Digital rights to overcome technology's ethical hurdles

servers with a woman to the right looking at her laptop which she is holding

writer icon João Moniz     ISB   |   Tech Ethics     🕐 31. Jan. 2019

2018 saw a big data management scandal, with Mark Zuckerberg having to come forward to answer questions on behalf of Facebook. Findings indicate that the 2016 US presidential election, as well as the “Brexit” vote were both influenced by Facebook data-sharing

This year, whistleblower Edward Snowden also issued warnings on the increased surveillance of the Israeli people. It is not just a matter of privacy when it comes to data collection, what is being done with data is quickly becoming a more concerning matter.

Communication technology is all around us, from phones to computers and televisions, many of which are connected to the internet. It has revolutionised communication, allowing people to be connected at all times. Our various devices find us bombarded with information, and in turn we can upload a constant stream of our own. We receive in real time information about what is happening in the world around us and beyond.

As concerns about data management and collection begin to rise, how can the internet be kept from turning into a mass surveillance tool?

A responsibility and a power unprecedented in human history.
Reports on the processes of adding the concept of digital rights to internet legislation show that their inception and application are well on their way. Different groups have taken to form their own versions of a proposal to translate various human rights onto the internet. For example, the right to privacy and freedom of expression are being translated into digital equivalents to defend against ‘predatory’ data collection and and surveillance by both governments and corporations, all the while maintaining free access to the internet.

Convenience and the future
Israeli Professor Yuval Noah Harari has spoken about what can happen when there is access to large amounts of data. In order to navigate the current bombardment of information, convenient tools and algorithms have been created to help decide what is seen by the users. This level of user convenience may be necessary, but also presents problems. For example, information technology can be used by companies and governments to find out what you buy, where you go, what you see, what ails you and so forth, and they can in turn  use this data for their own gain.

“In the end, it’s a simple empirical matter: if the algorithms indeed understand what’s happening within you better than you understand it, authority will shift to them”, he says. Indicating that power belongs to those who own the data.

Lessons moving forward
Harari also argues that one of the means to recover control over the effect that technology has in our lives, is by revolutionising what is being taught about it to coming generations. By replacing old learning models with promotion on creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration, focus can be brought back onto skills of a more human nature, and power can be shifted from algorithms back onto the individuals they were originally designed to make life ‘easier’ for. Moreover, when work that currently requires manpower is gradually replaced by machines, another shift can take place, replacing our old learning and working models with more creative solutions.

“At least for a few more decades, human intelligence is likely to far exceed computer intelligence in numerous fields. Hence as computers take over more routine cognitive jobs, new creative jobs for humans will continue to appear.”

Digital health and consumption will likely be a continuous learning and teaching process. From ways of finding healthier consumption habits, to discerning trustworthy sources of information, teaching users how to best navigate the information highway is becoming increasingly important to ensure that future generations do not unwittingly sign their rights away.

Ultimately, many issues are regulated through the means of proper legislation. Considering that the Internet is now considered a human right, the translation of information technology into rights’ based language may serve as a way of protecting its consumers’ basic human rights as we go increasingly deeper into the digital age.

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