Technology has brought enormous benefits to humanity. The invention of
the Internet stands out as one of the greatest leaps to complete
civilization. This is credited to the ubiquity of the Internet which
makes the world a global village. However, there are few things in
nature that have benefits but lack a negative flipside. The book
‘Blown to Bits’ authored by three technology enthusiasts unveils
technological aspects and presents it as it is for individuals to make
the ultimate judgment.
Chapter four titled ‘Needles in the haystack’ is an expose of the
search engine technology. The search engines assist users to find the
information they need. Their importance cannot be overemphasized. Search
engines have helped to reunite long separated loved ones. Earlier this
year, Saroo Brierley’s reunion with his family after twenty five years
hit the headlines afresh when he released a book he titled ‘Homeward
Bound’. Product information needed by customers can be accessed within
a single click. The fact that the searches are free and easy to use has
made them stand out as educational and entertainment resources. Through
various means, search engines help people discover things they did not
know exist.
The World Wide Web is replacing the physical encyclopedias and
libraries. Businesses and governments were the largest users of the web
pages to relay information to the public. In those days, the web was a
reliable information resource. However, with the increased ubiquity of
the internet, it became increasingly easy to open web pages. Even the
smallest organization could afford to create and maintain a website. To
make it worse, even individuals can open websites today or even operate
blogs through the free content management systems. This freedom for
anyone to post content on the web brings with it the risk of the
reliability of the content on the web.
However, there are several ethical conundrums they pose. One is the
reliability of the content. Search engines give users what they have
requested from what is available in their repository. The key concept
behind indexing is the use of keywords. The links that appear first ion
the screen are for the pages that have used keywords that match the
user’s query. The problem is that as much as the keywords match there
is no assurance that the page provided provides accurate and reliable
information. Individuals and companies post are only interested in
posting content that is favorable to their business. Some pages are mere
opinions by individuals on popular topics without necessarily having any
professional grounding in the area.
An ethical issue to consider is handling confidential information. As
long some information has passed through the web, it is difficult to
guarantee its privacy. The leakage of Lilly’s memo concerning the
Olanzapine case is a good example of how things can go wrong. Apart from
leakage, the operations of the search engines contravene privacy rights.
Take digital footprints as an example. An individual’s browsing
history is retained without the user’s consent and can be presented to
a company upon requests. In most cases, such history has been used to
the detriment of an individual’s reputation.
Search engines are not only tools to aid finding the information, but
are also the new technique for mind control. Businesses and governments
are using them to distort the public’s picture of reality. They are no
not the passive information resources they used to be. This is evidenced
by the web page ranking. It does not rely on content but mainly on
opinion. The rankings can be altered by doctoring the indexes to ensure
their links appear first when certain words are searched. This gives the
search engine controller power to control what people see and
consequently what they think.
The people at stake here are the users. The search engines are in
business and so are the businesses that do all they have to, to ensure
their links appear first. For the search engine company, all they have
to do in case of a complaint is to remove the controversial link from
their index. It is a different case for a user who may have obtained
erroneous information from a link and acted on it. Restitution is not as
stress-free. Search engines make copies of copyrighted content and
retain them. This jeopardizes the copyright laws and the people who
suffer are the content owners because they do not get due compensation
for the use of their content.
A second issue to consider is digital content ownership, privacy and
copyright issues. Content owners never want to lose ownership of their
content. At the same time, they want to reap from the benefits the
internet provides by helping them advertise their wares as well avail
them to customers. That tug of war is the main subject of chapter six.
It outlines the various facets of digital content and the difficulty to
censor any misuse. Digital content theft and piracy are a real menace.
One of the things that make it difficult to nail culprits is the
file-sharing programs installed in computers. These programs are set to
automatically download content on the background without the knowledge
of the user. That can be used as a defense line. When copyright has been
infringed evidently, it is still difficult to get the pirate. The reason
is the difficulty to locate the exact IP address used because numerous
machines use the same network port at the same time. Even if the
computer is located, it is almost impossible to identify the person who
used it to make the download.
