The digital invasion of our bodies and minds

It would be a mistake to think that the privacy and security problems of Internet are system failures; rather, they are the very essence of the current model of Internet development.

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It is no longer news for anyone that the use of the Internet brings increasing privacy and security problems. It would be a mistake to think they are system failures; rather, they are the very essence of the current model of Internet development, which responds to the interests of large corporations – and security agencies – rather than users.


Data, the gold of the new economy, represents the conversion into digital formats of behavioral traits of individuals and social groups. Not only what they express or externalize by interacting on the Internet, their searches, interests and contact networks, but also, and increasingly, biometric data from our bodies, along with the thoughts, likes, ailments and moods that all this reveals, and that intelligent devices, cameras, sensors and algorithms are increasingly expert at capturing and interpreting.


For companies that exploit the Internet, privacy is a hindrance to their profits. But since they know that for their users this is a contradiction in terms, they look for new ways to extract their users’ data, with or without their consent. If they can convince you that a car that monitors how you drive protects you better, that an intelligent bed helps you sleep, and that the "necessary condition" will be to share this data with the provider company, then business booms. An inexhaustible source of data is there to be sold to insurance companies, the sleeping pill market, even political groups.


It is estimated that today there are between 10 and 20 billion devices connected to the Internet globally. Some forecasts predict that with 5G connections, which will transmit at a much faster rate, a trillion could be reached in a few years. With public spaces invaded by cameras and sensors and with 8 or 10 "smart" devices in every home, even the most intimate privacy will practically cease to exist.


But this may not be the worst part. 5G technology, which is the condition for this Internet of Things, is already in the experimentation phase and is expected to be massified as from 2020. As it only transmits at short distances, there are plans to install antennas every 10 to 12 houses in urban areas, which will greatly increase exposure to these radiations. Many scientific studies point to the harmfulness of this exposure, with evidence of carcinogenic effects, cellular stress, increase in harmful free radicals, genetic damage, reproductive system changes, learning and memory deficits, neurological disorders and negative impacts on general well-being. With harmful effects on animals and plants as well.


Moreover, not even rural and remote areas would escape from these radiations, as there are plans to install low orbit satellites to reach all corners of the earth, with possibly even more harmful effects. Thousands of scientists from all over the world have signed petitions (such as this one, which invites adhesions) asking governments and multilateral organizations to put a moratorium on the deployment of 5G technology, at least until the appropriate impact studies are made.


What alternatives are there to this project of a crazy society that seeks to commodify the intimacy of our bodies and minds, at the price of subjecting us to a technological experiment involving high-risk for our health and the environment?


It is not that digital technology itself is bad; it could bring great benefits to society, as long as humanity establishes priorities for its development, such as the precautionary principle and impact studies before generalizing new technologies; and placing human rights above mercantile interests. Moreover, there already exist Internet development initiatives with more human criteria, under decentralized models, such as free networks: what we call the "peoples’ Internet". With adequate investments, these could be expanded and perfected; although we can expect resistance and attempts at co-optation by the forces that control the Internet.


A massive Internet of Things, under a centralized model in the hands of mega-corporations or governments, does not respond to any real social need; but at this point, it seems that only a broad movement of citizens could stop it.


- Sally Burch, an Anglo-Ecuadorian journalist, is executive director of the Latin American Information Agency (ALAI) and a member of the coordinating group of the Internet Social Forum (Latin America). Participant in the Communication Forum for the Integration of Our America (FCINA).



Article first published in Spanish in the supplement of, Internet, ¿Emancipación or Dominación?
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