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Virtual Revolution episode three - The Cost of Free

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Dan Biddle Dan Biddle | 16:23 UK time, Friday, 12 February 2010

The third episode of Virtual Revolution is called The Cost of Free - and it's not as oxymoronic as you think. The Cost of Free examines the trades made online by users of the web as they share their thoughts, their preferences, their curiosities and their desires with the many search engines, services and media which appear to be delivering information online for free.

Jo Wade, Assistant Producer for programme three, highlights these issues in her article on BBC Technology News today:

'Every day in Britain millions of searches are carried out on Google for free. Every month we spend millions of hours on Facebook for free and read millions of articles from free newspapers.

But now look at it the other way round.

Every day Google gathers millions of search terms that help them refine their search system and give them a direct marketing bonanza that they keep for months.

Every week Facebook receives millions of highly personal status updates that are kept forever and are forming the basis of direct advertising revenue.

Every month free newspapers plant and track a cookie tracking device on your computer that tells them what your range of interests are and allows them to shape their adverts and in the future, even content around you.

So you're not just being watched, you're being traded. The currency has changed.'

Presenter Aleks Krotoski, offered her thoughts on the cost of the e-ticket on our blog early in the production process; on the show she discusses the potential price we may be paying for free with web practitioners and experts such as Chris Anderson, Chad Hurley (founder of YouTube), Dana Boyd, John Battelle, Sherry Turkle and many more. You can watch, embed, download longer rushes clips of those interviews on our site.

So what does this mean for privacy? How much do you know about the deals you may be making with your data? Enjoy the programme and let us know what you think in the comments below.


  • Comment number 1.

    This is unrelated to your above post, but I did not see another way to bring this to your attention.

    I would REALLY like to watch the first episode, but for some reason the only version on iPlayer is the HD version. Usually there is an option see it in 'Normal' quality, or an option to download through the desktop app. I wonder if you guys might be able to make the lower bandwidth version available again?

  • Comment number 2.

    Just watched the 3rd episode and found it very informative and educational. I thank you for an excellent set of programmes. I look forward to 4th episode. Well done to the BBC.

  • Comment number 3.

    The meaning of privacy is changing. For a long time, privacy has been predominantly about controlling who has access to our personal info. Increasingly, it is becoming about controlling what people do with our info, less about who has it. On social network sites, people are less inclined to limit who sees their personal info because they believe that, to a large degree, the people they share their info with are their "friends" and they meaning of a friend is a person who can be trusted not to use that personal info in a way the owner of the info would not like.

  • Comment number 4.

    I just want to point out something to quell the fears of Libertarians etc. about the private data that people deposit around the web like confetti. That is to quote from my favourite blogger - The Archdruid Report, from May 13th 2009 (https://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2009/05/end-of-information-age.html%29

    "the internet – depends just as much on a physical substrate as the one in Forster’s novella. In our case, that substrate is the global network of communications links and server farms, and the even vaster economic and technical infrastructure that keeps them funded, powered, and supplied with the trained personnel and spare parts that keep them running.

    Very few people realize just how extravagant the intake of resources to maintain the information economy actually is. The energy cost to run a home computer is modest enough that it’s easy to forget, for example, that the two big server farms that keep Yahoo’s family of web services online use more electricity between them than all the televisions on Earth put together. Multiply that out by the tens of thousands of server farms that keep today’s online economy going, and the hundreds of other energy-intensive activities that go into the internet, and it may start to become clear how much energy goes into putting these words onto the screen where you’re reading them.

    It’s not an accident that the internet came into existence during the last hurrah of the age of cheap energy, the quarter century between 1980 and 2005 when the price of energy dropped to the lowest levels in human history. Only in a period where energy was quite literally too cheap to bother conserving could so energy-intensive an information network be constructed. The problem here, of course, is that the conditions that made the cheap abundant energy of that quarter century have already come to an end, and the economics of the internet take on a very different shape as energy becomes scarce and expensive again.

