Fox (n): carnivore of genus vulpes; crafty person; scavenger; (vb) to confuse; -ed (adj): to be drunk.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Bus stop rules.

IMAGINE a media company which wants to stick its nose into every single part of your life.

It wants your passwords, email address, phone number. It needs your home address, takes your bank details, and to keep a copy of your personal pictures.

It ends up knowing about your sexual tastes, your salary, your children. It does all this without your explicit permission; in fact it does it automatically whenever you use its products.

And it's not a secret. Most of us know about it only because unfriendly journalists - the best kind, unless you're the person they're being unfriendly towards - have been reporting on it.

The corporation behind it all is worth billions, is run by people we don't know but world leaders seem to, and sprawls all over the world. They've been caught out breaking the rules and invading our privacy, and then failing to co-operate with the authorities investigating them.

And nor do we. We still buy the products which they use to harvest our information, and give them our passwords quite willingly.

So where is the inquiry into the ethics and practices of the giants of our modern digital age? Where are the politicians demanding a change to the law, the celebrities wanting stricter regulation, the judges handing down decisions about how Google and Apple and Facebook are infringing the European Convention on Human Rights which says every individual has a right to respect for the privacy of their private and family life, home and correspondence?

Ah. Well the politicians are having dinner with the corporations, the celebrities are attending corporation parties to have their egos stroked, and the judges don't understand Twitter.

There are plenty of differences between newspapers and the internet, one of which is that so far the internet hasn't been shut down for hacking a dead girl's mobile phone. But if a part of it did do something as dramatically bad, would we use a different website? Throw the sexy modern phone away and buy a different model? Abandon our iPads and Kindles and tablets in dudgeon?

No. We wouldn't.

Which is why rather than changing anything those digital giants are stepping things up a gear. They're going to take pictures of our gardens, something which on the rare occasions a newspaper's done the same has led to a costly court case and most editors deciding it's not worth the bother.

A friend of mine bought an iPad the other day. "When I turned it on it wanted my email address and name," he told me in the pub. "So I thought fine, and used the pseudonym I always use for online stuff. Then it wanted my date of birth, so I put in 1/1/76 like I always do.

"Then it wanted my bank account details to check that information was correct. It wanted a second email address to verify the first one, it wanted me to OK loads of stuff I wasn't OK with, and there was no way to activate it without giving it everything about me. Why?"

If a newspaper invades your privacy it can be confusing, upsetting, wrong, but you can normally see something produced as a result of it. You might not like the end product but there is a system of cause and effect which is easy to understand. They want pictures and information in order to print them, and we all get to see and judge it when they do.

Of what use are baby pictures to Facebook? Why does Apple care if its customers have a bank account in a different name? How is a picture of my back garden going to be of anything more than passing interest even to people who have lived in my house and want to check if the roses are still there?

That's something we don't know so much about and can't see. We can't hold it in our hands on the train or argue about it much over Sunday lunch.

But they're using that stuff for something, because Google makes £40,000 a minute. Apple does twice that, and iPhones alone turnover £64bn a year. Regardless of its current share price, Facebook had a revenue of £2.3billion last year.

They also make, or sell products which are used to make, vast amounts from porn; to stalk, kill and terrify; and if you're of that bent there's dead schoolgirls to perv over as well.

Nothing wrong with a business turning a profit or avoiding paying more tax than it wants to, legally. But we treat our digital world as though it were a bit like a science-fiction movie - a place where everyone is equal, there's no war, people are in agreement and everything is clean and white and shiny and more than anything else, it's unquestionably moral.

In fact it's full of humans, doing human stuff. A lot of it's not moral at all and you would be horrified if you knew about it. And if you did know, you'd sit and complain about how awful it is to your friends and then Google the latest Facebook troll story, browse some online paparazzi pictures of celebrities, or send some nasty tweets you don't think will be traced back to you.

The most pernicious thing is this: if it's not on the internet, people don't think it exists. If it is on the internet, people think it must be true.

The other day I saw a press photographer from a reputable organisation - I won't name it because he'll only get trolled - announce he was building his own drone to send up and take pictures from the air. He illustrated his point by posting an aerial view of someone's back garden.

If a newspaper said they were doing that, a lot of people would get their knickers in a twist. When Apple and Google announce they're both sending up spy planes we merely wonder what the neighbours' back yard is like.

Morality cannot be forced and only comes about when we are, in Gordon Brown's words, "incentivised". As children we are taught that being good brings reward and being bad does not, and we figure out empathy and other stuff along the way. The traditional media are old and crotchety now, a bit like Prince Philip who doesn't see what's wrong with how we've always done things but quite capable of being modern when it suits.

The internet is a teenager, testing its strength and seeing how far it can go while at the same time never having been set a single rule and being taught that the more it does what it's doing the more money it'll make.

It will grow up, but it's going to hurt. In the meantime there is just one rule for the internet, which is otherwise a fairly lawless place: don't do anything you wouldn't do at a bus stop.

That means not swearing too much, no masturbating, don't scream at strangers and be careful what private information you reveal. Think about how you interact with the world, because that's what the internet is: a screen-sized portal to the entire planet.

