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Jonathan Gamble
Jonathan Gamble

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Privacy, Free Speech, and Decentralized Technologies

There are many problems with the way the Internet currently functions. This series will be a set of articles that talk about these problems, the potential solutions, and the pitfalls we need to overcome. Because there is a general misunderstanding of the real problems we face, I thought I would write a set of articles that lists them. Us web developers need to understand the basics, or we will fail in our own developments.

Disclaimer: While it is impossible to talk about some of these conundrums without getting political, I am going to do my best to leave political sides out of it. That being said, Free Speech will come up, and your definition may be different than mine; I am not a lawyer. These articles will focus on the technologies, as this is dev.to, but this article will contain some politics, mainly for understanding of the problems.

Here are some future topics I plan to cover, but bookmark this site as I plan on updating all articles as I connect more dots. Please also leave comments with other technologies, points, or things I need to cover etc, but please do not post direct politics here unless it is tech related.

Tentative Outline - order will change (keep checking back for updates):

  • History and Platforms
  • (torrent, p2p, dark web, encryption) SOLID, Mastadon, Bolixo, Blockchain, Fediverse, IPFS, Diaspora
  • GunJs, M-LD, LevelDB, IndexDB, leveljs, orbitdb
  • WebIds, DID, Identity Platforms, CRDTs, openid, oauth2
  • Schemas, RDF, SPARQL, GraphQL-LD, JSON-LD, Shapes, Ontology & Knowledge Graphs
  • Web Monetization
  • More to come...

History and Platforms

Internet History and Advertising

Generally speaking the internet was created for the military in the 60s, and Tim Berners-Lee created the World Wide Web at Cern (where the large hadron collider is) in 1989. In the 90s we found stuff with Infoseek, Yahoo, Go, Goto, Altavista, and Askjeeves. Things were organized in categories like the Open Directory Project (I miss this). Google was created in 1997 by sorting our results by relevance (the number of times a website appears as a link on other websites) with an algorithm called PageRank. This is the very basics of the search today, although not exactly its core anymore.

Facebook came out soon after in 2004. Google and Facebook (and many others) made money by targeting search results paid for by advertisers. This includes PPC (pay per click) and PPV (pay per view). Companies were charged and paid on a CPM (cost per thousand) basis of advertising. Using cookies, sessions, web beacons, and your IP address, companies began saving your info to generate a profile and model of you in the cloud. Mobile platforms joined in with ADID and IDFA tracking ids. With many strings of income, they sell our data for billions basically to predict what we will buy, how we will vote, and how we react to any stimuli. The data can be sold as CPA (cost per action). Artificial Intelligence builds upon all this. Some databases claim to separate our info from our demographics, but even if so, we know as programmers it is just one primary-foreign key relationship away!

Free is not so free, although it can actually be nice to not have to think sometimes when Google already knows us. So far, not so bad. But what if it gets hacked? Does this really matter? I saw one article where Walmart knew a girl was pregnant before she did.

Laws and Social Networks

  • 1st Amendment - different in us than any other country - "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." --- should I have the right to say anything non-violent, even if you don't like it... including undefinable 'hate speech'...?

  • GDPR - EU law in 2018 stating that you have to ask for permission to use cookies on your website. US is not included, unless you want your website to do business in the EU... so if you charge money, do it.

  • Section 230 - Communication Decency Act - "No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider"... what does this mean? It theoretically does not hold platforms liable for what others say (or type) on the internet... getting rid of it altogether would probably put social media out of biz...

    • Publisher - Newspapers, Media, etc... can be sued for libel, but controls content
    • Platform - Phone Company - can't be sued, gets tax breaks, but can't tamper with content unless court order (theoretically), which government can't do because of 1.

Huge Disclaimer - I am not a lawyer, do your own research on what these really mean, including precedents, and different interpretations (spoilers - google generally has only one interpretation for everything). However, I am only putting this here for context. One argument is that section 230 should force social networks to choose between a platform and a publisher, other argument is that it should be stricter to prevent 'hate speech' and 'misinformation'. Ted Cruz is big on one, the facebook whistleblower is big on the another.

Side Note: There are other issues I will not get into here like: addiction to social media, cancel culture, indoctrination, adolescent depression, control of misinformation, enticing emotions to stay on website, purposely keeping things in your own political bubble, etc. However, these are important ethical tech issues, just not my points here.

Why this matters?

As programmers we have to think about what is happening on the technological end, but we need to understand the political end. Who controls what is 'misinformation' and 'hate speech'? Right now, hate it or love it, the Biden Administration admittedly is feeding the big social networks (Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, Tiktok, and even Linkedin) information on what to take down. Technically, the government is not doing it, so it is not against the law, but I am not a lawyer. You may be okay with this, which is fine too. This is simply for understanding.

There is said to be a communication system between Big Tech companies (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, Twitter, and TikTok) to share this information on what what to take down and who to watch.

