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In 1968, when the first two computers on the ARPANET (what would later become the Internet) connected and exchanged messages, two of it's inventors prophesized that... will be happier for the on-line individual because the people with whom one interacts most strongly will be selected more by commonality of interests and goals than by accidents of proximity.

—J.C.R. Licklider and Bob Taylor

They were in the midst of producing a new kind of decentralized network for the purpose of computer resource sharing. There were few computers in those days and managing time and access was complicated. However, they quickly realized that the "intergalactic computer network" they were building was poised to become so much more than just a resource management tool, this would become humanity's new home, a global village. And... human discourse adapts to its new home, everything we do and think as human beings will be and is being shaped by new values. [...] If it’s ever fair to say that anything has “changed everything,” it’s fair to say so about the Internet.

—Virginia Heffernan

But what are these new values? Who gets to dictate our new norms? Since the beginning, the Internet's technical protocols have been collaboratively designed and transparently implemented in open standard organizations made up of member groups, large and small, from around the world. However, as the means by which we access the Internet becomes increasingly centralized, the social protocols, the rules by which individuals interact and connect with one another, have become the exclusive province of those running a handful of platforms.

Everything we do on the Internet generates data, every random thought we type into a search field, every location we visit with our GPS enabled phone, every document we write, message we send and even message we begin to write... but decide not to send. All this becomes data. This data is your experience of the online world made manifest. This experience has become free raw material for hidden commercial practices of extraction, prediction and sales. Consciously or not, our new values are being shaped by the business logic of these platforms, a new economic order which has come to be known as surveillance capitalism.

Ask any kid what Facebook is for and they'll tell you, "Facebook is here to help me make friends". No, they're looking to figure out how to monitize peoples relationships. If you don't know what the software you're using is for, then you're not using it, but being used by it.

—Doug Rushkoff

Reclaiming our agency online requires seeing the invisible in order to better understand

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Commissioned by ODI Data as Culture and produced as part of the ODI's R&D programme exploring sustainable ethical practice around data, funded by Innovate UK.


A hypermedia essay on how online tracking works, why it works the way it does and what's at stake.






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