    Like the railroads of the future mentioned earlier in this post, the internet is subject to the laws of supply and demand. Once the cost of maintaining it in its current form outstrips the income that can be generated by it, it becomes a losing proposition, and cheaper modes of information storage and delivery will begin to replace it in its more marginal uses."

  • Comment number 5.

    Think of other people!

  • Comment number 6.

    Some interesting history and an enjoyable programme, but I thought it was hysterical how the presenter made the collection of data and targeted advertising sound like a sinister conspiracy that we should all probably be shocked and disturbed by. The whole way through I was just thinking, 'so?' and 'well, duh'. I honestly don't care if companies, advertisers and anyone else want to try and tailor my world around me or turn me into their ideal demographic. There is something much more really 'me' inside that no amount of data or monitoring will ever be able to know, even if 'they' publicised everything I've ever googled.

    Long may google and the world at my fingertips for free continue!

  • Comment number 7.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 8.

    ive just watched The cost of Free and while it was probably useful for non savvy computer users, it failed to point out that there is so much that you can do(and NOT do for that matter) to protect your privacy online. I suspect the majority of Firefox users (thats a web browser for IE users) already know of and use various extensions or scripts to protect themselves. Cookies were mentioned in the programme - but LSO cookies were not (flash video) neither were Virtual Private Networks and search proxies. I appreciate that the programme wasnt a lesson in web self defence but a little bit of balance - for the non savvy among us - would have been nice.

  • Comment number 9.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 10.

    Just watched the 3rd episode like many others and found it to be excellent.

    I have long had concerns over who stores our online data and who then has access to it.

    I suppose my initial question would be can so much power be given to so few?

  • Comment number 11.

    Having just watched the third installment in this programming I found it quite interesting, though you did seem to skip over something rather troubling in the whole behavioural advertising section. The rise of the ISP based behaviour tracking that can see every click you make across all sites and all web pages with the exception of HTTPS based ones. Phorm and its ilk (NebuAd in the US) may have been run out of town in the UK thanks to the people that inhabit BadPhorm and NoDPI but there's still that specter hanging around in the form of other tracking in places you'd never expect it.

    My own thoughts on all this are that advertising is fine, so long as you can control what is being stored and can switch it on/off at any time (using something more permanent than a damned cookie) as well as clear the information they may have stored about you, but you try getting any advertising company to agree to do that, they will fight tooth and nail to keep any and all of it as without it they're worthless. They're pushing the boundary too far in one direction for my own liking and it's causing me to block cookies and adverts on a lot of sites.

  • Comment number 12.

    I have been using the Internet since about 1995. Before that, as an I.T. Anlaydt I used links across the country for work.
    In todays times people, mainly youngsters, are too preoccupied with "Chat" lines and Mobile phones. They both have their good and bad points. People get carried away with chat lines and over 90% of mobile phone conversations are unnecessary.
    These "chat" lines can be very dangerous, because most who use them are stupid and not I.T. literate. You NEVER pass information to anyone, for whatever reason, it could come back and bite you.
    People do literally want to get a reality check. "virtual" friends are no good to anyone.

  • Comment number 13.

    Personal info is the fuel the digital society runs on. It is inevitable that, as time goes by, more and more of our personal info will get into circulation. As a result, privacy in the traditional sense (of limiting who has access to our personal info) is being eroded. However, this does not mean people have no choice but to accept a lower level of protection in the future than in the past. It means that the protection that has traditionally been provided by privacy needs to be provided instead by other means, such as transparency and accountability. People deserve no less.

  • Comment number 14.

    I find it Ironic that after watching the latest episode that I have to register and provide details in order to post a comment. Isn't that a bit of an oxymoron considering what the latest episode was about. I propose that comments may be made without adding our details to the BBC database - regardless of the overall 'access' to the site - once again confirming the meaning of the episode - "Nothing is free". I'm going to close my account now and delete the email account this was sent by. Remember there are apps out there that can help and you can always select not to use cookies - but you may not get access to certain websites.

