12 March 2017

We run a fun company at UKFast and whilst I am a great believer in having a team that is relaxed at work and that we find the right work-life balance, the responsibility we hold to ensure our clients get the best service and remain online, is huge.

It doesn’t seem that long ago when we set up UKFast, it was 1999, I was a musician, Gail was a student and we met in the summer in a chance meeting at one of Tim Bacon’s restaurants Via Vita in Albert Square.

Tim Berners Lee Inventor of the Internet expresses concerns over Fake News and misinformation

Tim Berners Lee Inventor of the Internet expresses concerns over Fake News and misinformation

Whilst I knew the internet was going to grow, as I’d spent the year hanging out on and off in New York and there was a significant buzz around the possibility of this new online world, no one, not even Tim Berners-Lee could have predicted just what was going to happen.

Today marks the 28th year since British inventor  Tim Berners-Lee submitted his original proposal for the worldwide web. What started as an idea to collate the large amounts of data for the Nuclear and other academic industries continues to explode and mushroom into a series of tools for change. In an article in the Guardian and another in the Telegraph today, Tim talks about his concerns that how companies and governments are taking advantage of the data collected by all of our usage. He highlights 3 main problems with the way the internet is evolving.

1) We’ve lost control of our personal data

2) It’s too easy to spread misinformation and Fake News

3) Political advertising online needs transparency and understanding

When we first set up UKFast, we literally used to have to persuade people and business owners that a website was a great idea and one day everyone would be using them. Its impossible to compute just how far and how fast its come when you consider my children and any of the generation currently coming through University or school never a knew a world without email, Apps and the instant connections and access to information they now hold in their pocket.

But sadly that world is changing so quickly, and the power of the Net is so unique and so enormous, arguably bigger than any physical weapon, governments are wanting control of this new and very dynamic system to connect and control billions of people.

The 61-year-old British computer scientist describes how political advertising is now a sophisticated and targeted industry, drawing on enormous pools of personal data from Facebook and Google, allowing campaigns that create personalised ads for individuals with as many as 50,000 variations each day on Facebook. It was techniques like these that were used during the 2016 US election that he believes are unethical when voters are pointed to fake news sites that use sophisticated messaging to discourage people from turning out to vote.

“Targeted advertising allows a campaign to say completely different, possibly conflicting things to different groups. Is that democratic?” Berners-Lee said.

So how do we decide what to view and what not too? Well the answer is “we can’t.” News feeds that are now imbedded in Facebook and Apps we have grown to love and use on a daily basis, drench us with stories of famine, terrorism, Trumpisms, its non stop.

And how do we know what’s real and whats not?

The answer is, its going to be very difficult unless the owners of these sites start acting in an ethical manner. Mark Zuckerberg has stated that he is going to make more of an effort to police Facebook.

But is this any different from the bias that we may have experienced from various TV and newspapers over the years? I am not so sure it is. Yes, its certainly faster and more sophisticated, however there will always be those out there wanting to manipulate others and use the dominant media channels for their personal gain.

Its up to us to try and use common sense and continue to research and not believe everything we read.

The Government’s answer in the US is to try and listen to all internet communications. A gargantuan task but one it feels necessary to do. This is too controlling in my opinion and whilst we have had an effective system in the UK where we’d need judges and court orders to obtain data or listen to a particular source without the other person knowing, there is a whisper that UK government may follow suit and allow UK Officials to spy too. I hope not as we have a great reputation in the UK for being a trusted country to operate and do business.

If you have any doubt about the scale of the changes that are happening, watch the new Edward Snowden film or read up on him on Wikipedia. The scale and sophistication of the spying eventually was so great that Snowden decided to give up his plush lifestyle and safety to confess to the US people just exactly what he’d been up to on behalf of the US government. Now living in Russia we have lost one of the geniuses but worse, someone who is prepared to challenge the status quo.

Snowden explains in his leaks, that the US government are not only listening to entire countries communications like Japan, but they are also imbedding software in their infrastructure that would enable them to shut down their countries resources at the touch of a button.

The internets use now is no longer just for websites, the reach is broad and wide and international companies, governments, institutions, universities, schools, hospitals, the military, small businesses, you and I, are all using it to store everything and this is just the beginning.

I don’t know what the answer is to a safer internet, but I do know that there is a great deal of good being done on the Net and it’s a source of immense fun, learning and entertainment. The speed at which collaboration is spiralling, the vast amounts of knowledge being shared is awe inspiring and needs to be encouraged and fuelled. There are not many life changing inventions the size of the Internet where the inventor is still alive and only 61, this demonstrates the pace of change and I’d argue that we should be listening to Tim’s ideas over politicians and legislators who simply don’t understand the magnitude of their decisions.

Nowadays those discussions of explaining how big the internet will be that Gail and I had in the early years, are replaced with the talk of how important it is to protect your servers and data. No one can predict just where we will be and how the internet will look in another 28 years on, its up to us to ensure we keep developing great things and using it to make positive change in the world.

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