Snowden does tell us they can see inside these things, inside these secret fantasy worlds, but are they really monitoring the conversations of 7-year-old girls? And even if they are, so what? You can talk in code, you don’t have to say ‘President,’ you could say ‘big cheese’ or whatever.
How would they know? Because they don’t. So I say that by monitoring us all, they are wasting their time.
And what are we actually achieving by doing all this?
We are destroying the freedom that the Internet originally promised. So that’s threat number one.
Threat number two: rampant commercialization. If we are not careful, we are heading towards a two-tiered Internet, a nice, superfast Internet for those who can pay, and a kind of rubbishy one for those who can’t, and it is called “the end of net neutrality.”
Once upon a time, there were hundreds of small oil companies drilling for oil, and then, in time, they all got taken over by the big boys. And now, the oil business is in the hands of a few ultrapowerful corporations.
And if we are not careful, this is the way the Internet’s going. Instead of an information superhighway we are going to be looking at an expensive toll road, we are going to be looking at the pay-TV model.
And even if you think something’s free, it invariably isn’t. And it’s true when they say: “If you are not paying, you are the product.” A quick example would be you got a Gmail account a nice, free e-mail account – thank you very much – but the thing is they are combing for everything you send and receive, looking for keywords so they can bombard you with advertising.
Sometimes, this is very helpful, I guess. You may e-mail a friend and say: “I’ll meet you in Venice,” and the next thing you know, you’ve been bombarded with ads for cheap flights to Venice, and hotels, and all the rest of it.
Or maybe, just once, just once, mind you, you look up the symptoms of hemorrhoids and then, for the rest of life, they never let you forget it.
So we have to say: do we really want these ultrapowerful corporations know every tiny, little thing about us and store it all in databases, so they can better harvest this for cash? Because that’s the way the Internet’s going.
Threat number three: criminals and sickos.
The streets are safe today because so many criminals have migrated to digital where they can carry out their crimes in the comfort of their own living rooms. Con artists, confidence tricksters, they are online too, they talk about heart strings on dating sites, they offer us amazing bargains and they are even capable of pretending to be us in a crisis and getting our friends to send money thinking we are in trouble.
This happened to a friend of mine last week. This is really scary, and it has happened to everybody one way or another. People are getting these sorts of e-mails. You could also say that the other major threats are the stalkers and the trolls.
Today, stalkers don’t have to hide in the bushes. Now, they can sip a latte at Caffè Nero and monitor multiple victims in real time on the free WiFi. This is the rather aptly named “Cree py” surveillance tool. You can download it for free.
And it allows you to keep closed tabs on any active Twitter and Facebook user. This is my daughter Rebecca’s recent trip to Rome. I can see everywhere she has been, pretty much what she has been up to. Mostly, she has taken photographs of food.
You can move it up a notch because most stalkers today have a wealth of possibilities, for 30 pounds – 50 dollars – you can get a phone tracking package allowing the stalker to follow their victim’s GPS signal, to listen to all their conversations, and even to turn on a camera or a microphone.
You really don’t want to make any enemies in the digital world, not when reputation destruction is all too easy and suicides are all too common. Say hello to Rent-A-Hacker. You can find him down on the Tor hidden network. For 50 euros, he would just screw with somebody for you. For 200 euros, he’d get the passwords.
For 400 euros, he can bankrupt somebody. Destroying a life cost a little bit more. For 500 euros, Rent-A-Hacker will stuff a target’s computer full of images of child sexual abuse and then tip off to the police.
So, believe me when I say: the Internet’s a very dangerous place. But we can move from the deep web. We can all learn to be anonymous when we choose to be.