24 August 2021
Author: Miloš Bojović
The Great Divide of Freedoms on the Internet
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The Internet is a place of endless human potential. It is the tool that gives us the freedom of expression greater than any other that existed before it. Also, the Internet is a true generation-defining invention.
This magical web of ones and zeros has given birth to communities, artworks, and other inventions and is growing every day. However, it is exactly that this freedom, this infinite wellspring of ideas and potential, that threatens to crumble beneath its own weight.
For years now privacy on the Internet has been a topic of discussion for politicians, programmers, and everyday people. According to the UN, privacy is a universal human right, but in recent years, a conflict arose between two sides that cannot quite agree on what the word privacy means. Countries like the freedom-loving USA and the socially oriented China have wildly different opinions on the mere concept of personal information and how it should be used, with its roots in their founding philosophies. The Kantian belief, upon which the Western world bases its ideals, focuses on an individual’s free will and autonomy, contrary to the Buddhist idea that the concept of self is associated with selfishness. However unimportant, and arbitrary they seem to be, they are an essential social aspect to tackle when observing these diametrically opposed cultures. This drastic divide of ideas is what causes disagreements on how the Internet can and should be used, and there is no better example than the great firewall of China, used every day to restrict the freedom of information available to the Chinese citizens. In this example, we can see tangible proof of the divide between Western and Eastern ideas of what freedom should be. Of course, most citizens of even the Eastern countries wish to have control where their information can be used, but they often don’t have a choice in the matter, instead of having systems imposed upon them by governments and officials no more terrifying than the Chinese social credit system, designed to rank every citizen on crime records, habits, jobs, and search histories.
In this situation, most people would say that China is the bad guy of the story, who steal their citizens’ information for their own use, but when we look to the other side of the conflict the answer becomes a bit muddier and unclear.
The simple truth is, no matter where you live or how many VPNs you use, your private information’s are being gathered, sold, used, and one could perhaps make the argument that the Western countries are better in this field than their Eastern counterpart. Any time you use the Internet a small amount of information is sent to whatever website you clicked on, nothing alarming of course, just the “necessary stuff”, like watch time, preferences, and they might just ask you to make an account with a birthday date attached to it, nothing invasive, of course. However, the more you use the Internet, the more you share, and surprisingly quickly, a crystal-clear picture of you is painted in the database of all the websites you use. This type of data collecting is called digital fingerprinting, and it is accomplished by selling the tiny bit of your information between the sights, to eventually create a crystal-clear picture of you, your interests, your behaviour, and your identity, a perfect source of data for advertisers. Now you must be thinking: “This is not as bad as what China is doing, this process is necessary, it’s the price of all those websites being free”. But before casting your judgement, it is essential to look at every aspect of this issue, even those we actively partake in every day
Today we see countless new technologies that will certainly improve our modern lives even more, but the price might just be our privacy. From the mere beginnings of civilization, humans had to decide how much of their personal freedom must give up for the good of the collective, and that choice now falls on to us. After reading this article your instinct might be to go off the grid, throw your router into the river and never turn back, but we must remember all the good the Internet has brought us, and balance our wish for freedom from the eyes of the public and our willingness to part with this wonderful world. As the new generation, we must make the choice on our own, will we give away our freedoms like we do today just for a slightly better connection, or will we fight for our privacy, losing this wonderful world in the process. That is for us to decide.
The challenge for a global privacy standard:
Remarks on Internet Freedom: https://tavaana.org/sites/default/files/Remarks%20on%20Internet%20Freedom_0.pdf
Great Firewall of China:
China’s Social Credit System:
Human Dignity, Privacy, and Personality in German and American Constitutional Law:
Universal Declaration of Human Rights: