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The Internet Undercover: a Threat to Data Privacy Users Seldom Notice


  • The relationships we have with tech companies have fueled an entire digital economy where companies watch everything we say and do and turn them into profit.
  • Privacy is the price users pay for good contents, simplicity, and services that the technology offers and it has become the number one concern for online consumers.
  • Mozilla urges internet users to wake up to the reality of the internet and be alerted to the harm of the Surveillance Economy.


Illustration by Austin Distel on Unsplash.com

The 15th of March is World Consumer Rights Day, do you notice that some of key consumer rights on the internet are being violated? Our relationship with technology has had a fundamental shift in recent years, especially the information technology that handles our personal data.

In reality, tech companies use technology to monitor us in order to provoke specific responses (a click, a purchase, a feeling, a vote, or an action) for their own benefits. Privacy is the price we pay for contents, simplicity, and services that the technology offers and it has become the number one concern for the internet users.

We’ve come to the age of Surveillance Economy where the relationships between users and tech companies have fueled an entire digital economy; an economy where companies watch everything we say and do, and then turn that knowledge into profit. This is what we understand as the Surveillance Economy, also known as Surveillance Capitalism[1]. This concept is also the reason why we often see ads that we browsed and discussed online previously.

Mozilla, the non-profit pioneer that advocates for the open Web, proposes “Awakening” as the word for 2020, urges internet users to wake up to the reality of the internet, to be alert to the harm of the Surveillance Economy. Stan Leong, Vice President & General Manager of Emerging Markets, Mozilla, stated that, “As most of the big companies treat people as free raw material for hidden commercial prediction and behavioral manipulation, we are facing a significant threat to human nature. More and more people express their worries about the internet surveillance environment. As Mozilla, we always stand by digital citizens, and we will play a key role in helping create solutions to fight back against these unequal power relations.”

To explore different dimensions of the Surveillance Economy, Mozilla started from comments and thoughts shared by employees and community members through employee workshops and MozFest 2019 in London. Through the discussion, research and workshops, Mozilla distilled three big problems that lie at the heart of the Surveillance Economy[2]:

  • Excluded: Big companies are hoarding troves of data and smothering competition.
  • Exposed: The burden of protection is put on people — who can’t see or feel the threat.
  • Exploited: The only thing not surveilled is how people’s data is used.

For now, we have little real choice in our digital lives other than to acquiesce to systematic data collection and surveillance by corporations. To transform the power imbalances of the Surveillance Economy, Mozilla proposed three Explorations to inspire big thinking about how Mozilla can change the game[3]:

  • Data Takeover: Bringing new value, transparency, and power to the people through control and ownership.
  • Powering-up Consent and Identity: Changing the consent conversation from “control over your privacy” to “power over your identity.”
  • Mozilla as a Service: Productizing our healthier data practices and infrastructure and galvanizing a ‘better data’ movement.

Moving forward in 2020, Mozilla Emerging Market Group is focusing on internet health advocacy and product innovation opportunities to tackle the issues of the Surveillance Economy, in hopes of discovering opportunities and technologies that truly empower users and allow everyone to benefit from what the digital world can offer.

Reference
[1]From Shoshana Zuboff, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism (2018)
[2]From Mozilla Wiki, State Of The Internet/Surveillance Economy
[3]From Mozilla Wiki, State Of The Internet/Surveillance Economy

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