It’s fair to say that the majority of people didn’t predict how the modern internet would work. In the early days, back in the 1990s, internet service providers built out the physical network that would carry the data, and then individual website owners bought their servers to process the traffic.
Almost everything was free, and advertising was unobtrusive and comparatively rare.
But as the internet developed, a new model began to emerge: yes, the internet would continue to be free (at least in monetary terms), but those using it would have to pay the price somehow.
Most users of the internet still have the old payment paradigm in their heads - internet service providers get money to provide, well, services on the internet. But in truth, that model has been dead for a long time. Users now hand over their money to ISPs, and data to FAANG companies in return for the services they get.
What’s Wrong With Handing Over Data?
FAANG companies - Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Google - as coined by Jim Cramer, are now the dominant players on the web. They control social media, entertainment and search, and they act as the primary gateways through which people access the internet. Their success is built on collecting as much information about their users as possible so that they can feed them with the most suitable advertising, boosting their revenue even further.
Gatekeepers, however, can be problematic, especially when they are so dominant. They can obtain information that most people do not want to give knowingly. Often advertisers can infer the products that people might need in the future from their online behaviour, even if users themselves do not realise they need them right now.
For those who love privacy, this is a nightmare. Big tech companies now have a lot of information about their users, and under different political circumstances, this could be abused extensively. A freedom-hating regime could take internet data to infer which private citizens could be a threat to their tyranny and use it to stamp out resistance. But even less extreme problems could emerge: anybody who has personal information about a user potentially has power over them.
This has led many more people to look into getting on the dark web. The dark web is precisely what it sounds like: a version of the internet where users are untraceable and anonymous. In essence, the dark web is trying to return the internet to the early days, before FAANG dominance, when users could enjoy significantly more privacy.
It’s not just for criminals either, although that’s what the media seems to suggest. Privacy is essential for preventing hackers from discovering information about you that they could then use in phishing and other types of attacks. The less they know about users, the better.
The modern internet is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, people have access to thousands of dollars worth of services which do not cost them money. But on the other, they must hand over their data. Big Brother is watching you, but it’s not the state, it’s companies listed on the New York Stock Exchange.
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