The Cyberspace war and the battle for online power

The Internet’s become a new battle ground – of ideas, approaches, interests. Much like the physical world. Now we’re at war. Cyberspace war.

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On the one end there are traditional institutional powers – large corporations and governments while on the other there are the newly established powers – hackers, online movements, socially empowered groups. So if the Internet presented power to the latter –they, all of a sudden, had space for free and efficient communication and coordination, this might not be case anymore.

In the early days of the Internet, anonymity was dead easy. Global communication was possible, censorship was impossible, coordination was fast, authorities were clueless, hence slow. Bigger changes would occur as a result – citizen journalism would overtake traditional media. Web presence and reach would allow smaller organisations to compete decently against corporate giants. Individuals could express discontent and it could matter. Political parties stopped overruling society.

We’ve seen it so many times – the Anonymous, the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street, the Boston Bombing, Euromaiden. It was the new reality. A new world order.

Crowdfunding, crowdsourcing, social media elections, blogging, citizen journalism, digital marketing are not just trends, but came to change the world.

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But this somehow came to pass. The empowerment we talk about exists in an ever changing environment of updates and upgrades. We may sometimes forget that as we give out our data on the Internet, we, in fact, present it to powerful companies. They in turn are supposed to protect it and but they can’t escape the fact that their obligations come in two directions – to the client but more importantly to themselves.

They’re deliberately—and incidentally—changing social norms, as a result. They analyse and use the data to change use, or drive traffic all in the name of profit.

And in many cases, the interests of government and corporate powers align. We shouldn’t here forget that Twitter and Facebook are giant organisations in themselves. So we couldn’t underestimate the fact that in this cyber war, they would take the corporate end.

And it makes sense that NSA is using Facebook, Google and Verizon to get access to data it couldn’t otherwise. The same facial recognition technology that Disney uses in its theme parks can be incorporated to identify activists in Occupy Wall Street and China.

It’s a public/private surveillance partnership, in a way.

How did we come to such a shift? How, in those early Internet years, did we get the future so wrong?

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In truth, the Internet magnifies power. And while activists, social media group, the
powerless make use of new technologies faster, corporations have the resources to analyse, assess and eventually change technologies, or at least the tools the powerless would have. While corporations would have to play catch up, when they do, they do it effectively.

So while the Syrian protesters used Facebook to organize, the Government, in response, used Facebook to identify activists to arrest.
Right now it seems like it would be easier for authorities to identify protesters, that it would be for protesters to remain anonymous.

This is the essence of the battle – quick vs strong.

The problem is that leveraging power requires technical skills. Those with sufficient expertise are the ones that may stay ahead of corporations. This is the core reason why the Anonymous are still around as a political force, and why technically savvy whistleblowers can do extensive damage.

But most of us, for better or worse, are stuck in the middle. We’re not protected and can’t protect ourselves, may feel powerful but this may only be deceiving.

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