The Internet Needs a Bill of Rights – Before It’s Too Late

The Internet is our greatest shared resource, and recently, its status as a forever renewable resource has been called into question. To thank for that? Lawmakers and lobbyists looking to make a quick buck or two off of a service we have all come to know as “utility.” 

Internet access and usage in the United States is currently at 87%, up 10 percentage points from just four years ago. And, with the rise of smartphones in the mobile market, decreasing prices for many brands, and increasing mobile Wi-Fi availability across the country, that number is sure to reach near 100% very, very soon. 

Yet, while Internet access provides us with more information than ever previously available, all within the milliseconds it takes to load a site, our days of innocent surfing the web are long gone – if they ever existed at all. See, nation-wide Wi-Fi access isn’t just in the best interest of the people. It serves the country’s economy and government just as well. How so? Data, my friends. All of the data. 

Just take a look, for a moment, at the digital marketing and advertising ecosystem. 

The space is convoluted, it is overcrowded, it is a mess. And it is only getting bigger as competition scales, pivots and takes on the new technological challenges popping up on a near daily, most definitely annually, basis. Big data, in fact, was one of those catalysts of change that helped the above chart grow even more populated. 

And big data has much more up its sleeves than simply launching a new dot com bubble, if you will. Big data is, depending on how you look at it, over-hyped or under-utilized. In reality, it is both of those things. The big data industry is still very much in its adolescence, and while employees, specifically marketers and tech teams, work to bridge the data literacy gap, civilians outside of the digital realm are often left wholly unaware of the implications of big data usage. 

“Let’s rally. Let’s get us a Bill of Rights for the Internet put into place, right now.”

We’ve all seen it. You Google “chocolate chip cookies,” and then for days you are served chocolate chip cookie recipes on Facebook, Twitter, Google and every website you visit. And, for the most part, we all know we can turn that off by turning off our cookies. Unfortunately, though, you do that and Facebook, Twitter, Google and many other sites won’t even let you login. 

The Internet has made its fame on “free,” amongst other equally impressive qualities. Yet, if you’ve ever taken an economics class, you know there is no such thing as a “free lunch.” In other words, nothing is ever truly free, and the Internet isn’t either. Besides what you pay to your cable company or for your mobile data plan, you are also paying with your data when you use the world wide web. Your data is scraped and stored by companies often known as data brokers, though most everyone is a data broker of some sort, and then sold to marketers to better target ads. In other words, someone paid money for you to get that chocolate chip cookie ad to follow you across the Internet. 

This type of collection goes far beyond simply what you search for on Google. In fact, every digital action you take is being recorded in one way or another, and often without your consent. 

Not to worry, though. We, as a collective people, can make the Internet a better place. No one is saying that data shouldn’t be used to help marketers. No one is saying that data shouldn’t be used to better customer experience. And no one is saying, even in the slightest, that big data doesn’t mean bigger and better business for companies, and more delight and surprise for the customers. 

All of that is well and good. But, without big data regulation or sorts, a best practices guideline that everyone follows and that users can call companies out on if they do not, it is likely that as the war for the biggest and best data broker out there heats up, it will be the consumers who ultimately lose. 

“It’s our Internet. It’s about time we step up to protect it. Are you with us?”

So let’s rally. Let’s get us a Bill of Rights for the Internet put into place, right now, so that every day after we can be sure that our greatest collective resource is as beneficial to individual users as it has been to the once-startups who call it home.

Here, our proposal for that Bill of Rights:

  1. Protected net neutrality and the issuance of Internet as a utility, albeit a right.
  2. Data collection, use and length transparency, as well as an opt-out option for all participating parties.
  3. Improved Terms and Conditions, or at least improved Terms and Conditions rhetoric that doesn’t confuse or alienate users.
  4. The creation of an Online Better Business Bureau with the power to reprimand companies not alerting users to data collection and use – giving users the ultimate decision-making power when it comes to which platforms or online services to use.
  5. The respectable employment of hackers who seek out and report flaws in a system, so that the Internet can become a safe environment for the data-at-scale phenomenon currently taking place.
  6. The creation and lawful implementation of a Data Rights for the People clause, amendment, policy or the like that seeks to protect users from overarching breaches of power or discrimination based on their collected data.
  7. The implementation of digital data literacy education in schools, and a national standard and annual measurement of data literacy to ensure progress.
  8. The implementation of a filter bubble maximum percentage, maintaining that algorithms and machine learning can only alter news feeds and the free flow of information based on personal preferences to a certain extent – one well below 100%.
  9. The requirement of data collectors and brokers to easily allow for user access to what information has been collected on or about them – with the ability to limit the sharing of that data.
  10. Protection for whistleblowers.

What can you do to help? Well, for one, share this post, and spread the word. Do your part to become as data literate as possible and help to educate others on why freedom of speech and the right to privacy are currently threatened online – but can be easily protected. 

It’s our Internet. It’s about time we step up to protect it. Are you with us?