There are completely new issues, perhaps ones that have never risen before, which are coming out as a result of the digital era we've entered. These aren't necessarily IP issues but are at the cross section of law and technology. Given the common overlap of interests between 'IP-ers' and 'Law and Tech-ers', along with a lack of any specific category I can think of for them, I have taken the liberty to put two of these issues in this blog.
1. Ruining democracy
If you and I search online for the same 10 random terms, there is a very high possibility that there will be a difference in most of our search results. The reason for this is the constant personalization that search engines are doing in order to customize search engines for us. This is true not only of search engines, but also facebook, for instance - where the facebook feed you see is customized according to the profiles you like to visit more often, the links you check, and even as the new lawsuit points out, your other browsing activities. However, I'm not referring to the privacy concerns that this is usually associated with.
While this may help bring us quicker results, there is also a different, perhaps mind numbing side-effect to this. We all have our own biases and while consciously would perhaps like to believe we are objective, we definitely tend to look into topics that we are more interested in / believe more in. The current algorithms, if stretched a little further, ensures that we see this.. and only this. That is, we see the side of the story that we are more likely to relate to / believe / accept.
A personal belief I have is that democracy doesn't work when people are stupid / uninformed / need to worry about their basic needs. This kind of search result customization certainly contributes to the first two, which - even if they aren't the reason for democracy's failures - are still not something we should just gloss over and should worry about!
As I was thinking about this topic and searching online to see what others have said on the topic, I came across this great TED talk, where Eli Pariser puts across some points far better than I have and with examples. It's a 10 minute video which is worth a watch - available here.
|Photo by Derek Harper|
2. Information asymmetry
A couple of weeks ago, the NYT carried a piece on Facebook's ability to shoot new start ups to top positions by combining their knowledge of their tremendous user-base's web habits along with their ability to promote the companies they choose to. To quote:
"When the company saw a staggering spike of Instagram photos flowing into Facebook, it knew it had to act quickly. It bought the photo service for $1 billion before Twitter or Google could make a move."
Now, I'm no expert in antitrust/competition law (or whatever else would apply here) and there could certainly be a strong argument that they were only making use of data that was available to them, but for all practical purposes, Facebook can almost completely control who gets ahead and thereby will most certainly have a huge advantage over any of their rivals. To be perfectly honest, I don't know if there's a strong argument against this - as they have reached where they are due to their success. As per the NYT piece, Jonathan Zittrain of Harvard Law School refers to this is as the Matthew Effect, where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Intuitively at least, there definitely seems to be something wrong with that sort of 'progress'.
The NYT piece is here for those interested.
With all the piracy, privacy and censorship concerns that are taking the foreground of internet-related debates, I'm not sure these issues are getting the attention they deserve. Not to say that piracy, privacy and censorship issues are in any way small, but these too are important and while they may be small right now, it would not be wise to wait till they are causing more of an impact.