Last Week in Tech Law and Policy, Vol. 15: The Internet’s Lousy Summer Vacation

We’re back for Season 2 of our ongoing weekly recap of current tech policy news. As always, the TLPC Director (that’s me—Blake Reid) takes on the first blog post of the semester before the TLPC’s student attorneys take over for the duration. As summer comes to a close in Boulder, this post explores some of the dark clouds have circled over the Internet in recent weeks.

The End of the Internet Dream

At the 2015 Black Hat Conference, Jennifer Granick delivered a provocative keynote address on The End of the Internet Dream. Arguing that the “Dream of Internet Freedom is dying,” Granick lamented the (d)evolution of the Internet with a gloomy prediction for its future:

Twenty years from now,

• You won’t necessarily know anything about the decisions that affect your rights, like whether you get a loan, a job, or if a car runs over you. Things will get decided by data-crunching computer algorithms and no human will really be able to understand why.

• The Internet will become a lot more like TV and a lot less like the global conversation we envisioned 20 years ago.

• Rather than being overturned, existing power structures will be reinforced and replicated, and this will be particularly true for security.

•Internet technology design increasingly facilitates rather than defeats censorship and control.

#Gamergate, One Year Later

In a post for the Guardian, video game developer Brianna Wu reflected on one part of the Internet’s dark side—namely, sexism and misogyny—one year after the start of the Gamergate saga:

 Someone just emailed me their fantasy about mutilating my genitals, and murdering me by slicing my body in half. It’s something they clearly spent a lot of time writing. Reading it, I should probably feel something – fear, anger or even exhaustion. But these threats have happened so often, I just feel nothing.

. . .

What does this kind of abuse mean for women like myself that work in the [video game] industry? Well, it’s like the zombie apocalypse all day every day, but one hosted on social media and comment platforms. Imagining themselves as noble warriors and not angry misogynists, they bang on the doors and windows, moaning about the Social Justice Warriors (SJWs) that have taken over their video games. Inevitably, when this is published, the comments below this article will follow the same pattern.

This online warfare is the only weapon those involved in Gamergate have, because they can’t compete with their sexist ideas and incoherent philosophy. Their battle to scrub their Wikipedia entry exemplifies this, as they seek to whitewash the Gamergate page of its sexist roots while attempting to delete, edit, and vandalise my page and those of other high-profile women. You know you’ve lost when your only resort is a comment section.

The Ashley Madison Hack

Meanwhile, Ashley Madison—the Internet dating site with the (in)famous slogan “Life is Short. Have an affair.”—was hacked earlier this month. Hackers released gigabytes of data with tens of millions of user records, including names, home and e-mail addresses, credit card information, and lurid sexual information after the site operators refused to shut it down. Numerous federal and state government officials apparently used the site, and reports of former users committing suicide have begun to surface.

Unrest for Ambots

Finally, the New York Times released a scathing report on the “bruising workplace” practices for white-collar workers at Amazon. The report described Amazon’s practices of pushing its employees—dubbed “Ambots”—to the limit, describing an “enduring image” of “watching people weep in the office”. The report alleges that Amazon’s hypercompetitive internal practices encourage employees to backstab each other with anonymous feedback and give negative evaluations or even edge out employees who reduce their workloads, even for medical emergencies like cancer and miscarriage. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos denied the Times characterization in a response brutally parodied by the Onion (“Jeff Bezos Assures Amazon Employees That HR Working 100 Hours A Week To Address Their Complaints”) amid growing criticism of Amazon’s treatment of its Internet workers.

In the midst of these troubling discussions, will optimism for the Internet return as the leaves begin to turn? We’ll explore these issues and more in the coming weeks.