Source: Against an Increasingly User-Hostile Web – Neustadt.fr, by Parimal Satyal
We’re very good at talking about immersive experiences, personalized content, growth hacking, responsive strategy, user centered design, social media activation, retargeting, CMS and user experience. But behind all this jargon lurks the uncomfortable idea that we might be accomplices in the destruction of a platform that was meant to empower and bring people together; the possibility that we are instead building a machine that surveils, subverts, manipulates, overwhelms and exploits people.
It all comes down a simple but very dangerous shift: the major websites of today’s web are not built for the visitor, but as means of using her. Our visitor has become a data point, a customer profile, a potential lead — a proverbial fly in the spider’s web. In the guise of user centered design, we’re building an increasingly user-hostile web.
[In the beginning], anyone could put a document on the web and any document could link to any other. It created a completely open platform where a writer in Nepal could freely share her ideas with a dancer in Denmark. A climate science student in Nairobi could access data from the McMurdo weather station in Antarctica. You could start reading about logical fallacies and end up on a website about optical illusions. Read about the history of time-keeping and end up learning about Einstein’s special theory of relativity. All interests were catered to. Information could truly be free: transverse borders, cultures and politics.
The modern web is different.
It’s naturally different from a technological standpoint: we have faster connections, better browser standards, tighter security and new media formats. But it is also different in the values it espouses. Today, we are so far from that initial vision of linking documents to share knowledge that it’s hard to simply browse the web for information without constantly being asked to buy something, like something, follow someone, share the page on Facebook or sign up to some newsletter. All the while being tracked and profiled.
In the guise of being user-centered, the modern web has become user-hostile.
Almost every website you go to today reports your activities to third parties that you most likely neither know nor trust.
The goal? Craft hyper-personalized messages to change voting behavior based on your individual personalities, and by extension, your attitudes, opinions and fears. … You become a manipulable data point at the mercy of big corporations who sell their ability to manipulate you based on the data you volunteer. … you volunteer yourself on social platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. The little share buttons you see on websites aren’t just there to make it easy for you to post a link to Facebook; they also allow Facebook to be present and gather information about you from pretty much any website.
If you run a website and you put official share buttons on your website, use intrusive analytics platforms, serve ads through a third-party ad network or use pervasive cookies to share and sell data on your users, you’re contributing to a user-hostile web. You’re using free and open-source tools created by thousands of collaborators around the world, over an open web and in the spirit of sharing, to subvert users.
most of the time we spend on the web today is no longer on the open Internet – it’s on private services like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. While Facebook provides a valuable service, it is also a for-profit, company. … To use their platform, you have to agree to whatever conditions they set, however absurd. If you replace the open web with Facebook, you’re giving up your right to publish and share on your terms. The data that you post there does not belong to you; you’re putting it in a closed system. If one day Facebook decides to shut down — unlikely as that might seem today — your data goes with it. Sure, you might be able to download parts of it, but then what?
This works because they know you’ll agree to it. You’ll say you don’t have a choice, because your friends are all there — the infamous “network effect”. This is Facebook’s currency, its source of strength but also a crucial dependency.
And this is what we often fail to realize: without its users —- without you -— Facebook would be nothing. But without Facebook, you would only be inconvenienced. Facebook needs you more than you need it.
What I’m against is the centralization of services; Facebook and Google are virtually everywhere today. Through share buttons, free services, mobile applications, login gateways and analytics, they are able to be present on virtually every website you visit. This gives them immense power and control. They get to unilaterally made decisions that affect our collective behavior, our expectations and our well-being.
the browser you’re reading this on (Chrome, Firefox, Links, whatever), the web server that’s hosting this website (Nginx), the operating system that this server runs on (Ubuntu), the programming tools used to make it all work (python, gcc, node.js…) — all of these things were created collectively by contributors all around the world, brought together by HTTP. And given away for free in the spirit of sharing.
The web is open by design and built to empower people. This is the web we’re breaking and replacing with one that subverts, manipulates and creates new needs and addiction.
It all comes down to one simple question: what do we want the web to be?
Do we want the web to be open, accessible, empowering and collaborative? Free, in the spirit of CERN’s decision in 1993 or that open source tools it’s built on? Or do we want it to be just another means of endless consumption, where people become eyeballs, targets and profiles? Where companies use your data to control your behaviour and which enables a surveillance society — what do we want?
For me, the choice is clear. And it’s something worth fighting for.