The anonymous Internet and WWW, not just necessary but urgent.
Yet another friend bit the dust last week; her bank was empty, someone had taken all her money, the bank don’t care, the police don’t care and she’s in despair. I never thought to warn her. Indeed, the same could have happened to me because, despite knowing better, I didn’t take the precautions either.
The same day, I learned that an academic friend married to a Ukrainian had been ceremoniously dumped out of several online accounts and felt nervous because he had published some true video sent to him from his family in Mariupol, video that didn’t agree with the narrative certain others were reporting.
These two things in quick succession gave me the urge to write about this problem as I am uniquely positioned to do and at least let people know why we are in this mess and how easy it is to fix, technically at least. This piece is neither technical nor political, you’ll be pleased to know, just a few simple facts that are easy enough to follow and arrive at your own conclusions from.
I hope you end up agreeing with me, but please dont hesitate to question, thats how we earn and develop. I’ll appreciate it.
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I’m not looking for work: Im just letting you know my background to analyse this. I was among the first in UK to use or know anything about The Internet or WWW. I came across Arpanet at UNI and a private paid network around 1990.I was a programmer and immediately began experimenting. There were only 3 to 4 people using the UK Usenet groups I hung around in and they were mostly network people. I introduced the web to some huge businesses, built some of the first ecommerce sites for Saatchi, GE and the like and advised the COI on cybersecurity as early as 1999 and played a part in standards like XML and JSON.
Since then I moved o to higher level business change and helped many government departments and NGPBs to use the net including the DfES, HMRC, Environment Agency and others where I learned about the difference between simple technical problems and complex political ones. I have architected and written apps, even for fun when I was no longer involved with tech directly in more languages and platforms than I care to list and still love the challenge as well as detesting our inability as a race to leap forward even a little when opportunity presents itself.
What is the Internet and WWW and how do I interpret these terms?
The Internet is the great web of communication services that enable the WWW, banking payment systems, email, social media, Bitcoin and all the other electronic services we have come to rely upon. You wouldn’t always get that message when you hear it discussed. Put simply, It’s a road and vehicles, but its not the content of the vehicles or their destination.
The World Wide Web is/was a method of sharing and citing documents online or via the internet. It was built in 1991 for academics, primarily in nuclear research to begin with and gradually spread to be used for other things eventually becoming what it is today, something hard to define and even harder to control.
It still is however, the Internet with all these documents connected to each other plus a few new pieces of infrastructure such as search engines and social Media platforms.
The first publicly aimed search engine as I recall was Gopher a tool that spent some time researching before sending you the results and then we had Web crawler that indexed the entire internet until that quickly became impossible and it gave way to others before eventually Google built a Monopoly. After Web crawler the web always had a n agenda and serendipity was an old-fashioned word. My personal feeling was that Web crawler gave me what I asked for, the others what they thought I really wanted. I has a wife like that once.
The first social media was Usenet, a paid forum platform that for most of us, “was the internet”, a lot like reddit today in appearance.
The dark web is a free-of-interference version of the Internet and WWW that is used primarily by those who have something to hide either from a repressive state, or from law enforcement. A sort of offshore for the children with a safeish bridge for journalists and the like and a playground for goofy spooks. It looks and behaves curiously like the WWW of 1992.
The core of what happens online today is not that different from the original idea in a technical sense, it’s the people involved and their intentions that has changed.
The web is still a great archive of documents, if desperately duplicated and not very searchable. Primarily it’s web pages and PDF documents but also images and videos and even the complex apps are really what we used to call “dynamic pages” i.e. the web pages is created to suit your needs instantly and dynamically based on some information you passed in via the URL.
The URL has three purposes:
1. it describes a precise path (sometimes a relative path, sorry!) to the page you want, e.g. smartstuff.com. smartstuff.com/stories doesn’t mean that a folder called stories exists, hence relative.
2. it passes information that helps describe your needs, e.g. smartstuff.com?lang=en Telling it the language version you’d like. This string can have unlimited sophistication.
3. It passes to a website or search engine, lots of secret information known to your browser and not seen by you. This will include a cookie by which you can be recognised and might include your home address, the browser used, and a potentially dangerous list of stuff you wouldn’t normally tell a stranger if you knew what you were doing.
