Speaking to the Future: What Got Caught in the Safer Internet?

[I’ve recently been asked by several readers to share a piece I initially wrote, for young teen readers, to commemorate and celebrate Safer Internet Day 2012.  This piece was written with a view to instigate and enable conversations between young people and adults, parents and children, about the problems and potential solutions surrounding internet safety.  Here is that piece, which is not part of the ‘Capital I’ Innovation Interview Series:]

When I was asked to write a piece about the future of internet safety, I realized that I am not generally one to give my opinion – on paper at least.  Generally, my job is to interview people and note their opinions.  With that in mind, I decided to interview the future me, the me of 2022, ten years hence, and hear her opinions about the then, current, state of security on the net.

An interview with Kim Chandler McDonald, Executive Vice President and Co-Founder of KimmiC, futurist and hyper-technology expert: February 8, 2022 – Sydney, Australia

Kim Chandler McDonald (as she hopes to look in 2022)

What led you to become involved with Safer Internet Day?

I first became involved over ten years ago when I was asked to write a piece about my views on the future of internet safety, a subject I was, and still am very interested in.

Why the interest?  Surely now, after ten years, the internet is much safer.

Oh yes, certainly compared to 2012 the difference is quite striking – especially when it comes to personal data. When I first became involved with Safer Internet Day, the internet was a place with few ‘walls’ and almost no one was able to ‘lock the door’ to their data.

Very few people were aware that they owned their own data. Though the data wasn’t owned by social media sites, they did borrow it – often without permission – and they made money from it, either by selling the data itself, or by using it to sell us things.

That borrowing often led to random strangers being able to access information about us which they shouldn’t have been able to get to.

You make it sound a little like stealing.

I wouldn’t go that far, but… well, lets just say that I’m very glad we now have the power, the the responsibility, to guard our ‘property’ – the place we live on the net – and the stuff we have there… our data.

How did that happen?

It started with IdentityTech authentication protocols.  Once authentication of parties involved in a communication stream became necessary, and individuals were able to control this process themselves – i.e. you decided who had permission to contact you, be it individuals or companies – the common ‘phishing’ communications (or spam) of the first 10-15 years of this century soon dried up.

It’s funny, because we now look back at that time, without permission based contact and authentication, as anarchy.

Was it really that bad?

In some ways, worse than bad.  Lets look at it this way, IdentityTech gave us the power to protect ourselves and our property, so that strangers couldn’t get at it. Lets think of the internet like a house – your online house.  Can you imagine someone you don’t know wandering into your house and rummaging through your things?  Essentially, that’s what was happening on the internet.

IdentityTech gave you a lock and key to your online house.  Now strangers can’t barge into your house and start looking at your pictures and reading your diary.  Anyone who wants to do that has to have your permission. Its sounds like a small change but it actually had a very big effect, on individuals and on some very large companies and industries as well.

How did it change things for individuals?

I’m sure there are countless ways, but a few that come to mind are things like the reduction in online predators (people preying on the vulnerable or less experienced), cyber-bullying, identity theft, and the reduced proliferation of violent/hate sites.  All these things had a huge effect, not just for individuals, but for communities as well.

A safer internet seemed to spread out and be reflected in safer neighbourhoods, town, cities and countries.  I think that’s part and parcel of us deciding to take more responsibility for what we allowed in our lives via the net.

You mentioned changes to companies and industries as a a result of this IdentityTech, can you give me an example?

Well, lets take social media as an example.  Certainly there was a time when social media companies would collect and use information about people.

You make it sound like something out of a spy novel.

That’s funny.  No, that’s not what I meant.  But, it is true that these companies took your data and used it to make money for themselves – they acted like they owned it.  I guess we, the public, didn’t know better at that time… and maybe we were a bit lazy too.  But this changed as the new digital economy matured.  That was already beginning to happen by mid-2012.

One of the consequences of the new digital economy, which IdentityTech enabled, was the realization by individuals – people like you and me – that our data is just that, OUR data.  It didn’t belong to anyone else, and it certainly couldn’t be used, or sold, by anyone else without our permission.

Once people realized that they owned their data, that it had value, and that they could have control over who, when and where this information was provided to other parties, things began to change rapidly.  Data was acknowledged to be a unit of the connected economy, and though it could be available 24/7, it had to be done so in a universally secure and non-proprietorial way – hyper tech enabled that.

But social media companies are still here, and some are still flourishing.

Of course they are, but now they have to share revenue from any profits they make from using our data.

Okay, I don’t get a personal cheque from them each month, but I am pleased that they have to deposit ‘our’ money into trusts, which have been set up to put money back into the public domain and pay for things like the free broadband connectivity which everyone enjoys today.

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