  • Comment number 15.

    Hmmm. Just created an account in order to comment, and thought about the irony of it. This show as all about the danger of our private information being collected, and here I am handing more over.
    (there are comment scripts out there that do not require users to create accounts...)


    Best point made on the show: That we do not know how the data could be somehow used in the future....this does worry me, but no less than the self serving that goes on by the politicians that continually get voted into power by a sleeping and increasingly lazy public....I feel both these things are related, and need to be addressed sooner rather than later.

    I feel however that the idea about advertising being targeted is somehow polluting the web to be over egging the pudding. I got the sense that you were trying to intimate this is happening in some way evil or underhanded. You did not say it, but that's the message I received.

    Isn't advertising in normal media targeted? Google Adwords is based on old school direct response marketing that has been around since the 1920's, but you did not mention this. You kind of presented Adwords as though its something new. All it is is accelerated direct response marketing.

    The other point that was not explored was this idea that somehow everything on the internet should be free. You seem to be suggesting this without explaining how search technology would be paid for.

    Would you pay to get access to better search? The search engine DeepDive tried and failed with that model. But it seems you've already made up your mind. I remember how frustrating it was to find stuff on the web in 1996, 1997.

    Explain how this would work.....for free?

    I feel a prime time media platform like the BBC could be a little more objective.

  • Comment number 16.

    On the question of privacy, it must be remembered that in the old days, when everyone lived in villages, everybody knew everybody else's business. It would have been impossible to have much in the way of secrets. The internet is returning us to that state of social intimacy.

  • Comment number 17.

    pjs_2000uk, I had exactly the same thought!

  • Comment number 18.

    to pjs_2000uk. you could have used a disposable email account to register. Ps i didnt mean to sound patronising to IE users..but on the whole they are generally - cant find the words. i'll google it.

  • Comment number 19.

    An interesting show; I missed the first two so I'm probably missing some context, but I'm surprised there would be a program about data harvesting and no mention would be made of Cory Doctorow's short story, Scroogled.


    Required reading for anyone interested in the possible long term effects of the information gathered.

  • Comment number 20.

    Hello, I watch the program and found this one the most eduacating out of all of them so far, I enjoy using Facebook beacause of the vast population - Almost everyone I know has it, It has reached a huge mark of over 350 Million users, though. It gives so much information away, I searched an old teacher and found out a lot of information, this is somehow good in one way, and also horrific in another.

    Though social networks aren't the only thing that has a threat to personal info, It's google Images, Google images grabs your photos without alerting you, search your persona name for a site, you should find your forum signiture and picture, though, now introduced to Social networks is a setting which allows you to show your info to the people you seclect.

    All together if you think about it, the online world can really have a threat to your personal life, meaning harm is easier then ever.

    As cookies, Trojans and spyware is spreading almost too easily, it means Anti-Virus software is a must-have, if you havent had a scan for awhile, check, if your a google user (Like me, search results are very accurate), you will have at least 5 cookies, at least. One thing you should do is to, get them out.

    So, the internet is the easiest way to do almost about anything. - Even if it's wrong.

  • Comment number 21.

    We have data protection legislation in the UK. A lot of other countries have privacy legislation. Privacy is about much more than just data protection. Isn't it time, now that we have had over 25 years experience with how to make data protection work, that the Data Protection Act should be updated, for its principles (which are still remarkably sound despite their age) to be expanded to cover privacy and to be supplemented by a set of rules (more prescriptive than principles) to provide stricter control where experience has shown that to be needed?

  • Comment number 22.