The list can look harmless until you consider how it might be used and weigh the extra information of two variables combined. Examples include; Browser, extensions, battery level, screen size of browser, browsing settings, PC settings, IP address. A classic usage of this is to combine them to create a unique cookie that turns out to be almost as unique and useful as the standard browser cookie many people would like to turn off and gets over the inconvenience of people hiding their cookies. It also includes things like the mac address which is unique to your phone or PC and especially dangerous to journalists and people whose lives might be put in danger if malign authorities know that they accessed certain information for example, or expressed opinions or even asked questions in certain company.
Problems we have with the internet in 2022 are numerous, but the ones causing the most issues are:
1. Stealing private information and profiling individuals.
a. Using profiling to spread false news and over-sell/miss-sell products.
2. Bullying and misleading the young and innocent and the weak.
3. Drawing the young and the weak into high-risk situations for rape, abuse, robbery, blackmail.
4. Blackmailing or threatening businesses and individuals.
5. Stealing money electronically from businesses and individuals.
6. Recruiting individuals into militias and Fascist or Nazi gangs.
a. Creating global gangs of Fascists, Nazis, Racists
7. Spreading fake news to damage large companies and even large nations.
a. Spreading fake news to get elected, or
8. Creating unrest within nations (good or bad) by introducing possibilities they previously were unaware of for example, seeing others enjoy greater apparent wealth).
9. Cross-border commerce taking jobs in developed nations with smaller cost base. see also 16 above.
10. Network businesses that control entire verticals across the globe even for simple services (Uber).
11. Huge global Monopolies destroying competition and destroying both product quality and employment opportunities. E.g. Amazon
12. Huge global Oligopolies. E.g. GAAF
13. Global tax evasion made too easy and robbing the poorest communities of vital tax revenues as well as well as others of vital jobs.
14. Selling over borders without respecting local laws, e.g. medicines.
15. Weakening the coherence of the nation state;
a. in a positive but damaging way simply by access to conflicting ideas by people from very different backgrounds and terroire.
b. In a negative way by rogue states deliberately causing mischief to others.
16. Collecting and selling huge data profiles abut individuals and entities without their permission or knowledge for profit and without any controls.
First attempt at root cause analysis
This is a first draft and I’m sure there is more to be added and no doubt the structure and presentation can be made more helpful. Before I invest that sort of time I want to see what kind of people come to read it. Many today would rather be told its OK go back to sleep and trying to help that segment is a losing battle. If you are interested and you are concerned for your family or for society on the other hand, please do raise your hand and let me know.
My first step is to look for relationships within these high-level issues in order to look out for root causes that often turn up under deeper analysis.
A. Theft of private information
I’m immediately struck that numbers 2 to 7 above rely heavily on number 1 and numbers 8 and 9 also show dependence, but maybe slightly less so.
17. This tells us that the issue with theft of private information is a major root cause and by addressing this we can either eliminate, or dramatically reduce the instance and the severity of eight other very serious issues. That sounds like a potentially good place to begin, but let’s move on.
Building enormous profiles that are held by data aggregators and then shared with anyone willing to pay. Such a profile will contain records of every action you ever took online using a phone, a public device, work or home PC or other, soon your car will be secretly contributing, every purchase, every conversation and notes about who you talked and key concepts discussed, even how you use the phone, every address you visited with location switched on, for those who want it and even when you switched location off in most cases, every other individual you ever met plus deep meta-analysis to derive personality profiles, buying habits, decision making models, voting preferences and much more. They can easily know if you are in a relation, if you are faithful, your state of health, what practitioners you visit and almost certainly, they know stuff that your closest friends do not know. They have little or no responsibility either.
While most of this is used to make you vote a certain way, or to purchase stuff online, it is increasingly used to build more personal profiles and there are studies emerging that show the Military involved in such profiling for disinformation and mass population management.
A few years back, Facebook was hired to research changing peoples emotional state while they browsed Facebook. This is a shared concern for all of us globally.
This aspect of internet misuse becomes extremely worrying and the results are emerging powerfully that it is no longer experimental. Serious reporters are strongly suggesting that such tactics have been used to drive regime change in foreign states and the risk to peace and safety is undoubtedly enormous globally. QAnon is perhaps the best example of the sort of thing it can achieve, but they are everywhere.
