Our lives are being invaded by a large spider web
The Earth, our home planet covered with the Yin-Yang of the blue sea and evergreen land, was crafted about 4.5 billion years ago. Through this laborious process, Mother Nature had to pull gas, dust, and rocks to meticulously craft these materials into the life-harboring world we live in today. Gaia wasn’t perfect, though, for she did make some mistakes throughout her career. For instance, the Earth is not a perfect sphere, which can cause, as per Scientific American, incremental deformations of the crust. While the atmosphere provides the chance for many organisms to breathe oxygen or drink water, it also could create natural disasters, such as tornadoes and hurricanes. One of the largest, unignorable faults of nature, though, is animating organisms of the order Araneae, more commonly known as a spider. Sight of these black, eight-legged organisms makes me jump to the ceiling and scream for help. However, these spiders do not just live in green grass or barren desserts; they are metaphorical and also attempt to mine data about you while hiding behind the keyboards and screens of computers and threatening the privacy of many people trying to surf the vast internet.
With the advent of digital technology, libraries of information, countries of culture, and the voices of many are just a few clicks away. In fact, most of the time, a person can enlighten themselves without any monetary cost. But as the famous president Lyndon B. Johnson once stated, “Nothing comes for free. Nothing.” In this case, the price of communicating with a computer miles or sometimes oceans away from home is you. That’s right, your name, your address, your birthday, your habits, and your identity are exploited to large tech giants and, as a consequence, could be stolen by data-miners, or spiders, on the vast interweb. One of the main reasons your data is sold to companies is because of economic incentives. As an example, the search engine Google caters to the cave of curiosities of an “estimated 3.6 billion regular internet users” across the globe, whether it be learning how to make pancakes, reading up on current events, or watching a video. To run a search engine the magnitude of Google, the cost to maintain the wiring of the data centers, regulate the uncountable number of new servers, and furnish the pay of many employees working in these cold, dark environments could be about $13 billion. In fact, a New York Times article authored by James Glanz states that when people around the globe simultaneously “[run] a Google search, [watch] a YouTube video or [send] a message through Gmail”, Google’s data centers “continuously draw almost 260 million watts, which is enough electricity to power “200,000 homes.”
, “[every] time a person runs a Google search, watches a YouTube video or sends a message through Gmail”, Google’s data centers “continuously draw almost 260 million watts, which is enough electricity to power “200,000 homes.”
So, obviously, in order to run this “guide to the internet”, companies like Google must have some sort of mechanism to earn money. The first option is to charge the user a certain amount of money per watched video or search query. However, this form of monetization might deter customers from interacting with the application, for they might rather visit a book-filled library to explore the ocean of knowledge than shelling out their hard-earned money on this new invention. The second and potentially more successful option is to allow the user to surf the internet “for free” while building and selling a map of your life based on the words you type in that search bar, the videos you watch, the locations you have traveled to, and more, unbeknownst to the user. The latter strategy is how Google earns “83.3%” of their revenue. Spider-like algorithms from corporations like these can track the place you live in, the products you shop for, or even the cereal you eat. As you can see, these data-collection giants appear to surveil almost every aspect of your life, yet the algorithms used to accomplish this task are beyond the sight of many people.
In the early ages of Earth, our home planet was merely a “large [plate] of rock”; its atmosphere was barely formed and gravity was only able to cling on to a few gases at max. At this time, there were not many rules in place to govern the young terra’s many events. Instead, volcanoes would “spew gases” out into space and the tectonic plates would violently rumble the globe. In many ways, our world 4.5 billion years ago is analogous to our current situation on the internet: there are no specific rules that govern this global network of information exchange. Even though technical protocols that describe how data on the internet should be distributed exist, there is no real “internet police” that can regularly enforce regulations regarding how the internet should be used by people and organizations. Now, the justice department of the U.S. does have a page on internet crime, but this is limited to “computer hacking”, “fraud”, and “intellectual property crime”, which are all very obvious misdemeanors or even felonies. However, this section of the website does not mention anything about other unethical practices, such as violating a user’s right to privacy on the internet. While the 4th Amendment of the United States’s Constitution does prohibit the “unreasonable search and seizure” of a person’s “houses, papers, and effects”, our Supreme Law of the Land does not stop some social media services on the internet from learning about people’s political views, collecting sensitive information, and even compiling biometric facial data, even if you do not have an account with the site. This data shows us that this large website, in particular, collects lots of information about you without your explicit permission, let alone a court-issued warrant, and is somehow still legal. Furthermore, such companies that participate in this practice can establish the precedent that the only way to succeed on the internet is by finding, correlating, and selling potentially sensitive digital artifacts of a person’s life to other corporations, forever polluting the once-pristine, idea-filled waters of the internet.
