Where social media and messaging apps were silenced
The Internet Health Report is about the human experience of the Internet. It is an independent, open source compilation of data, research and stories that show how the Internet is evolving across five issues.
It’s getting easier to explain what Internet health means. When we launched the prototype for the Internet Health Report in 2016 it was less so. What changed?
For one, headlines about unhealthy aspects of the Internet have been constant: many have started to argue that technology companies are becoming too dominant; social media has been weaponized as a tool of harassment; our personal information has been stolen; and democratic processes have been undermined by the manipulation of online media and ads.
It’s no wonder that 2017 has been called a ”terrible year for tech” by some.
Here’s what’s new: More people are opening their eyes to the real impact the Internet has on our societies, economies, and personal wellbeing. We are beginning to see the health of the Internet as not just a technical issue, but a human one.
That’s the approach we take with the Internet Health Report, and why we look across a broad range of factors to consider the ecosystem as a whole.
We also cast a spotlight on three of the biggest Internet health issues of the past year: Securing the Internet of Things, Understanding ‘fake news’, and Too big tech? These deep dives show how a usually narrow topic can offer a view of the big picture.
In Too big tech? we explore how the dominant companies of the United States and China create unhealthy conditions for struggling innovators and smaller populations trying to break into the market – and for a scientist trying to untangle himself from Google. The consolidation of power in global tech is not only a business story, it raises questions from the geopolitical to the personal. What do we want the Internet to be?
With Understanding ‘fake news’ we break away from the narrative of Russia and the 2016 U.S. election and explore why misinformation in social media has become a topic of concern to the world. Hint: the online advertising economy is broken and easily bent to fraud and abuse. Beyond propagandists, we consider teens who make easy money on digital ads, and people who share incendiary stories because they don’t know better yet.
Finally, cybersecurity is often portrayed as a ‘hacker’ problem – but it’s also deeply intertwined with the health of the Internet ecosystem as a whole. Up to 30 billion devices will come online by 2020, including insecure webcams, baby monitors, and other devices that can be enslaved and collectively wielded as a weapon. Securing the Internet of Things will be a challenge of correcting poor software, hardware and governance practices that make the Internet fragile. Who do we hold accountable? And how do we find meaningful ways to keep things healthy and safe. There will need to be more than one answer.
Which brings us back to: How healthy is the Internet? In most cases it’s not a simple question. Certainly, there are some straightforward indicators to watch. Things are getting a bit better in areas like: access, affordability, and encryption. And they are getting worse in: censorship, online harassment, and energy use. Simple indicators miss the complexity that comes with global ecosystems like the Internet.
We need to pay attention to the contractions, like the growing tension between free speech and harassment. We need to watch for technologies and people who are smaller today but may be huge tomorrow, like open source hardware makers or blockchain innovators. And we need to think creatively about how the people who make technology, the people who use it and the people who regulate it, can work together to create a digital world that is truly enriching for everyone.
More of us around the world are saying things, teaching things, and building things as a way to tackle these challenges. For everyone who is trying to make the digital world better: we hope the Internet Health Report can help along the way, at least a little.
Some indicators included in this year’s report
We encourage you to explore the components of the Internet Health Report and engage with the questions and conversations you encounter.
Please contact us and share your ideas. This report is a collaborative, open source initiative and we appreciate and consider all feedback and input.