As the technological realm becomes more pervasive, whom can we trust? Each week, Liberty Nation brings new insight into the fraudulent use of personal data, breaches of privacy, and attempts to filter our perception.
How Much do We Live Through our Phones?
A group of students at New York’s Adelphi University recently got a taste of smartphone-free life. As part of a course in technology addiction, titled “Life Unplugged,” students were asked to give up their phones for seven days – the devices were stored by college security in sealed plastic bags just to make sure nobody could give in to temptation.
“The apps are designed to addict us and so I’m really interested in my students becoming conscious of their usage and also learning to focus … The fact that no one can focus, that my students can’t sleep … They feel bad about themselves because of social media, the list goes on and on,” said Professor Donna Freitas, who is also the author of The Happiness Effect: How Social Media is Driving a Generation to Appear Perfect at Any Cost.
“My desire in that my students become critical thinkers about their smartphones. I want them to become users of their phones, as opposed to feeling used by their phones,” Freitas told PIX11 News.
Although the students had made emergency contact arrangements and were allowed access to computers during the period, they were nervous about giving up the constant company of their smartphones, as reported by CBS-2’s Carolyn Gusoff. “This is going to test how brave I am,” commented student Melonie Klein. “My hands are shaking right now,” another student joked in the classroom.
One week later, after being deprived of a continuous connection to the online world, the students’ perspective on technology seems to have changed. “Everything is perfect right now. I’m having a lot better relationships … it’s a stress free environment, no pressure about social media,” Jacob Dannenberg said.
“I’m freaking out, I could probably cry right now,” said Adrianna Cigliano at the beginning of the week, but by the end of the experiment, she told CBS-2, “I think it’s really refreshing and relaxing … I was able to fall asleep a lot easier … Doing homework was 100 percent easier. I got it done faster, I was in the zone.” She added, “I want to keep that balance and figure out the healthy relationship that we deserve to have with our phones.”
“I’m nervous because I have it in my hands all the time every second of the day and have everything at my fingertips all the time,” Ashley Castillero said when handing her device in, but at the end of the week, she had resolved to change her habits. “My screen time is definitely going to go down and I’m going start to appreciate my surroundings more because usually I’m looking at my screen all the time.”
In a similar vein comes a cute story out of Indonesia, this time aimed at curing the phone “addiction” of young children. In October, Mayor Oded Muhammad Danial of the city Bandung told news outlets that his answer to this societal malady is to exchange kids’ phones for baby chickens. “We are studying this. There will be a program where children will be given chicks to raise. This is the breakthrough,” said the mayor, as translated by news site Coconuts Jakarta. “This is so that children will be preoccupied, and that they won’t be too focused on their gadgets. We will give them free range chicks.”
At a November ribbon-cutting ceremony, a dozen children were given the small birds in cages displaying the message, “Please take good care of me,” and plans are to roll out the program to 2,000 elementary and junior high students in the region. Those who raise the largest chickens will reportedly be rewarded with prize bicycles.
Mother Yayah Ratnasari supported the scheme, telling AFP, “It’s more beneficial for them to take care of chicks than play with smartphones.”
Her teenage son, Rabil, was hardly excited, however. “It’s more interesting playing with a smartphone,” he said.
As to the life span and welfare of the chicks … well, we can only hope for the best.
Human Rights Online – Are Yours being Violated?
Google and Facebook data collection poses a major threat to human rights, according to Amnesty International. The organization has published the report Surveillance Giants, which accuses the two Silicon Valley pillars of controlling online communication – and holding internet users hostage to a “Faustian bargain, whereby they are only able to enjoy their human rights online by submitting to a system predicated on human rights abuse.”
The study points out four issues surrounding these companies’ business strategies:
- It outlines how the surveillance-based business model works: by offering services for “free” and getting users to “pay” with their personal information, which is tracked across the web before being analyzed and used to generate income through advertising.
- It accuses them abusing privacy by giving users access to services only on the condition they consent to extensive data sharing and processing for advertising purposes, “directly countering the right to decide when and how our personal data can be shared with others.” It adds that the business model has changed over time, so early users were not faced with the same data requirements, allowing these businesses to gain market dominance before ramping up surveillance demands.
- It discusses machine algorithms that create detailed profiles on users, and “have been shown to have a range of knock-on effects that pose a serious threat to people’s rights, including freedom of expression and opinion, freedom of thought, and the right to equality and non-discrimination.”
- The report asserts these companies’ business models have allowed them to gain highly concentrated power and influence, with little accountability.
While Amnesty International notes that other big tech companies including Apple, Microsoft, and Amazon, have gained power in certain areas, it chose to examine Facebook and Google because those platforms have become “fundamental to how people engage and interact with each other – effectively a new global public square” that few internet users can avoid.
“Google and Facebook dominate our modern lives – amassing unparalleled power over the digital world by harvesting and monetizing the personal data of billions of people. Their insidious control of our digital lives undermines the very essence of privacy and is one of the defining human rights challenges of our era,” said Kumi Naidoo, Secretary General of Amnesty International. He continued:
“Facebook and Google must not be allowed to dictate how we live online. These companies have chosen a specific surveillance-business model that impacts on privacy, freedom of expression and other human rights. The technology behind the internet is not incompatible with our rights, but the business model Facebook and Google have chosen is.”
That’s all for this week from You’re Never Alone. Check back in next Monday to find out what’s happening in the digital realm and how it impacts you.
Read more from Laura Valkovic.