At this point, you might be wondering, why does the issue of digital privacy matter to me? Well, this issue should be a matter of concern for everyone, for the data that you supply to a service on this wide internet is not only stored in some offshore data center, but can also be used against your best interests. For example, many websites on the internet that require you to sign up for an account also request your date of birth or the city you live in. While entering your date of birth may not, at first, seem like a confidential piece of information, your age can actually reveal part of your Social Security Number, a code that many organizations in the United States use to identify you as you. So obviously, this data should remain only with you and the people you trust. However, most of the time, companies largely driven by data collection sell your IP address, geolocation, and your personality as a whole just to increase personalized advertisements. This means that your personal data may not be personal anymore once it has entered the internet, undermining the sole purpose of this vast network. Even though technology should be our guide in the wilderness of life, with this data privacy crisis, we are losing our control of our own devices and are becoming slaves to the interests of large tech corporations and internet thieves around the world.
To better protect one’s privacy, some people may suggest avoiding the internet entirely, for this digital environment “makes it easier and more tempting for people to make information about themselves public”. However, considering the digital age we live in today, the World Wide Web is a quasi-mandatory tool for business, education, entertainment, and much, much, more, and the very idea of disconnecting from this vast network is almost impossible. In addition, running away from the problem doesn’t solve it, but usually exasperates the issue, which could, in this scenario, deteriorate the very foundation of the internet entirely and make us feel like people of the stone age when compared to today’s modern culture.
If we want to continue preserving our liberties and living a spider-free life (both physically and digitally) without relying on carrier pigeons or letters as modes of long-distance communication, we must bear additional shields to fend off the numerous attackers on the internet. One way to arm yourself in this wilderness is by securing the keys to the doors of your many accounts using a trustworthy password manager, which can ward off the prying eyes of the spider-like internet thieves around the world. Additionally, you can camouflage your location on the web using a virtual private network. Lastly, you can also shy away from proprietary services and instead use the wide open source softwares, which usually have privacy policies as transparent as a spotless piece of glass. In the end, though, technology shouldn’t hinder our freedom; instead, these modern devices should amplify the voices of many, connect people across the world, and enable us to revolutionize the world. If we want the vast ocean of the internet to remain unpolluted and pristine like the Yin-Yang of the Earth once was, we must beware of the spiders that have the keys to our digital freedom and help those who want to build a better foundation for this interworld.
- Bensinger, Greg. “Never-Googlers: Web Users Take the Ultimate Step to Guard Their Data.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 27 July 2019, www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2019/07/23/never-googlers-web-users-take-ultimate-step-guard-their-data/.
- Choi, Charles Q. “Strange but True: Earth Is Not Round.” Scientific American, Springer Nature America, 12 Apr. 2007, www.scientificamerican.com/article/earth-is-not-round/.
- Glanz, James. “Google Details, and Defends, Its Use of Electricity.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 8 Sept. 2011, www.nytimes.com/2011/09/09/technology/google-details-and-defends-its-use-of-electricity.html.
- Klosowski, Thorin. “How to Protect Your Digital Privacy.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 2019, www.nytimes.com/guides/privacy-project/how-to-protect-your-digital-privacy.
- Redd, Nola Taylor. “How Was Earth Formed?” Space.com, Space, 1 Nov. 2016, www.space.com/19175-how-was-earth-formed.html.
- “Reporting Computer, Internet-Related, Or Intellectual Property Crime.” The United States Department of Justice, The United States Government, 1 Apr. 2021, www.justice.gov/criminal-ccips/reporting-computer-internet-related-or-intellectual-property-crime.
- Sattiraju, Nikitha. “The Secret Cost of Google’s Data Centers: Billions of Gallons of Water to Cool Servers.” Time, Time, 2 Apr. 2020, time.com/5814276/google-data-centers-water.
- Team, Trefis. “Is Google Advertising Revenue 70%, 80%, Or 90% Of Alphabet’s Total Revenue?” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 24 Dec. 2019, www.forbes.com/sites/greatspeculations/2019/12/24/is-google-advertising-revenue-70-80-or-90-of-alphabets-total-revenue/?sh=658de4f4a01c.
- Winseck, Dwayne. “The Geopolitical Economy of the Global Internet Infrastructure.” Journal of Information Policy, vol. 7, 2017, pp. 228–267. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/10.5325/jinfopoli.7.2017.0228. Accessed 28 Mar. 2021.
- “Social Networking and Privacy: Should the U.S. government mandate privacy rules for social networking sites?” Issues & Controversies, Infobase, 13 Sept. 2010, icof.infobaselearning.com/recordurl.aspx?ID=1787. Accessed 30 Mar. 2021.
Correction #1: In my previous version of this post, near the ending of the second paragraph, I asserted that Google’s data centers draw about 260 million watts of electricity for every query, which was obviously a hyperbolic and an incorrect statement. However, while I was weaving my research into this essay, I failed to acknowledge the absurdity of this central fact in my argument and carried on to publish this article. Thankfully, a few readers pointed out this abnormality in my paper and I quickly fixed it. As always, feel free to give me any feedback regarding the quality and accuracy of my blogs!
Correction #2: This correction pertains to the MLA citations. Whenever I published the article above, I noticed that the web sources were not included as hyperlinks. In order to enable users to better check the validity of my reasoning, I have embedded hyperlinks in each citation. In addition, some different sources were coupled together in the same bullet point in the previous version of this blog, but after reviewing the “Works Cited” section again, I rectified this formatting mistake by dedicating a bullet point for each source.