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Online Surveillance Undermines Economic Equality

online surveillance

The prevalence of online surveillance has become a worrying trend, especially where privacy and information security are concerned. A report from the World Wide Web Foundation has found that the problem continues to get worse, and has begun to endanger the Internet. Not only that, but this behavior by governments could be impacting economic growth and creating greater inequality in the world.

The report offers some pretty damning conclusions about the impact of “powerful state actors and economic elites.” Evidence includes:

  • At least 1.8 billion people have little or no privacy or freedom thanks to censorship and surveillance.
  • Almost 40 percent of countries block politically or socially sensitive web content.
  • 74 percent of Web Index countries lack net neutrality policies.
  • Legal safeguards against government surveillance have been eroded in the past year, with 84 percent of Web Index countries failing the foundation’s test for basic privacy safeguards (an increase of 21 percent compared to last year).

Lack of access to the Web also functions to keep citizens in poverty, even in the U.S. When the barrier for entry is too high, either through cost or lack of infrastructure, business innovation can be stifled. In addition, the wealth gap itself is an indicator of Internet usage — with 99 percent of people earning over $75,000 accessing the Internet, compared to 77 percent of those earning under $30,000.

However, lower costs can help users when it comes to creating a business. According to the report:

[A] way in which the Web can contribute to a more level playing field is by removing entry barriers and reducing information costs for new or small market players, encouraging new business formation and promoting competition.

The report also notes that both gender and political inequality could be alleviated somewhat by providing better Internet access to citizens. Indeed, big changes in attitudes are necessary if the Internet is to benefit more of society. The report suggests solutions like leveling the playing field in terms of access, promoting participation among marginalized groups and investing in education and Internet infrastructure.

Many Internet users, companies and advocates are fighting back against government surveillance in as many ways as they can think of. While the report may seem to be full of gloom, it’s necessary to remember the progress made up to this point.

The Internet can be free and open with the help of policies like net neutrality, and for the Internet to be truly neutral, access needs to be universal.

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