Peer to peer service also aggravates this condition. The fact that
computers within a network are able to exchange content without going
through a central point makes it difficult to control the content being
shared. Even companies that facilitate these on-network transfers are
free of secondary liability because they do not handle the content at
all. They only facilitate connection of computers. The big question here
would be how to prevent people who have bought material legally from
copying and redistributing it. Legally, even making a single copy of
that content is stealing. The truth is that once someone has purchased
the content, regulating what they do with it is hard.
Legal penalties for digital offenses are exaggerated. Maybe it is to
ensure that the few who are found guilty compensate for the many who go
unpunished. The war between internet and copyright laws continues to
grow in intensity and magnitude. For example, Google seeks to increase
the value of their search engines. It does so by availing as much
content as the users demand which include scanning books to avail them
on Google books. This has been termed by copyright legal officials as
freeloading on talent and property of authors and publishers. The
probable solution neither incriminates such acts nor sets free the
offender’s. It is the question of how far one’s ownership rights
extend as far as digital content is concerned. It appears as if the only
remedy is developing control beyond copyright. This is by developing a
society where morals are upheld not only emphasis on adherence to the
The third issue under consideration is security on the Internet. The
minimal control on computer users and the difficulty to verify the
identity of the online figure are the fuel for cybercrime. Chapter seven
of ‘Blown to Bits’ explores how the Internet predisposes the society
to so many vices. Internet is now a hunting ground for innocent prey.
Predators posing as genuine individuals turn out to be thieves, stalkers
and even child abductors. It is possible to fake one’s identity and
even location to suit their crime target. Internet has distorted the
conventional development of relationships which was built on trust.
House computers are accessible to children and with the influx of
X-rated content to pornographic content by kids. To watch or download
such content does not require any proof for adulthood. This means that
individuals can fake identities online continue propagating their
propaganda or pretext messages. Many children have disappeared without a
trace after connection with such imposters. Celebrity imposters’ cases
have been on the increase, for example the recently arrested Harry
Styles imposter.
Sadly it has been difficult to regulate the Internet there is no similar
scenario to which it can be compared. There are so many players in the
process by the time the message is delivered or action done. To point
out who is liable for the offence becomes a challenge. For example,
Internet service providers defend themselves by saying that they do not
own the information but are mere providers of a platform through which
the message was communicated. They can argue that they have little
control on the content that the users post or view on the ISP platform.
The only attempt to this has been to enforce the Communication Decency
Act to clear the ISP’s question on intent. However, the enforcement of
the CDA failed miserably. The remaining remedy if universally applied is
the use of digital certificates that verify age and adult personal
identification numbers. The handicap to this is that the persons of bad
intent will still fabricate these requirements. As it is, the puzzle
revolving around information liberty and information security remains
Obviously, Internet involves other issues besides the search engines,
digital content management and online security. However, the three are
outstanding in their wide usage that increases their impact on society
daily. They have become a necessity, and their positive impact is
undeniable. The problem arises with their misuse by tech savvy
criminals. Nevertheless, the use of Internet is on the rise both
socially and businesswise.
This can be evidenced by the shift towards e-books, online movie and
music stores. Since technology cannot be done away with, the dilemma is
how to get the most out of it but at the same time limit the negative
effects. What adds to the complication is the fact that Internet usage
depends solely on the user. Mitigating the negatives is not as easy as
writing policies, but rather by encouraging responsible usage of the
powerful tool that is now accessible easily to everyone. It poses an
ethical dilemma, relying on individual’s judgment to do only what is
right and beneficial to them and to the rest of the society. The answer
to this dilemma is in the hands of all Internet users.
Abelson, H., Ledeen, K., & Lewis, H. R. (2008). Blown to bits: Your
life, liberty, and happiness after the digital explosion. Upper Saddle
River, NJ: Addison-Wesley.

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