    I watched this programme earlier & to be honest i was quite shocked. i think i am one of the many over 50|s that has really no idea what the internet is all about. ive been using & learning for the past 6 months,i find it fascinating,entertaining,sometimes a bit risque, but the fact that everything that i log into, somebody somewhere, is collecting information about me is quite scary. can i give a "for instance". im a normal woman, i have a friend who was looking for harmless porn, click clicking away & found herself on the wrong website, does that make her dangerous to whoever is collecting this information. we had a conversation( via email) about what she saw, does that put me in the same catagory ?. does someone know the amount of shoes & handbags i buy ?. i will certainley be wanting to see more of this series, & i have made my friends aware of this programme. i think 10/10 for making people more aware, im sure im not the only one who hasnt a clue

  • Comment number 23.

    BlahBlahBlah321 - you kind of made the opposite point yourself - you choose to block adverts and switch off cookies - the advertisers really don't have unlimited power. Most sensible people will also use inline privacy filters and delete cookies regularly as well. All of this talks against the 'power of the advertisers' really. And some people prefer getting tailored content (better than the old days where it was largely chatlines and other random and useless junk getting pushed at me on any site!)

  • Comment number 24.

    pjs - worry not. BBC radio has totally ignored the barrage of well-meaning and incisive (if I say so myself) analysis of where global society is heading (via unsustainable environmental, energy & economic practices) to the point where I've now given up contacting them or even listening!
    So, I do hold some opinions which go unspoken in mainstream media & politics and yet I've never had a comment blocked on the BBC blogs so it really does seem to be a champion of freedom and I doubt they will use your registration data for sinister purpose despite the irony of registration which you point out.

  • Comment number 25.

    In response to item 15 above, yes we cannot know how our info will be used years in the future. Pre-search engines, when info was hard to acquire, it had to be kept and looked after and was treated as having high value. What that info said was taken as being "truth" in some sense, and truth that maintained its veracity over time. Now that info can be acquired cheaply, it is treated as having less value. That means it is also treated as having less permanant "truth" value. We might be slightly embarrassed by our info being dragged up from a vault somewhere showing that we said what we said years ago, but it will be easier in the future than it has been in the past to dismiss that old info as no longer representative of who we are today. Digital data might be non-biodegradable, but the meaning of that info, even if it is info about oneself as a person, can change. It does not need to be an albatross around our neck.

  • Comment number 26.

    To Bill M - ROFLMAO :D

    To all - although the use of cookies is widespread - and this is just my opinion I feel we should all have the option not to have our personal lives put on view to those who believe they have earned the dollars to do so. I don't have a facebook,twitter,myspace or any other account of that type because I feel it should be each to their own and not the powers that be.I for 1 am not in favour of having my retina, fingerprints, body scanned just because I want to go on holiday.Where does freedom and individuality end....with those who provide links to what they think we want?

  • Comment number 27.

    Purpleboxingcat - I may block the adverts but they still have the information. Just because I no longer see the advert they're trying to show me does not mean they don't have the data. That is somewhat the point the show was trying to make, that once they have that data it is hard to make it go away, all the better to require the company to show you what they have and allow you to delete it on request.

  • Comment number 28.

    I thought the programme was very good, very informative.
    The bit about the data on jews in Holland was pretty scary.
    I wish there were more simialr examples about data used for sinister purposes. I new bout googlemail scanning our email contents. So I agree about the comprise the journalist says we are ready to make for free stuff. The programme made think about privacy big time. As soon as the third episode was over i went online and deleted pictures of my children from facebook and Orkut. Just felt a lot safer doing that. I am now thinking of deactivating my facebook account but my wife told they will always keep a record of it in case I wish to come back. Gosh, What did I sign up to?

    One omission in the programme. How the police and the anti-terrorist keeps a close eye on people who download what they class as islamic radicalism. There have been 1500 arrests over the last year with very few cases actually producing any charges. Big omission under the current tense climate.

  • Comment number 29.

    Congratulations on an interesting programme. I think bill m's comment above is valid. Can someone point out a trusted website that will help us protect our privacy. I'd like information on proxies etc.

    I'm worried about my loss of privacy. 12months ago I set up a 'fake' linked-in account as an experiment. I made a point of providing no real personal information, no access to my mail address books etc. and created no links to other people. Last week I recieved a 'dear xx, perhaps you know x, y or z. why not link to them now?' email. Of the 8 people they mentioned in the e-mail, they correctly identified 4 people that I know. How did they do this?