See below a low-level diagram of the universe of data aggregators that buy data from Search engines, social media, ISPs and many others, then aggregate the profiles and sell it back to electioneers and marketers.
For the avoidance of any misunderstanding, all the data about you may amount to thousands of variables, but they will generally keep an aggregate score for each variable rather than thousands of lines representing each time you called Jane. The state of Vermont forced data brokers to register and they received more than 100 registrations from companies quietly buying and selling this data. E,g. Buy from a phone company, or search engine and sell to an ecommerce company and so-forth.
B. Lack of shared and policed cross-border laws and regulation.
Lack of shared and policed cross-border laws and regulation is the obvious root cause of a number of other issues we touched on, namely: 10,11,12,13,14 and 15.
14, global and offshore tax-evasion and avoidance is a crippling problem for all bar the handful of nations benefiting from it that include: UK, USA, Netherlands, France and a few more. This is an area that has begun to receive a lot of attention. Some useful agreements are already in place and the work of the ICIJ in producing Panama Papers and other revelations is extremely powerful as a tool to progress the work. In the meantime, however the world’s richest people and especially those running the worlds enormous internet gateways, (*)opolies are paying little or no tax anywhere as well as driving down wages and causing especially severe hardship in developed countries where fixed living and business operating costs are high and they simply can’t compete.
In UK for example an economy with very high cost of living in terms of housing, fuel, transport and personal taxation, the taxpayer ends up forced to subsidise the low wages of these businesses just so that employees can survive until the nest crisis.
B.1. The problem also affects the lack of global standards that let some developing nations manufacture dangerous goods and sell them in developed nations or as seen in EU studies, dump them to deliberately drive down costs and drive local firms out. We regularly see dangerous Chinese electricals for example, but that’s just a single example. Food and medicines are also a big part of this issue. This particular case is not entirely internet related at first glance, however the reality is that before we had Alibaba, Amazon etc there was no way to source your products abroad and get them to your customer that made it profitable to operate this way. While the internet may not be wholly responsible for lack of globally regulations governing the quality of imports, the WWW does create the need for governance of these new flows of goods, a need that is not being met.
B.2. This problem also extends to the very existence of Oligopolies and monopolies such as Google, Facebook, Amazon (GAAF )and others that would have once been dealt with at a national level because we all agreed long ago that they are bad for society. The world does not need billionaires and even those men are not themselves happier as a result of being billionaires, nor does their existence drive an improvement in cost, availability or quality of goods and services, quite the contrary in fact. Most important of all, they are not paying for the damage done and services used by way of corporate and other taxes. Everything about the existence of giant (*)opolies is negative, yet politicians turn a blind eye. This is also being extended to the global situation. Once again, you may argue that the internet is not to blame, but you can’t possibly defend that position. The people in question are primarily running not only Internet business, but indeed the internet in many cases. They couldn’t possibly do what they do if we, did not fund and support the existence of the internet. This is no different to regulating the railroads that turned the wild west into part of a booming nation back in the 19th century.
A chip shop selling street food in the North of England to poor people finds himself obliged to pay more than 20% of his revenue to a delivery company based in California owned by billionaires which itself exists only because it dominates the search monopoly Google from Silicone valley. Furthermore, platforms like Uber and the Amazon marketplace get away with abusive working conditions and massive violations of privacy.
C. Weakening of the nation state number 16 is a hugely important topic to address.
Around the world we have very different cultures from Tibet to Jamaica and from London to the Steppes. These people have lived happily and comfortably for centuries unless invaded and this despite very different outlooks, belief systems, education levels, ways of making a living and so on. Only when they use the internet do people begin comparing and making very poor comparisons between things that are not comparable and leading them to feel discontent about something that many would love to have.
An example I personally experienced was a young couple from Barbados, he a decorator who arrived in London about 25 years back. He worked on my house for months and we became friends. He left Barbados and came to UK because he could earn £70 per day as a decorator. Back home that was more than a month’s pay. His stories of life in Barbados made me want to rush over there and take up where he had left off. He’d taken over a two bedroomed house (shack they called it) from his grandad. Plenty of these could be had for nothing at that point and renting cost pennies. He needed no heat, his TV all came free form USA, he just needed to buy an ariel or make one.
