The Internet seems to promise the world at our fingertips, providing information that will make us smarter, more empowered and more connected. The current system, however, is fractured by the sheer amount of raw data and the multiplicity of users.
Two Internet giants have recently stepped up their efforts to integrate the online world; Facebook through its Timeline, Google with its new synthetic approach represent these two chilling efforts.
While the Internet offers hope for all the benefits listed above, Google and Facebook are not the services which will bring us to this online Promised Land.
The Facebook Timeline is an evolution of the social networking profile to a seamless and accessible personal history. While literacy would seem to be a requirement for a social profile, the Timeline begins with the “life event” of birth. The vision is for Facebook to be the de facto online touchstone, a platform that will represent all that the particular user has done. The Timeline permanently preserves each post and life event chronologically, unless something is individually deleted.
While Facebook may change its privacy settings and make it easier to limit access, the old information will not disappear and continuity will be preserved that few will consider accurate. Facebook’s continued privacy violations show that market research is the goal and that the promise of a representative social profile is a mirage. Social and public identity cannot be conveyed by a permanent chronological timeline, but it will allow advertisers and social network friends to provide their own context to the raw information.
Google has decided to synthesize the information of its many Internet tools to create an individual Internet experience for each user. Here it will be helpful to name a few of the services from which Google will gather the information: Gmail, YouTube, Google search, Google Maps and Google Plus. With this information, Google hopes to provide an enhanced experience for the user and greater specificity for advertisers.
Though Google has proven itself a master of complex algorithms, this is an entirely new level of mathematical manipulation. Based on accumulated information, Google will limit and suggest content.
Rather than organizing the Internet, this new system is an attempt to think for each user. The significance of this can hardly be overstated. Google is betraying the fundamental promise of the Internet.
Rather than putting us in touch with the world, the new system will feed and reinforce our biases, past choices and old values.
While the current digital experience is complex and confusing, we must be careful to recognize its fundamental difference from ordinary human experience. The permanence and lack of privacy inherent to the Internet belie these attempts to define a person through his online activity. For now, the only option is to closely censor and guard our online activity.