And yes it's us that have to follow the rules, and perhaps it would be nice if just once the big boys had to do the same. If the internet giants had to behave, play nicely, and refrain from picking all our pockets while we wait for the number 42.

So let's hope our leaders give them some strict parenting.


"Have you seen the internet?" "I thought you had it." "No that's your job." "BUGGER."


Dave Nicholls said...

I don't understand all the stuff about the iPad. I got an iPad recently and it worked straight out of the box.

To be able to get extra apps, you need an Apple ID, which does require an email address. If you want to get apps that aren't free it'll need credit card details, but I've no idea why your friend would get asked for bank account details, or multiple email addresses.

Are you sure they weren't setting up a mobile data account? If they were then it's the service provider, not Apple that's collecting the details. Presumably so they can check credit details before setting up the contract.


Matt said...

Policing the internet?

Great idea apart from a a lot of major issues, the biggest being who owns it?

Yes you can contact the owners of twitter/facebook but you then run into problems of which country has juristiction and who can tell them what to do.

Judges/media not knowing what the internet is and how it works doesn't help (see Paul Chambers tweet joke trial for instance).

Also whenever the media report or goverment talk about the internet you can always tell they have no experience about the subject (ie calling it 'the twitter' or shutting down one torrent site to combat downloading), what they need to do is to discuss issues with people who understand and use the internet daily to find how best to, not police, but make the internet a better tool and user experiance for all.

Anonymous said...

No masturbating? On the internet? What the hell are we supposed to use it for then?

Andy said...


Alistair said...

I recently bought an IPad and it did not require all your friend says it did. Very strange if true. Other information to Google Facebook etc is voluntary. Apple needs bank details for downloads. Don't have a problem with that. You don't have to join them so fail to see your point!

Mikey Shotgun said...

Needing the same name as is on your card is a fairly standard security measure. That's been the case since the dawn of internet shopping.

The Apple stuff in here really is just linkbait.

Anonymous said...

Writing this on my iPad (see it even autocorrected iPad....) and when I set it up a week ago it didn't need all that info; but that may be because iTunes already has it....

Anonymous said...

The reason why we're alright with Apple or Google sending drones into the air is because it's done without an agenda. If the media did it, it would only be t tell us who some bird from TOWIE is shagging. The media has demonstrated an agenda, the internet companies like Google haTvn't which is why we trust themire than the press.

Buddha B'der said...

Well, that's shattered my illusions. I never saw Foxy as a member of The Fun Police :-/

Anonymous said...

I've often wondered how trustworthy the large Internet companies are that I trust to hold my emails holding my some of my most sensitive and personal information. It's not stopped me using the and giving them my data but I do worry at times.
If I was a company I would be able (even expected) to seek independent assurance that my information is safe. As an individual I have no such influence and just swim along. It woe be good if our legislatures issued licences for permitting such services and that the condition of the license included independent reviews and assurance our information was safe and secure.

Anonymous said...

Er. Data protection act?

Common Cents said...

Google, Facebook and Twitter are free services. When you don't pay for the product, the likelihood is you are the product. That's what we are in social media/internet terms. Our profiles are assets for sale. The better the profile, the more valuable we are as assets.

Would anything like as many people have taken out subscriptions to Twitter or Facebook or Google if that was the model? I suspect not. It's the price of free. We've sold our souls to the devil to see pictures of the food our 'friends' cooked and to learn what they think about TV/the weather/the news.

Anonymous said...

Foxy clearly has no idea what linking multiple computers, hard drives or servers together achieves. You can't parent digital connections. As the middle east found out.

There's a deep net/web that exceeds the surface web like Russia exceeds the UK.

This article is like a child wondering who sets the price of sweets.

Just saying.

Anonymous said...

"It woe be good if our legislatures issued licences for permitting such services"

No, it wouldn't. Our legislatures have demonstrated that they haven't got a clue when it comes to all things internet. It would be a disaster.

Anonymous said...

There are a lot of people 'on the internet'.
Why anyone would be interested in me?
We are not invisible in the real world.
Why ought we to be online?

fr3kysnail said...

You make a good point in this post. As a new person, who may not clued up to Apple, you end up entering all your bank details when setting up your account for a first time.
At one point it would be easy to open an account without bank details. This option may be blocked or hidden.

Two companies that we should seriously fear is apple and google. What aspects of our private lives are we circumventing? 90% of internet users, do not have a clue how much of one's privacy they are giving away online.

I use an app called ghostery with chrome, that let's you know all the websites that sending on your tracking data. How many people even know about things like that? maybe even less....For example google Quantcast - provides real-time detailed audience profiles for advertisers to buy, sell, connect and learn more about what consumers are doing online.

There no such thing a a free lucn
If you have a smart phone, free apps can be really bad. I use whatsapp, which if you look in the background, uses up a lot of your bandwidth, exchanging data over the the internet.

Apple are so cool -
Yeah, get sucked into the cool vibe, whilst you get exploited for profit, sorry I mean greed. Apple is no different from Microsoft, and one could say, MSN may be more transparent than the iMakeMoney of you inc.

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