He picked fresh fruit daily in the forest, grew veg out back and fished every night. He was fed up of snapper because that was Caribbean food and he longed for Cod. He wanted a two-bed house in London with a mortgage then of £700 a month. He was, at that point, paying £700 for a bedsit with shared bathroom. I started adding the figures for him, but I could see he didn’t want to know the truth and had to chase this dream. I knew it was a nightmare and I had no idea then, just how bad it was going to get. This man’s income rose from around $50 a month to £1400 a month. He lost all his quality food, fishing, beaches, cheap rum, good friends and relaxed lifestyle and in return he got a British version of schizophrenia. Another friend Winston from Jamaica worked and saved until he was almost 50 so that he could afford to go to back to what he had lost, but his British born children were now addicted to Britain and wouldn’t even consider going with him. Another life messed up. He’ll be happy, but he’ll miss his children every day.
D. This related example is not about being happy, it was about economics.
If your costs are £100 a month and your income £200, you live in bliss, but if your income is £20,000 and your outgoings £25,000 you are headed for misery. Oscar Wilde knew this centuries ago.
Economics doesn’t delve into what you get for that money as indeed it should, but you don’t need to do that to see that running high ongoing costs is a road to misery and ultimately, to disaster.
1. A house that still costs less than 100k for land, building and developers profit in UK now costs £350k on average to buy. Its not possible to live as a renter, because tenants have no rights, they can be turfed out any old time, or their rent shoved up.
2. Despite UK controlling rich gas reserves, British people now, especially pensioners, are barely able to keep warm and things are getting rapidly worse. I worked in the industry as an analyst and in the privatisations. They produce nothing, just take an order, yet they blow most of their enormous margin on marketing and walking around in circles, that despite being part of an Oligopoly with fixed, non-competitive prices. This was a public service, now its run for the benefit of French and German investors.
3. Trains are precisely the same as utilities. Run privately for the benefit of foreign investors and provide the most expensive yet shabby transport service in the world.
There are many other examples of-course, including the horrifically expensive yet poorly operating health service undergoing privatisation by stealth that costs the tax-payers enormous sums. Direct taxes are upwards of 40% at the lowest level of income, yet many of the wealthiest and even politicians, pay nothing at all.
A British worker can’t possibly make a box and sell it in Britain in competition with a Chinese worker and the reason is that British costs make that impossible. There are of course other aspects of the costs such as workers-rights and so-forth but they don’t compare to the costs we already considered and in any case, the British have few rights in 2022. This is the reality.
Not all of these examples are highly influenced by the Internet, but many are and all are influenced in some way, especially the onslaught of misleading marketing materials and commercial chat shows. Much more serious is the use of this profile data to manipulate voters on behalf of wealthy Oligarchs who fund their political carers. It comes as no surprise that these Oligarchs are holding land banks to increase house prices, bidding to provide the health service privately, running the ultra-expensive transport system etc.
Back to the Internet/WWW and root cause.
We have a number of serious and debilitating problems, the root cause of which, on a scale ranging from 100% down to perhaps a debatable 30% are issues created and prolonged or at best facilitated and enabled by the Internet as it is now in its unregulated and manipulated form.
Stealing of private data from individuals and businesses and selling it to business that are using it to gain advantage and put others out of business. This has created a situation I am all too familiar with whereby if you want to advertise competitively on search engines such as Google and Facebook, then you must make use of that private data stolen from individuals. This has been the mainstay of online business for many years now. Operators like Google and Facebook would take your mailing list or people who’d previously visited your site or a competitor’s site and find millions of others just like them based on the millions of points of profiled data they have aggregated and then show all of them your advert knowing it would produce a highly profitable result. This still works, but it’s now harder and requires a different approach since Apple and facebook fell out of love. T hasn’t gone away though.
You may say its down to every business to get smart and compete, but in reality, there’s only one Google and only one Facebook and online business is geared to one brand. One emerges victorious, places its revenue offshore away form tax authorities, pays starvation wages and leeches off us. The others die. In every market, you do what the others are doing only better or you die. If that means behaving badly, well so be it. I know many owners of restaurants and takeaways who barely survive now because Eats and Deliveroo have taken their customer and only allow them a bare existence in return for cooking the food. These business used to pay reasonable wages and pay their taxes, not any more. In-fact, the government subsidises not only the restauranteurs wage bill but the American platform’s too via Tax credits in UK.
