The battle for Net-Neutrality, which despite of what you heard is still ongoing, seems to have changed government regulators attitudes towards the internet on what they can and cannot regulate and censor.
I knew this is where it would go. As soon as you let Government change how the internet works, you open the doors to all sorts of shenanigans. All those “Libertarians” who were saying that “Net Neutrality is government interference” even though I have been saying it is the exact opposite for years, well they can just go fuck off, because their ignorance is guaranteeing government interference.
The wild west days of making money off the internet are very much numbered now. The internet as it looks today will likely be a distant memory within 10 years, even if we somehow get Net Neutrality back. Big changes are coming, some I might even agree with, but their ultimate effects are unknown.
Let’s start with one I kind of agree with. With all the concerns over Facebook sharing data with political data miners Cambridge Analytica with ties to Russia, it seems something needs to be done on the privacy front. The EU has new rather tough new laws regarding what web sites are allowed to gather about you. The penalties are big enough that even major companies are changing their policy.
Because much of the internet traffic flows through Europe, the EU’s regulations affect everybody, unless you are an American ISP collecting data about your own customers, which the GOP forced through last year.
Meanwhile in America, Law Enforcement Can Access All your Data Just By Asking
Slipped into the must pass budget was the CLOUD Act. A piece of legislation actually supported by data collection companies, because it basically allows them to wash their hands of the whole issue:
As we wrote before, the CLOUD Act is a far-reaching, privacy-upending piece of legislation that will:
- Enable foreign police to collect and wiretap people’s communications from U.S. companies, without obtaining a U.S. warrant.
- Allow foreign nations to demand personal data stored in the United States, without prior review by a judge.
- Allow the U.S. president to enter “executive agreements” that empower police in foreign nations that have weaker privacy laws than the United States to seize data in the United States while ignoring U.S. privacy laws.
- Allow foreign police to collect someone’s data without notifying them about it.
- Empower U.S. police to grab any data, regardless if it’s a U.S. person’s or not, no matter where it is stored.
And, as we wrote before, this is how the CLOUD Act could work in practice:
London investigators want the private Slack messages of a Londoner they suspect of bank fraud. The London police could go directly to Slack, a U.S. company, to request and collect those messages. The London police would not necessarily need prior judicial review for this request. The London police would not be required to notify U.S. law enforcement about this request. The London police would not need a probable cause warrant for this collection.
Predictably, in this request, the London police might also collect Slack messages written by U.S. persons communicating with the Londoner suspected of bank fraud. Those messages could be read, stored, and potentially shared, all without the U.S. person knowing about it. Those messages, if shared with U.S. law enforcement, could be used to criminally charge the U.S. person in a U.S. court, even though a warrant was never issued.
This basically allows police states to trace web activity of individuals all over the world. Bottom line, as I wrote a year ago, is you will need to be even more vigilant with your online privacy than ever before!
The Horribly Misguided War on Internet Porn
Last year, the Tory Government of the UK attempted to regulate and censor the internet. Then they had an election which effectively killed those plans (so far). Meanwhile, in the US, Congress passed legislation that may be more draconian than UK’s attempt.
The U.S. Senate just voted 97-2 to pass the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA, H.R. 1865), a bill that silences online speech by forcing Internet platforms to censor their users. As lobbyists and members of Congress applaud themselves for enacting a law tackling the problem of trafficking, let’s be clear: Congress just made trafficking victims less safe, not more.
Lately, there has been a lot of action to stop sex trafficking. Sex trafficking is basically organized forced rape of its victims, and unfortunately it is rather prevalent around the world. Everyone should be against sex trafficking.
Here is the cynical problems with this approach: 1. Somehow conservative politicians equate escort services with sex trafficking. “Escorts” are in the profession by choice, can choose their clients, and reserve the right to say no. They are not sex traffickers, no are they part of the sex trafficking industry, but they are low hanging fruit that lawmakers can exploit to say they are doing something about it. This reduces resources to investigate and stop the real sex trafficking industry which has many real victims including children.
Problem #2: This is a back handed way to implement SOPA. SOPA in case you don’t remember was a mandate for websites to self police themselves. It would force websites to closely monitor all posts for copyright violations, and other illegal content. It would have effectively closed down major websites that allow user created content unless they hired thousands of people to monitor all content that goes on the site. FOSTA forces websites to self monitor for sex trafficking. Because of this Craigslist was forced to shut down the personals section of its website. No big loss there as far as I am concerned.
The problem is there are legitimate websites used by escorts to safely find clients that are likely to be affected and shut down, this will drive web traffic of this nature further underground and make the sex trafficking problem even worse.
