A Hyperconnected Jungle

A Hyperconnected World. According to the WEF (World Economic Forum), we should speak of a Hyper-connected World now that everything is increasingly connected to everything else. Not only people and organizations are connected, also more and more devices (the Internet of Things) are linked to the ever-expanding internet. But technically connected does not mean being manageable or under control. The hyper-connected world knows no governance, no laws and no rules. What is actually happening is that anything can effect things anywhere in the world and anyone, who previously could only communicate or act digitally in a limited environment, can now do so globally.

Hyperconnected Jungle. That leads to a hyperconnected digital jungle. In a jungle, clearly the law of the jungle applies. That is exactly what is going on at the moment. The Internet and social media are increasingly becoming the playground of tech giants, cyber criminals, extremists, fantasists and the super rich: it is in fact a cynical variant of the survival of the fittest. Not to mention some governments who are trying to conduct espionage or exercise power through the combination of installing equipment and telecommunications connected to the Internet.

A digital black hole, in which a few exercise digital power over many, is therefore looming ever closer. Regarding the power of tech giants, the article by Professor Shoshana Zuboff (author of “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism.”) in the New York Times of 29 January 2021: “The Coup We Are Not Talking About”, is a frightening eye-opener.

Democracy is at stake. Professor Zuboff is crystal clear in stating that democracy in the world is at stake right now. The essence of her story revolves around the fact that tech giants manipulate and direct the entire information supply based on data that are unwittingly provided by users. The effect is a misinformation-driven provision of information to social media users. She ends her article with: “We may have democracy, or we may have a surveillance society, but we cannot have both. A democratic surveillance society is an existential and political impossibility. Make no mistake: This is the fight for the soul of our information civilization”. She however indicates that governments in the EU (GDPR, DSA, DMA), the US and the UK are active in developing legislating to overcome the extremes of the internet, social media and tech giants.

Cybercrime. A similar story can be told about cybercrime. In 2019, 28% of companies worldwide will be affected by cybercrime. Its scale, worldwide exceeding €600 billion in 2018, is gradually taking on frightening proportions. The collateral damage caused by cybercrime is many times higher. In 2015, this would have amounted to approximately €3 trillion (€3000 billion) and the estimate for 2021 is €6 trillion (€6000 billion). That is about 10% of the total GNP of all countries combined. We have not even begun to solve this problem.

Governments not awake. The question arising from all of this is when governments will wake up and understand that something like a global information civilization is needed in which information is dealt with in a democratic way. Just like there has been a climate conference in Paris, based on IPCC information, where climate goals were set for 2050, so should the countries of the free world come together to establish policies regarding internet and social media, the laws and regulations that everything must comply with, as well as regulate enforcement. It should be unequivocally established that private data, including feelings, are really private. That social media companies must have explicit permission from a citizen to use his data or analyse his life. And that citizens should always know what companies have used their personal information for what purpose. They should also have the right to withdraw their private data from use by tech giants.

Internet infrastructure needs regulation. All of this must lead to the fact that, just as is the case for telecommunications, traffic or energy infrastructure, legal rules are introduced for internet and social media infrastructure, including enforcement. Tech giants should be considered as the digital utilities, the digitilities, of the digital, fluid, society. Ultimately, it will also be to their advantage if they are treated as such. And as for cybercrime and extremists, global legislation in the internet field and an enforcement structure cannot come soon enough to finally start cleaning up the digital jungle.