An academic at the University of Manchester referred to these people as the “US Cuckoo in the European Nest”
For as long as data can be stolen, there will be the following serious issues:
1. Using profiling to spread false news and over-sell products.
2. Bullying and misleading of the young, the innocent and the weak.
3. High instance of robbery, blackmail either online or starting online.
4. Blackmailing businesses and individuals, often they simply threaten to accuse you and that’s enough..
5. Stealing money electronically from businesses and individuals is already on an enormous scale.
6. Recruiting individuals into Militias and Fascist or Nazi gangs. Like we see in Ukraine.
7. Spreading fake news to damage large companies and even nations.
8. Creating unrest within nations for political gain of internal politicians or foreign predators.
9. Cross-border commerce taking jobs in developed nations with smaller cost base. see also 16.
10. Network businesses that control entire verticals across the globe even for simple services (Uber).
11. Huge global Monopolies destroying competition and destroying both product quality and employment opportunities and of course controlling news and information. How long before they change the curriculum.
12. (17) Data aggregators
The first 7, I’d blame 100% for these issues. 8 would seem closer to 50% responsible at this time because of other drivers also in affect. 9,10 and 11, Id blame at 80% .
The key is theft of personal data and its resale and usage by huge internet data aggregators ad platforms and the cost is set at 80%
(14) Global tax evasion.
While we always had huge businesses moving money around the globe and utilising tax havens, this was confined to those with a large corporate bank able to cooperate and a suitably experienced CFO. Not until the Internet was it possible to go online and find offshore banks or even to open an account. At the very least it meant it a trip there and very substantial deposit to get started. Holding and managing companies to create anonymity was beyond the majority of people, but today it is possible to this online, albeit, you may step into a honeypot.
You need only look at the range of such businesses operating in these centres now to realise just how accessible it has become and of course there’s the need to be ale to access your funds with ease which is now no different to having a visa card form your local bank.
Its hard to make an estimate and I; respect any bid either very much higher, or very much lower, but I’d say its unlike that offshore tax avoidance and crime would have achieved more than half its current size without the internet. I expect some people will be suggesting 10% or even lower, but ill blame it for 50% of the problem.
The key to this is offshore banking and businesses for non-residents and the cost is 50%
Selling over borders without respecting local laws, e.g. medicines, foods, electronics etc which undercuts quality local manufacturers resulting in job losses and sometimes dumping of goods by low cost centres to accelerate the destruction of local jobs. Its possible mainly because of platforms like Alibaba and Amazon and its affect is enormous
Under cutting due to lower cost base and poor quality the impact of internet is at least 90%
(16) weakening the coherence of nations states is one you could easily ignore or even shy away form because it’s hard to assess. I’m tempted to do it also. I am writing this why we are watching the US and a handful of their tame plebs like UK attempting to start WW3 in Ukraine.
Ive been aware for many years of the controlling of Ukraine form outside, the manipulation of Ukrainians to believe nonsense, the re-emergence of the almost forgotten Ukrainian Nazis, the recruitment, funding and equipping of a huge and powerful Nazi movement within Ukraine and now the wildly inaccurate misreporting of daily events not just in Ukraine but all over the world but puppet nations and Oligarch owned press organisations. I am truly terrified for the future of my children. While its near impossible to put a figure on this in terms of money and while it would be pointless to use money as a measure when we know the price of WW2 that has barely left the memory of so many, it is still imperative to deal with this terrifying development that has been developed out of and is to blame 100% upon the internet. We have tackled the damage caused by data profiling before and that was a high score, but now we are talking specifically about bombarding people with propaganda until they believe what you need them to believe, vote the way you want them to vote and hate who you want them to hate.
Using personal profiling to damage the coherence of the nation state. 100%
The diagram is easy once the thinking has been done.
These diagrams are always a focus of thinking as opposed to an output of analysis. Ultimately I will use them to direct us towards the actions likely to deliver the most important outcomes. Sometimes the more important is the largest, and other times it’s the most urgent and all things in between. We are still a long way from a decision on how to proceed, but a lot further ahead on understanding the issues and how they work together or can be resolved efficiently.
