A look at what’s wrong with the internet

On the day Facebook’s CEO was scheduled to testify on Capitol Hill about a privacy breach involving the world’s largest social network, Mozilla released a report about the internet’s health.

The nonprofit foundation’s diagnosis? The internet needs help.

Mark Zuckerberg was grilled at a joint session of the Senate Commerce and Judiciary committees and at a hearing before the House Energy and Commerce Committee over the fact that Cambridge Analytica, a political data consulting company that was used by President Trump’s campaign, accessed the Facebook user information of up to 87 million people without their consent.

The CEO appeared before lawmakers for the first time since Facebook and other tech platforms were used to spread U.S. election-related disinformation and propaganda linked to Russian trolls. Fake news is another issue the Mozilla report identifies as critical.

“ ‘Fake news’ has reached epidemic proportions worldwide and this is in large part due to the underlying online advertising economy, which rewards abuse, fraud, and misinformation,” the report says. “To stop fake news, we will need to look at radical changes in internet business models and regulation.”

What might those changes look like?

“We can build services that are just as good that collect less data, or maybe don’t keep it as long,” said Mark Surman, executive director of the Mozilla Foundation, in an interview recently. “We should have a conversation about lean data vs. fat data. Are we collecting too much data?”

Another issue identified as critical in the Mozilla report is the consolidation of power in tech.

“A handful of big tech companies, including Facebook, Google, and Amazon, have become intertwined not only with people’s daily lives, but with the global economy, civic discourse, and democracy itself,” the report says.

Mozilla is the maker of the Firefox browser and other open-source tools, and a longtime advocate for an open internet. True, Firefox competes with Google’s Chrome browser. But Firefox also uses Google search.

Mozilla’s interest in pointing out the growing power of just a handful of tech companies isn’t to say that those companies are “bad,” he said. “We want to see an internet ecosystem and marketplace where users can trust the services they use and where things are open to competition.”

Surman sees the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica mess as a “flashpoint,” and hopes that consumers will be angry enough to demand more from companies.

“You saw that 20 years ago in case of Nikes and wages,” he said. “Nike turned around and is a great corporate citizen now.”

He suggested that tech companies can make concrete changes if they want to.

“By default, Facebook tracks you across the rest of the web,” Surman said. “They can switch the default. There’s a lot they can do very fast on data collection.”

The other critical issue the Mozilla report talks about is security in the age of the internet of things, especially as Surman says 30 billion devices are expected to be internet-connected over the next three or four years.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Technology

Ex-Googler turns mom's money into a billion dollars
Ex-Googler turns mom's money into a billion dollars

After Steven Yang left his coveted job at Google, he asked his mother whether he should take venture-capital money to fund his business idea. » RELATED: Do you have the new Gmail? Google’s email gets massive redesign If his online consumer-electronics enterprise was a risky bet, she told him, go with the venture capitalists. But if...
Top Local Business Stories of the Week
Top Local Business Stories of the Week

CANNABIS DEBATE State backs off cannabis oil ban, seeks ‘big picture’ plan: A state health agency has tapped the brakes on its drive to strip food and supplements infused with CBD oil — a non-psychoactive extract of marijuana — from Texas retail store shelves. But it’s unclear how long the reprieve will last for over-the-counter...
Up the Ladder

Medical Triumvira Immunologics has named Sabine Chlosta chief medical officer and Jon Irvin vice president of finance. Insurance Texas Mutual Insurance Company has named Jeanette Ward chief operating officer. Technology ESO has named Christopher Raps vice president of sales. Aurea Software has named Tej Redkar chief product officer. Venture capital...
This is the most dangerous day of the week to drive
This is the most dangerous day of the week to drive

Despite several years of steady declines, deadly vehicle crashes are on the rise, according to the most recent data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.           » RELATED: Metro Atlanta drivers pay some of nation's highest costs The safest day to be on the road: Tuesday....
Starbucks’ racial-bias training will be costly, but could pay off in the long run
Starbucks’ racial-bias training will be costly, but could pay off in the long run

As Starbucks prepares to close stores for racial-bias training next week, the coffee giant will not only be confronting a difficult and emotional issue, but will incur some hefty expenses in the process.           » RELATED: Black men arrested at Starbucks settle for...
More Stories