer, Entrepreneur, Cyberlaw Hacker & Professor (UCV, UCAB)

    Question:
    Is parallel and closed networks the answer to privacy? Wouldn’t it lessen the network value? Any thoughts?

    Answer:
    No Albert I don’t think that parallel or closed networks are the answer, however to a certain extend I can see the developments of specialised sections of the Internet for specialised services, but all part of the same open Internet. For example there could be cloud-based sections dedicated to education, healthcare, specialised business sites etc. Within such sections there could be more control, protection, security, etc.

    However in the wider Internet there should be more emphasis on putting the users in charge of their own information, they should be able to fully control that and indicate who can and cannot have access, we see some developments in this direction but more is needed. If that is not going to happen on a voluntary basis national regulations will start to kick in. Currently most of this resorts under the rather relaxed privacy laws of the US and Europe and others are not happy with this.

    Preferable this is solved on a voluntary basis, but so far we haven’t seen great willingness from Google, Facebook, etc to show leadership here.

    Best Regards,
    Paul Budde

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