The top diagram is a simplified view of the overall discussion. My reasoning is that, while its useful or even important to be aware of the full extent of the damage done by many of the issues that are easily identified, when we approach a cure, we are more concerned about bang for buck. What I mean is that if letting the air out of his tyre will safe the world, why take him to the ICC?
What we see above is that despite being a great deal less sexy than many of the political statements all of which are extremely important and certainly not understated, the key to this while sorry mess and without which it wouldn’t be worth pursuing for any length of time is to put an end to the stealing for data form private individuals and the storing, aggregating or using of private data about any individual whether you are a corner store a huge Tech giant, or a small town council.
There will be other days for those who want to dig deep into what a government in a democracy should consider is and is not within their rights to do.
For now Ill focus on how easy it is to put an end to all this nonsense with a strictly technical solution.
All of the data these people are collecting, analysing,, selling and using to farm you and I like pet rabbits for the pot is information about our daily private activities.
This data is stored because when we use the technology, that technology, by no accident, gives the ISPs, search engines, Social media and other services an awful lot of information that it does not need and certainly has no right to see much less use.
To this day, the bulk of this personal data still comes via a browser such as Chrome, but regardless of which one, they all use Gecko and open source browser and then they add on their own stuff.
Immediately, most of us are bribed into signing into Google because we’ve been convinced that it will give us a better service and now we are used to it, so to make it quicker, we agree. Now they know our private information and most likely all our passwords for important and personal services plus our bank and credit card numbers and passwords. You can try avoiding that, but it will only last a short while and in any case you’ll still leak so much more data it will mater hardly a bit. For example, the first time you place an order with an online retailer, they’ll have all your information anyhow.
As I touched on already, every time you follow a URL, a huge invisible list of variables about you is passed to that site and your ISP and added to all the data already aggregated about you.
Even more information will be given to the owners of any browser extensions you have installed even if you never used them. They know everything and they are not free, they make good money by selling that information.
To stop that browser from doing it is extremely difficult and they generally remove any privacy configuration you did the next time it automatically updates your browser in the night. Tats not by accident, but you knew that already.
To put an end to all this nonsense is extraordinarily easy. The state must ban the collection and sending of this data, any data permanently. We’d still have a small area to fix around making online purchases, but that’s straightforward enough too, I won’t get into technical architecture for now just trust me its’ not hat challenging.
The next issue we have to sort out is Mobile phones, Macs and Androids mostly. iPhones are already introducing many of these features so it should prove quite easy to speak to them. Google on the other hand, could well be difficult, but they are like the rest of us when they don’t have a choice. Android OS is open source if a little tricky. Its no more difficult than fixing the browser. Any of these companies, whatever complaints and protestations they may make can put a team onto it and have it tested in a week
Let’s not pretend its not painful for the likes of Google, it means the end of Google as we know them, meaning that they will need a new business model and a host of new products. They have the brains and certainly the money to take care of this for themselves. Indeed , Id suggest that the world is ready for real search and paying their way instead of looking a way while their pockets are picked.
The second diagram covers the bigger problem domain and while I don’t suggest that it is less important, it well be less achievable at this time to ask for a solution. Were it technical, I have little doubt that a solution could be produced easily enough, but rather it involves dangerous and unpredictable power structures. The day will arrive, maybe even soon, when someone has an appetite for global cooperation and we can look at global organisations, even fixing current disasters and finally draughting some legislation a=in the hands of someone able and empowered to enforce it globally.
So is this radical change going to happen?
If you answer yes to this question, Ill know for sure that you haven’t been listening. I didn’t highlight it immediately in my diagram because you’d probably go all googly eyed and lose patience when n fact it’s very important that you understand where the problem lies.
In reality, fixing the top issue is as simple as telling Google to pack it in and play by the same rules as the rest of us then grabbing that little jerk at Facebook by the gangoolies until his eyes go red, but if you’ve ever had any experience of solutions in large organisations much less public sector, or dare I say it, international affairs, you already know that its always political. Its not bits and bites but pushes and pulls.
The current gang will keep satisfying the oligarchs that keep them in power and in doing so, they will stay well away from fixing simple problems like little browser leaks with huge consequences like world peace and the continuation of democracy as a way of life.
Nevertheless, once the solution can be grasped and the means to the solution can be repeated back by any politician it makes it so inevitable that unknowingly, it puts pressure on each and every one of them in power to start looking for an alternative when the right time arrives.