CUSTODIAN OF the interwebs, The Mozilla Foundation has revealed details of its annual Internet Health Report, covering the good, the bad and the ugly of online.
Mozilla explains: "Over the past year, scores of Mozilla staff, fellows, and volunteers have been researching internet shutdowns, net neutrality, corporate dominance online, misinformation, and the digital divide.
"We've interviewed cryptographers in Egypt, open source developers in Brazil, journalists in Afghanistan, and AI watchdogs in the United States, and combed through equally diverse datasets."
Here are some of the main findings of the report, starting with the question of who controls the internet.
"Through sheer size and diverse holdings, a handful of companies — like Google, Facebook, Amazon, Baidu, Tencent, and Alibaba — have become intertwined not only with our daily lives, but with the global economy, civic discourse, and democracy itself. These companies have helped human communication, creativity and commerce flourish. But through monopolistic business practices that are specific to the digital age, they also undermine privacy, openness, and competition on the Web."
It cites examples of Facebook which has added 1.196 billion new accounts across Facebook, Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram.
Additionally, it points out that over 90 per cent of the world uses Google as its search engine, leading to inevitable questions of anti-trust despite the fact that there is no free and democratic way to force people to look to other search engines.
Next, the report looks at Digital Inclusion. It found that over half the world is online but, disproportionately, 80 per cent of Europeans are online but only 20 per cent of Africans.
Across genders the problem is worse - more men than women are online in every part of the world, bar Americas. In Africa, the digital divide is actually increasing - there are a quarter fewer women than men online and the gap has widened significantly in the past five years.
The other big problem here is affordability. The United Nations (UN) sets a goal for the price of internet access - specifically, a gigabyte of data should cost no more than 2 per cent of the average income of that territory. At the moment, the countries that can least afford it are paying up to seven times that figure, thus fuelling the digital divide.
Moving on to the openness of the internet, the report expresses concern that with internet shutdowns becoming more common, the big internet corporations are at risk of becoming the arbiters of free speech.
One cited example is Germany, where social media platforms can be fined for not taking down illegal content quickly enough.
Two-thirds of the world's internet users live in countries where there is some level of censorship of the net.
In terms of "lies, damned lies and statistics" it's worth reminding that a big swathe of those people are in one country: China. Whatsapp receives the most censorship having been blocked in 12 out of 65 countries used in the research.
Where the internet is closed off entirely, "public safety" is the usual excuse. Hmm.
Internet data security findings show that between 2015 and 2020, the number of online devices is going to double to 30 billion. With countries including China, Russia, Vietnam, Thailand, Hungary and the UK all looking at legislation to demand the right to break encryption, that's a scary prospect.
Almost as scary as the fact that it puts the UK on a list of civil liberties which includes China, Russia and Hungary.
But who needs decryption anyway? 3 billion accounts were compromised in 2017, with hundreds of millions of sensitive data files stolen. For $8, you can buy a billion personal data files.That means, to a hacker, you are worth a fraction of a penny.
Finally, web literacy - and the focus here is on fake news, cyberbullying and understanding what it is we're reading.
Again, Mozilla warns against making "Facebook, Twitter or other corporations gatekeepers of the internet" as the fight against fake news, propaganda and simply relying on the unreliable continues. One in five Canadians (1.1 million) was a victim of cyberbullying in 2014 - with girls and LGBTQ being more likely targets.
Even this is just a small snapshot of the data contained within the report, which also contains links to the various research sources used and a bunch of original essays which dive deeper on each sub-topic.
If you'd like to read the full report - and we recommend you do, you can download it here.
For Mozilla, the importance of this first annual report is hugely important. The company remains synonymous with its Firefox browser and a study so broad and revealing will serve to demonstrate just how much wider its influence goes.
The company was among the first to withdraw Facebook advertising in the wake of Cambridge Analytica allegations and is currently suing the FCC over its abolition of net neutrality rules. µ
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