Mozilla, creator of the open-source Firefox web browser, has released its annual Internet Health Report - and it is highlighting some areas of real concern.
An annual effort from Mozilla, which tracks various aspects of internet and general technological progress as part of its browser development programme, the 2019 Internet Health Report starts with some good news: Consumers are becoming more aware of the need for privacy online, while European regulators are cracking down on large tech companies for violations of said privacy; new initiatives for building socially and morally responsible artificial intelligence (AI) projects are gaining ground; and there's greater awareness of the impact the biggest technology companies, including Google, Amazon, and Microsoft, have on their employees and the world around them.
'On the flipside,' says Mozilla's Mark Surman, 'there are many areas where things have gotten worse over the past year — or where there are new developments that worry us. Internet censorship is flourishing. Governments worldwide continue to restrict internet access in a multitude of ways, ranging from outright censorship to requiring people to pay additional taxes to use social media. Biometrics are being abused. When large swaths of a population don’t have access to physical IDs, digital ID systems have the potential to make a positive difference. But in practice, digital ID schemes often benefit heavy-handed governments and private actors, not individuals.
'AI is amplifying injustice. Tech giants in the U.S. and China are training and deploying AI at a breakneck pace that doesn’t account for potential harms and externalities. As a result, technology used in law enforcement, banking, job recruitment, and advertising often discriminates against women and people of colour due to flawed data, false assumptions, and lack of technical audits. Some companies are creating "ethics boards" to allay concerns — but critics say these boards have little or no impact.
'When you look at trends like these — and many others across the Report — the upshot is: the internet has the potential both to uplift and connect us,' Surman continues. 'But it also has the potential to harm and tear us apart. This has become clearer to more and more people in the last few years. It has also become clear that we need to step up and do something if we want the digital world to net out as a positive for humanity rather than a negative.'
The full report, and a range of highlight articles, is available now on the Internet Health Report website.
January 24 2020 | 12:00