Week 1: Digital naïveté
Were consumers (and many developers) naïve about the prospects of digital freedom, and the extent to which we could trust Silicon Valley startups with our data?
yes, because the internet was already more free than the ‘Real World’ and so it was expected that such a circumstance would remain as such perpetually. people using the early internet were naïve about the prospects of a Big Tech takeover as the technology was decentralized from the onset and many assumed it would always remain within that spirit.
@hampson Yes. I agree. But it seems like the rules to the game changed along the way. I am not an expert in the history of the internet, but based on the materials provided, it seems like the internet we have today is not the internet as it was originally intended/designed. Playing by the early rules, there was reason to believe that a take-over was unlikely or impossible. But the addition of profitable enterprises and browsers (? from what I was able to understand) made the circumstances under which people accessed the internet different. Perhaps this was not widely understood at the time.
I think one of the issues here might be particularly American. Progressive or left-of-center politics in this country has itself undergone changes that I think are relevant. While progressive ideas were in the minority, or at least had less control over cultural institutions, their refrain was always "liberalism" in its classical articulation. "All we want is the freedom to say the things we want to say, just like you ("conservatives" in the broad sense, or establishment, who currently control the institutions) have the freedom to say the things you want to say". And this with respect to a variety of issues, mostly social (divorce, abortion, gay marriage, etc.). In the past ten years, as it has become clear that progressives have majority control over most cultural institutions, the tone has shifted dramatically as "they" have moved to consolidate power and destroy opposition. Those responsible for running big tech have simply followed this same ideological trajectory. Initial requests for fair play and freedom while in the "minority" gave way to authoritarianism once in the "majority" (again, minority and majority referring to control of institutions rather than numerical advantage).
Though I think that there are technical issues here, and that reworking the way we access information on the internet is valuable, we cannot forget the cultural background. In this sense I am not sure it was naïveté. Given the claims that were made early on, it was reasonable to trust.
I don't know the answer to question of naivete for certain, being fairly young myself (so I didn't really see the evolution of the internet in the same way as many others). As was alluded to in the discussion on YouTube though, the 'we' in the question of 'were we naive?' is imperative. Devs, early adopters, etc. may well have been naive, but I see no reason to assume that the general population was - I simply don't think they cared enough.
There are many people in the general population that still don't care. The ethics of companies such as Facebook, Twitter etc. are well known, but people still use them because they are convenient. People literally pay for smart speakers etc., with the full knowledge that they can be listened to (a huge privacy issue, as far as I am concerned) - they still do this, because of the convenience. It is relatively easy to buy a smartphone that someone has ported an Open Source/Google-services-free OS to, but people still don't - for the sake of convenience.
I think this is a question of human nature. Some people can always take advantage of a centralised system that allows for this. I find it hard to believe that people didn't think that some individuals would try this. But most people aren't inherently good or evil - they're inherently lazy. Give them something that is sufficiently easy to implement and use, and they'll use it. If we cannot do this, we may well be struggling because promises such as 'freedom' or 'privacy' will only galvanise a certain subset of the population that feels under threat to begin with. Perhaps this is another thing that people were naive about?
@lacroix Thank you for pointing this out. This is a big deal and I was trying to find an organic and inoffensive way to bring the issue up. Convenience is the major issue. The fact of the matter is that Microsoft, Google, et al. make really useful programs. I have been on a personal journey to try and disentangle myself from their ecosystem but it is really hard. For work I basically have to use Google docs. Trying to switch to Linux OS has its challenges as well. Linux is like the flipside of the coin for decentralization. There are so many versions that popular and useful software often isn't written for any Linux distribution.
So in some sense it is laziness. But in another sense it is workability. Going without Google and Microsoft, at least in professional life, is nearly impossible. Private life is maybe different, and that is where most of this really matters.
Maybe there is an underlying problem with work/private life overlap. We should compartmentalize life better than we do. The tech I use at work can track my use but that tech never enters my house.
These are all great answers.
The shift to authoritarian politics (which isn't just in the U.S.; it's in many countries) is just what gave teeth to the problem of centralization and the concentration of power. In the 90s, a lot of geeks would have been highly skeptical if you had told them, "You know, in 20-25 years, the entire Internet will be dominated by a few corporations. Apple and Microsoft are two, but several don't even exist yet. Open protocols, for most of Internet traffic, will be largely a thing of the past. Most people will have 'accounts' on corporate websites, and those corporations will own and control the traffic."
The naive response at the time would be: "No way, man. Geeks are like the most libertarian bunch!" (This was the conventional wisdom at the time.) "They would never stand for that. Even if there were big AOL-type corporations dominating some stuff, the free Internet would be better!"
Ordinary people were pretty naive too, even those who did care about free speech and privacy (like me). For many years, as they moved to Gmail and joined Mom on Facebook, they told themselves, "Well, these companies just want to make money. People will complain if they get out of line. Maybe things will get bad, but then they'll be replaced."
We just didn't realize how bad things could get.