May 26, 2014

Means to an End

Members of the Information Security community at Stack Exchange chip in with some (doubtfully applicable) suggestions for someone who’s been on the web for a while and who now wants to anonymize themselves and go offline:

The problem is heuristics. All mentioned tools are built on heuristics and the only way to avoid them is to change how you live completely. You can be fingerprinted by the modules installed in your browser. By the programs you use and the frequency you use them.

These days you’re going further than just online behavior. Shops know what you buy in what amounts, because nobody buys all the same brands you are getting fingerprinted constantly. This is used for targetted advertising, but it can also theoretically be used to track you.

I think I went online for the first time at age eight, sometime in 1997. Dial-up was the only way for private consumers to access the internet, and my folks paid by the minute for a maximum speed of 56 KB/s. Google was still a research project in Stanford’s labs.

Then came ISDN, then DSL, and then…we’re here. We’ve come a long way, and some people are already asking whether we’ve gone too far. Who knows where we’re going to be in the next few years?

I’m excited about the web that my unborn children and I will get to use together, but I’m also scared by the thought of them introduced to it as early as I did. This is not about trust or openness: This is about how the developments in the last two decades that made the web so powerful and empowering and inciting and open, are also the same ones that make it so potentially…hazardous.

Maybe by the time I have kids our education system would have finally awakened from that coma it slid into back in the fifties. Maybe by then, web education will be an integral part of our children’s curriculums.

Wishful thinking.

But when contemplating all this — and this is something that bothers me in the rising discussions about technology’s effects on employment and the human kind in general — we need not forget that technology is indifferent: It does not desire or covet. It does not strive for better or worse. It never wants and never fears. Never aims or avoids.

Technology is neither good nor bad.

We are.

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