The two passages we read this week from The Filter Bubble and The Net Delusion are eerily connected. Eli Pariser’s Filter Bubble explains the start up of America’s largest Internet companies and the algorithms behind their successes. The technology behind Amazon, Google, and Facebook allows companies to constantly monitor our Internet activity. Big brother no longer has to be creative in obtaining our personal information when we are feeding it everything from our political ideologies, favorite designers, and geographical location on a constant basis. The days of the unmanageable Internet have disappeared. The issue is that if businesses are able to collect this data, so can authoritarian governments. Governments have the power to monitor what Internet users search and censor material they deem to be dangerous.
I found Chapter 3 of Morozov’s book interesting because he challenges the conventional wisdom about the effectiveness of authoritarian governments using censorship. He uses Eastern Germany as an example that access to information made citizens less politically active because when given the choice they consumed entertainment. However, in Chapter 4, the discussion turns to governments and their mastery over the art of censorship.
Two issues were in the back of my mind while reading these articles. First, I wondered if governments like China and Saudi Arabia stopped censoring the Internet, would it make a difference? Morozov argues that freedom of information to flow freely will not dissolve the authoritarian government but make citizens more content. The second dealt with the potential monetary benefits companies could obtain by providing authoritarian governments with the data they collect from Internet users. The government would have, and could already, have limitless access to our personal information if they chose to buy it from a data collecting company.
So here are my questions to the class. Should an authoritarian government censor information on the Internet if they wish to remain in power? Is it ethical for companies be able to sell the personal information they collect from Internet users without their knowledge?