Looming dangers in the internet
Invasion of Privacy. Perhaps you are now aware how the internet has empowered us to access vast body of information so easily. However, that same ease in accessing information is a "double-edged sword" -- it enabled others also to invade our privacy just as easily.
Nothing seems to be inviolable anymore.
While many have seen the danger of such invasion of privacy from the government, we fail to recognize or prefer to ignore a greater source of intrusion to our privacy -- private companies and institutions (many we do not suspect), including "non-profit" organizations, medical institutions, etc. The New York Times has published articles of how political candidates gather information about you when you visit their website.
Before the crash of the "dot.com" industry, some of the business "policy makers" [sic] considered archived personal data, as a commercial commodity that could be gathered and traded at will by the "dot.coms", even without the person's consent. "Cookies" are left in computers or other diabolical codes are integrated surreptitiously in formatted internet page, advertisements, etc. All these were meant to track your internet viewing habits.
The moment you get into a commercial website in the internet, most likely data is gathered about your internet activities -- what sites you have visited, how often, when and what you are looking for, to mention just a few that can be accessed readily about your activity. While you may be able to employ some diabolical subterfuge (e.g., using a different internet name) to hide your identity, many software programs have been developed to thwart your efforts so that they will be able to identify even your location or name. Many savvy websites can even access the code of your computer by planting "cookies" in your computer. Armed with other information that can be bought readily from other sellers of personal information, these sites have the power to identify you more specifically -- social security number, address, financial and medical records, debt history, etc. -- if they have interest to do so.
Tracking the behavior of individuals and groups has been a preoccupation of social scientists, poll takers, the advertising industry and all companies that have something to sell. However, previous studies or "ratings" usually just involved a small "statistical sample" of a population. With the coming of the internet and increasing power of computers in terms of speed, automation and storage capacity, it is now theoretically possible to monitor the behavior of every individual connected to the internet.
The information gathered about us can be used against us. You may have been denied a loan, insurance, medical insurance or not considered for a job or promotion because the "profile" gathered of you was not "desirable". If it is inaccurate, data mining companies have no interest to rectify the errors nor any legal liability for the consequences of such erroneous data. [A more detailed and documented discussion on invasion of privacy will be presented in another section.]
Free Speech and Censorship. If some forces in our society will have their way, they would want to take our right to free choice. In fact, to a certain extent, these forces have succeeded -- many of the search engines nowadays employ some sort of "filtering" -- so that many sites may not be accessible to you already, without your knowledge.
The "guardians of morality" are the main advocates of censorship; but even some of the more liberal forces in our society can be guilty in advocating for censorship. [On the other hand, even I sometimes find it difficult to accept the stance of ACLU to defend some "unpopular groups", even if I know that in principle they are correct in doing so.]
Advocating free speech and opposing censorship are very difficult issues to deal with -- partly because many members of our society have forgotten that the freedom to speak our mind also requires the responsibility to be sensitive to the feelings and rights of others. We forgot that we exist not solely as individuals but also as members of a community.
Overcommercialization. Invasion of our privacy is motivated mainly by the increasing competition among various entities who view us mainly as consumers of their products or services.
All those freebies that we get from the internet -- free e-mail, calendars, webpages, etc. -- are in exchange for a more invaluable information, the most important details about our person. It has become such an economic necessity to know information about individuals such that "data gathering (or mining) and selling of information" is one of the booming sectors (if not the backbone) of the internet economy.
If you consider these "trade-offs", what we assume to be free (e-mails, webpages, etc.), in fact, comes at a much greater price -- the lost of our freedom to control how the most intimate details about our humanity is used. The greater tragedy is that we have given up our privacy, without much of a fight.
Monopolistic trends. The internet is still at its infancy; and yet, if you look closely, you will find that the "800-pound gorillas" in each sector of the industry want to annihilate the competition.
In many instances, the strategy worked to the detriment of the consumer. Many internet sites may no longer be available to you because of self-serving monopolistic collusions among these giants to get a greater share of the market. Some search-engines nowadays would place at the top of your search results the names of companies that have paid them "fees" to be given such priority.
The promise therefore that the internet will allow us greater choices is diminishing very fast, unless we give more attention to figt the trend.
There are forces that can thwart such monopolistic trends eventually, including the birth of a new technology. But such forces or new technologies require time to take their course -- usually several decades or even beyond our lifetime. In the meantime, we suffer the consequences of monopolistic practices.