Geert Lovink, a professor at the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences, said the internet was headed toward a “point of no return”, with social control and reliance on addictive apps rising to unsustainable levels. Loewenk, who helped create a precursor to the internet called “Digital Cities,” claims in his new paper “Destroying the Internet” that increasingly sophisticated methods of surveillance and control mean that “what we call free speech is effectively no longer exist”.
Whether or not the Internet is beyond repair, the advent of data-driven algorithms raises many important questions about the use of data and its impact on sociopolitical outcomes. Statistical models based on big data involve the accumulation of large amounts of information about human behavior, potentially widening the power gap between the masses of information producers and the minority of information consumers who control the means of data collection and interpretation.
Statistical thought has exerted considerable political and economic influence since its conception emerged in modern Europe.eighteen periodday For centuries, armed conflict has driven nations to gather information about their populations, natural resources and industries. Collecting this data and drawing conclusions from it improves the administrative efficiency of the state bureaucracy because leaders are able to better allocate funds and personnel.According to Alain Desrosières in digital politicsAt the same time, mathematicians responsible for interpreting data and creating new quantitative methods achieved higher social status by applying their techniques to policy-relevant problems. The origins of data and statistics as means of social control suggest that those in power have deep-seated incentives to collect and exploit vast amounts of data about members of ordinary polities.
Just as early forms of data-driven analytics revolutionized state administration and advanced the interests of those in power in the past, big data and data-driven algorithms are transforming governance today and entrenching the political status of the plutocratic. This is evident in contemporary China, where Beijing’s network of information control has expanded to include a wide range of powerful agencies, censors and computer algorithms, all of which make domestic political conditions more favorable to the ruling Chinese Communist Party. For example, China’s Great Firewall places barriers on access to information online to divert attention from politically sensitive material. State censors have used statistics on internet activity to remove content, such as footage from a documentary highlighting severe environmental pollution in Chinese cities, negatively affecting the central government.
Beijing also employs data-driven algorithms to conduct mass surveillance and arbitrary detention of ordinary Chinese citizens. As Human Rights Watch explains, innovative technologies related to big data are central to the government’s consolidation of control over political and social life. The Integrated Joint Operations Platform (IJOP), a mobile application used by police and local officials for mass surveillance, aggregates personal data and flags individuals deemed a possible threat to social stability. Since 2016, the government has used IJOP and other tools in China’s mass surveillance system to forcefully detain nearly 13 million Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities living in Xinjiang province in “political education” camps. These examples show how big data exacerbates information asymmetries between ordinary people, those who generate data footprints and political elites who use their privileged access to emerging technologies to advance their interests.
Available evidence suggests that it is not just authoritarian states that big data has the potential to undermine civil liberties and entrench the privileged in social hierarchies. Misuse of data-driven computational politics can be observed even in mature democracies such as the United States. With relatively few legal restrictions on privacy, access, and information collection related to big data, big tech companies and political movements are using digital technologies at the expense of ordinary citizens. New York Times columnist Zeynep Tufekci finds that data-driven algorithms that target individuals damage civic discourse by supporting red-line work in local, state, and national elections.
The increasing sophistication of statistical methods for collecting and processing big data will widen the gap between ordinary producers and the power brokers responsible for the data and information environment. Beijing’s “repressive algorithms” fuel the rise of high-tech totalitarianism in China, while America’s big data-driven computational politics threaten the integrity of America’s democratic institutions. To mitigate the dangers of big data without forcing the Internet into extinction, policymakers should enact new domestic and international laws to govern the use of emerging technologies and make data-driven algorithms more transparent.