It’s not 1997, but it sure could be. It’s almost as if the entire internet is starting over, except it’s actually 2022 and digital has become woven into the very fabric of our daily lives. It feels a little strange that after this long, we’re now talking about things like internet regulation and the demise of the cookie.
I’m torn, because on one side I completely understand why the internet regulations need to be revisited, and why cookies are no longer going to be the primary currency for digital experience. On the other hand, do people really understand what the internet will be like when you’re a semi-anonymous user jumping from walled garden to walled garden, device to device, with federal regulation about how and when you interact with certain types of content?
I do believe federal regulations about the internet need to be updated. Most importantly, social media requires regulation. The wonderful -- and also the most horrible -- thing about the internet is that it gives everyone a voice. When things kicked off in the mid-'90s, communities of like-minded people were able to find one another and engage. If you liked collecting comic books, you found your group. If you liked a certain band (or genre of music), you found your group. That was fun.
These days those communities still exist -- but so do groups of conspiracy theorists, hate groups and people responsible for pushing misinformation. The internet should be free, and it should easy and fun to find people who want to engage on topics that interest you. But free speech should probably be labeled as to what’s truth and facts vs. opinion. Opinion is fine, but facts should be the foundation of content.
Some social media outlets have done a good job of labeling such content, but we could do more. Please note I’m not saying which side of any argument is correct, but rather that facts should be stated as such, while opinions should be labeled as such, as well. If we could verify fact from opinion, and present these ideas as such, then browsers and digital publications could be held accountable for how they leverage both. Audiences could be clear on what they are looking at. It could have a positive impact on how we use the web as a content mechanism again.
The demise of cookies is one topic where I am also torn. The common argument is that the internet will essentially reset, and you will be receiving untargeted ads again rather than ads that are based on your preferences.
That's not entirely true. We are not starting over. We are getting rid of cookies, so when you search for “yellow shoes,” you will no longer have said shoes follow you all over the internet. You will have said shoes follow you in a specific platform, and since the primary walled gardens are Google, Facebook and Amazon, it is safe to say those yellow shoes will still follow you around a decent portion of the time.
The issue is that when you cross from one walled garden to the next, the ads reset, and those shoes will not follow you anymore. Now you will get targeted based on your engagement in that walled garden rather than across all walled gardens.
To me, that is a totally acceptable experience. Your data and behaviors are still going to be used, and if federal regulators get more involved, I anticipate you will have a cleaner experience, with fewer people abusing your preferences. This sets us up for a more “corporate” version of the internet, which sounds frightening but is probably OK. As with most technology, we have abused and distorted how we use this one. A little regulation might help make it a safer and more secure place to be.
If you’d asked me what I thought 15 years ago, I probably would have had a different opinion. Now I’m a parent, and my kids are growing up in a world where digital media is essential to their lives. I welcome some protection for kids, and I am willing to give up a little of the freedom to ensure that my kids are not badgered, bullied and tempted with inappropriate or dangerous content. I don’t mind if they see relevant ads from day to day. As it is, I have to monitor all their activity online, so what does it matter if someone else is helping a little bit?
What are your thoughts on internet regulation and the demise of the cookie? Are you “torn” as well, or do you have a concrete point of view? I’m curious, as I am still making up my mind. In the immortal words of good old Natalie, “my inspiration has run dry.”
And Gord, now seriously, a very good and thought provoking commentary. I feel Australia is in the same position. What we built as a nascent nation in the last century was impressive, especially for a nation with a small population and a remote landmass. As one example, our once strong healthe sysetm has been pared back, and COVID has shown how under-resourced our health system now is.
But I want to ask you a question. You mentioned flags. They (and placards) are prominent at protest rallies. Most protesters say that they are showing their patriotism. I'm all for patriotism. For heaven's sake Jakara Anthony won the women's freestyle skiing moguls. We have very little snow here in this hot continent (and picked up a couple of silvers and a bronze).
But I am beginning to think that what is being called patriotism is more like nationalism. Rather than just cheering and supporting your nation there seems to be a grwoing a hunger for dominance over all other nations. Around a hundred years we saw a growth in nationalism and that didn't go so well. What part does the media play in this?