But a bigger fear is that law enforcement will use FOSTA as a way to regulate web traffic of all sorts, and once government’s foot is in the door on this, the next step is to break down the door. How long before government goes after all porn in the name of stopping sex trafficking?
UPDATE: FOSTA results in raid of Backpage.com. To quote from the story:
Some in the sex worker industry say that removing Backpage from the Internet takes away a safe mechanism for screening clients and that the ads will simply move to sites outside the country or to social media.
There are already governments like the state of Rhode Island proposing taxes on internet porn. How such legislation could possibly be enforced is troubling. There is no porn on/off switch on the internet. There exist VPN services designed to block content so that concerned parents can think their kids are safe online, but making everyone use these unless they pay a $20 fee with a picture ID and a written statement saying you want to watch porn, is downright fascist.
Would you be willing to pay a $20 fee and register yourself as a porn watcher just so you can go to legitimate websites that are not “kid friendly”? Such decisions are likely in our future.
The House of Cards that is Online Advertising
Combining Governments new concern for online privacy with the fiasco that targeted advertising created in 2016 with the Brexit vote in the UK and the Trump election in the US, “targeted advertising” via data collection is getting a bad reputation.
I have been thinking for years that companies that advertise online probably are not getting as much out of it as they think. Especially those clickbait sites that steal material from other sites, slightly rewrite it to avoid copyright, post it online saturated with ads, then buy ads on Facebook to get people to come to their ad saturated sites, and somehow turn a profit.
Google and Facebook are two of the biggest companies in the world, and they pretty much make all their money on supposedly “targeted advertising”. Companies looking to sell stuff buy ads on these platforms in hopes that they will be seen by people likely to be interested in their products. Is the advertising working? Obviously it is working at least a little bit, or nobody would be making any money.
Here’s the problem: it’s not working as well as it used to.
Popular websites struggling
Sites that depend on online advertising for revenue are not doing as well as they used to. Even major sites like Twitter, Snapchat, Tumblr, and Reddit seem to have low profit margins if they make a profit at all. They try to bolster those profits by adding more ads to their sites which of course just annoys readers.
One of my favorite sites was Cracked.com which I visited frequently mostly for their entertaining videos. On December 6, 2017 Cracked.com’s parent company laid off all the people responsible for those videos. What is left of the site is a skeleton crew that is likely going to turn into another clickbait site.
You Tube Channels are struggling
Making money on You Tube got really big when word got out that some You Tube stars were making millions annually in ad revenue from the site. This of course started a flood until newcomers were finding out that making original content videos was hard and only the most popular were making the big bucks.
To make matters worse, advertisers on You Tube were upset to learn their ads were appearing on You Tube channels with controversial content. So You Tube started flagging channels with such content. The controversy started with racist and sexist alt-right hate channels, but You Tube also flagged channels that support the LGBT community.
Some of these channels launched Patreon pages which seeks financial help from viewers in the form of small monthly donations. This has helped small operators make money lost on declining advertising revenue. There was a policy change on Patreon last December that threatened that as a source of revenue, but fortunately it got reversed. Still it is a lesson that trying to make a living online is a very insecure and unreliable source of income.
Paywalls and More Paywalls
If you are like me, you are going through your facebook feed and reddit news clicking on links that look interesting and finding more and more that they are blocked by paywalls. With the decline of online advertising, the only way for news sites to stay profitable is get subscribers.
We internet patrons are already paying a lot for our internet connection. How many web sites and Patreons and Twitch channels can we subscribe to realistically on top of that?
The internet has a financing problem, and I’d says we are one recession away from losing thousands of websites and content creators.
The Future looks like Amazon.com
If regulation shuts down social media sites, and declining advertising and subscribers shuts down news sites, we are probably looking at a future internet that looks like Amazon.com.
A board member of Google pretty much said as much in an interview:
Google has competitors in all of tech’s largest companies, but the one former CEO Eric Schmidt is watching the most is Amazon.
“Many people think our main competition is Bing or Yahoo,” he said during a visit to a Native Instruments, software and hardware company in Berlin. “But, really, our biggest search competitor is Amazon. People don’t think of Amazon as search, but if you are looking for something to buy, you are more often than not looking for it on Amazon.”
Schmidt noted that people are looking for a different kind of answers on Amazon’s site through the slew of reviews and product pages, but it’s still about getting information.
Is that where the internet is headed? Who knows, the future is very difficult to predict, but don’t be surprised if your favorite web sites disappear or radically change in the months ahead.