  • If you Google almost anything political, the certified cnn, abc, cbs, and even wikipedia are scored as top sources. Dev.to uses a basic scoring for tags here as an example. They sort high scoring items to the top. Certain things can't be found in Google at all (probably have a 0 score), and certain things are scored so low (despite popularity) that you have to click so far down the rabbit hole to find them.
  • AI controls a lot of this, but the AI is also trained to think a certain way. Generally the right is censored, but not always. Think about it. President Trump is not on allowed on Twitter, but the Taliban is. You may see a lot of left idealism, but then an article about Ben Shapiro (approved conservative). This would be the exceptions to the rules. But is the rule just against the right? Is all the right the alt-right? Is all left the radical left? Are we purposely in bubbles?
  • There is also shadow banning that prevents certain users from seeing your posts. Imagine having 200 followers, but the algorithm does not allow your posts to be seen on the follower feed of others, or the recommendation feed. This could work in many different ways. It would be interesting to write the code for this. Kind of like disabling comments.
  • The tech firms place notices like 'fact checks' and 'wikipedia' articles on certain posts. Regardless of your political beliefs, these are statistically right learning articles. The biggest problem with this is that the fact checks use news sources, not scholarly articles, to fact check (look it up), and the wikipedia articles can sometimes be posted on a scholar's post to state it is misinformation. Examples would be epidemiologists not agreeing with certain vaccine narratives, climatologists not agreeing with climate change narratives, or doctors stating psychological and medical problems with letting children decide their own medical procedures. Again, not political, just what happens daily.
  • Tech firms combat this with Artificial Intelligence. Facebook is said to have the biggest censorship, then Twitter, then Youtube. If you're on the left, you will see many liberal posts 'accidently' deleted due containing key words that people on the right would use. However, the allowed conservative posts make sure opinions are corroborated to keep you in that bubble. Again, it is statistically factual that conservatives are targeted, not a political statement. See the websites below to see where they go, as their activity on these websites is proof of this without direct access to the social network's data.
  • With the internet, Privacy statements can be revised daily, technical definitions (gain of function, vaccine, herd immunity etc... seriously, changed in last 6 months in dictionaries), and episodes of your favorite TV show you paid for on amazon can be edited or even taken down because that person was 'accused' of 'hate speech,' but not guilty of anything in a court of law. Things taken off of Amazon is technically not tech related, but that happens all the time (children's books, scientists' books, books on gun making... all across the board).

Liberal Belief

I believe we have a bipartisan issue here. Freedom of speech here is a liberal belief, not a conservative. I think if people understand more of what is going on, we can come together to make a lasting change as programmers.

My personal belief is we should follow the first amendment. We may not like what each other is saying, but we have a right to say it. Vote for the lawmakers you want to change the law, and program now to create new technology.

Conservative Social Network Responses

Gab was the first social network competing with Twitter to get kicked off of the Apple App Store. Parler was kicked off of the App store next, taking sole blame for all the alleged things that happen on January 6th. Facebook, safe. Twitter, safe. The real issue here is not the politics, but the monopoly. For whatever reason, Parler is the only one who got the blame (despite it not having groups). Parler stored its data on Amazon, just like Twitter. They were not given 30 days according to Amazon's own policies to get their stuff together, and were removed off of Amazon's servers. You can research the lawsuit.

Think about that for a second. There are only two real types of apps (ios and andorid), and we have seen apps get kicked off of them for a while. We expect that, even though we know it is insanely monopolistic (not to mention we have to use their payment system, but I digress). THEY WERE KICKED OF OF THEIR SERVERS.

In case you're unfamiliar, Amazon, Google, and Microsoft are the only real companies in the game for scalable solutions. In fact, Apple uses some Google servers now because it can't keep up with the demand. Most other servers actually use Amazon under the hood.

Long story short, these platforms are forced to build their own ecosystems.

Conservatives may or may not be following the rules, but it is ultimately getting worse for them. They seem to be scattering between a few sites: Gab, Parler, Locals, Rumble, and Gettr. Frankspeech is not a social network fwi. You also see more individual content companies producing content (not linking these here, but you can google).

There is nothing special about any of these sites, but then again I never understood why anyone uses Twitter from a UX and UI point of view, or functionality.

Conservatives, please use DTube, seems to cover all bases (will get into this in another post).

I am not conservative, why do I care?

Conservative or liberal, these companies may agree with your agenda, but their ultimate agenda before politics is to make money. Besides, who can honestly say they agree with everything on any side. How can we as human beings consider our selves intelligent if we cannot be open to flaws in our convictions?

This is why you should care as a programmer.

The Future

I am going to go over future technologies in a future post, but there are two platforms up and coming you should be aware of:

  • Zion - A bitcoin based future social network
  • Truth Social - Trump's future social network based on the Mastodon network

Popular Tools

There are many VPNs, and other search engines. It just depends on how far down the safe rabbit hole you want to go for privacy. I cannot list everything here, but if something stands out, I will list it.

Please keep comments tech related

Next Post - User Privacy Technologies (may rename this lol)...

J

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