The fight over FREE: Is Internet the greatest danger?

You must be knowing the story of time, space and the laws of physics. The entities of time and space were there before humans arrived. We tried to make sense of this time and space and discovered the rules that govern them and named them as the laws of physics. It is simple as things just happen according to these universal rules that were predefined. But, there’s another universe where rules are non-existent and things are chaotic; where Newton’s apple need not fall straight to the ground.
It is the wonderful world of the internet
1.8 billion social network user accounts. 7 billion unique visits on Facebook alone every month. 17 days spent by an average user on Facebook every month.These are staggering statistics of the internet when 65% of the human population is not yet online.
And there lie unforeseen possibilities before marketers, policy makers and strategists. In about only less than two decades, the internet has surpassed predictions and morphed into something that its founders had not even imagined. It has become a parallel economy or rather a parallel universe, if I may say so. Imagine what we shall encounter even if the next 35% of us hook up to the internet in the next 2 decades. As much as we may bask in the glory of freedom that the internet provides us, yet it is transforming into a tool to control our choices and monitor our behaviour. So, would you consider that true freedom?

You would agree that the above statistics indicate that the online world has more activity and information than all bank accounts combined, or all social security databases put together. This intangible entity, called information is, and shall be the resource to protect, own and govern.
The value of this information is amplified when we consider another intangible resource, time. It’s surprising that an average Facebook user spends 17 days (approx. 405 hours) on the site every month!
This has far reaching implications that we generally do not consider when we are online.
The internet has come to be controlled by a few major corporations namely Google, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Yahoo and the like. They have successfully understood the dynamics of human behaviour on the internet and lured us into using their products in exchange for our personal information. This information is not only restricted to our birthday, name, age and address. The fact that we spend a lot of our most valuable resource, time, with them allows them to know more about us than we want them to. They now know what movies we like, who our friends are, where we work or study, where we are planning to go for the next vacation or which illnesses we are suffering from.
This was the not-so-serious part of the story.
What’s disturbing is that this information is being stored permanently somewhere we do not have the right to go or know. However, governments, intelligence agencies and consumer-analysts around the world are being provided unlimited access to our private data like calendars, planners, medical records and our personal photos for purposes that are not benign. The power of the internet has only recently been comprehended. The newly acquired power by the Googles and Facebooks of the web by virtue of our innocent trust in them is changing the internet landscape. They know that the information is their only asset and they have to protect and use it to their advantage. Hence, they want to own as much of the information as is possible. To do this, they have to control a larger share of the World Wide Web traffic. So, they prevent any regulation of this traffic which might hinder their gameplan. That’s why we see the tussle between governments and capitalist corporations over what ought to be regulated on the internet.
So, before the next 35% of the human species comes online, it’s imperative that we be prepared to understand and govern the space that we invented out of nowhere and gave birth to a whole new ever-expanding universe.
Marketers are responsible for collecting more and more information from the nearly 2 billion internet users and analysing them to understand new markets to sell their products. This is the essence of the internet; the new purpose of its being. This has led companies like Google to mine the information and store them in their data centres to sell to marketers. There comes the question: do they have the right to store the data for third-party use. Is it ethical? Is this the price for FREE; the supposedly free access to Google search, Gmail, Facebook etc.? What if they sell this data without our consent? Is it ethical on the part of marketers to use such data without our consent? Who is going to define these rules?
As we increasingly transact online, governments find it easy to track us and hence can keep a tab on what we are up to? Does our vote for them to govern the country give them the right to spy on us?
As these questions come into focus, it becomes important for us to ponder over what the future of the internet means and if marketers are ready for any drastic change in digital marketing and advertising rules. Are companies focussing too much on social media marketing and ignoring traditional media; what if one day, the internet becomes regulated? Are there strategies ready for such a scenario? Let’s hope so.
And by the way, where do you think Newton’s apple will go, here, in this space of the World Wide Web? And who will win this fight over FREE?
[The article has been written by Anirban AcharyaHe holds an MBA degree in Finance from NMIMS Mumbai and is an avid automobile and technology follower and a movie buff. He believes that the Internet has the potential to bring true democracy to humankind – the democracy of information and the freedom of choice. In his spare time he loves playing computer games and has a passion for photography.]

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