  • Comment number 30.

    While watching the latest episode it occured to me that when doing searches avoid search engine searching for a sentence and just do one or two word searches which gives away less information and less interesting information on your interests. I had a look at my Amazon recomendations and it was just a list of similar product types or exact products I have previously added to my basket. Not all that impressive but if I want to repeat buy it may be useful. The most powerful part of Amazon shopping for me is the user reviews on a product. I know busineses can use stooges to give reviews but they always stand out as being too kind to the product or book.

  • Comment number 31.

    Coming from the internet ad industry (the bad guys), I found the show to be misleading to common people, technology behind it was just shown in few scary formulas.
    Companies must cut their costs in order to give you cheaper goods. The biggest cut currently available is the fact that they can pay for a commercial only to people that are interested in their products. Do you want to let them pay more for a generic commercial and sell you their products more expensive?
    I also had to leave my personal information to post this comment. Could you please explain 5 cookies I got from you? Also for some reason to view this page I had to download this image:
    This is a strange image since it is 1 pixel big, too small for me to see it, why is it there I wonder?

    I would like to continue this discussion, but please place it on a FREE web.

  • Comment number 32.

    How much information are we prepared to "give away" in order to be sociable/accepted to others.Businesses look to see if you have a facebook account to find out what your personal life is like.Your internet access tells not only your ISP but the sites you visit tell them your personal life,Tax tells the government how much you earn and then pidgeon holes you into a demographic.We can't escape the intrusion into our lives because that is part of what makes our social environment.Can annonimity(if that's how you spell it) really be true?Can we keep our private lives just that private and if so at what cost?

  • Comment number 33.

    Whatever Purpleboxingcat said!

    Now a word of my own: Interesting programme, very inviting topic for debate.
    As a son of the 2.0 generation, I'm not really that concerned about misuse of my public online image that's practicly viewable to the whole world. Maybe it's because in real life my mindset is the same, I usually don't give a rat's 455 about privacy either.
    But what about people that do find themselves in conspiracy-minded thinking? I can't come up with any life-threatening effect of sharing 'private' information like your name or pants size. In the same sense, I don't see why people should be afraid of showing themselves online. Is it because their criminal activities or are they afraid that they will be caught on some old lie?
    I'm thinking that when people would be publicly visible to all, they would feel themselves pressed living a more honest life. Now that I'm pretty active in my online socializing, I've noticed that in real life watching my steps has become a second nature. Since internet has gone mobile the chance that someone else puts a picture or any information of you online has increased immensely. Therefore it has some great effects on your health too! My bingedrinking habits are a thing of the past.

    And what is the problem with advertisers narrowing down their customers and you being surrounded by applicable adverts instead of annoying viagra-ads? I don't see the harm in that either.
    Maybe because I didn't watch the whole show, but I don't recall Aleks giving me a good reason for quiting my online sharing habits. I know that advertisers or other villains know things about me I sometimes don't know they do. But how are they going to harm me with that information? I'm dying to know!

    Also, the programme puts the consumer in a sheepscostume. We have minds of our own, you know! I'm very happy with the recommendation-tools Amazon and Last.fm are implementing. The fairytale serendipity argument about advertisers having all the information of the web having sorted out for you for their profit, doesn't quite work for me. Since the web is such a massive space of information with numerous usefull information, tools, entertainment being added everyday, I'm thankful for the timesaving help they offer when searching new information without going through pages full of things that doesn't interest me. And if you don't like their recommendations, simply ignore it!

    Short, I enjoyed the programme its views that invoked the will to debate but I do think the documentary is a bit extreme in conspiracy thinking and critisizing social networking. For example, the interview with Doug Rushkoff about devolution of the internet. In my opinion there are more ways to express yourself on the internet then in real life! Anyway, keep 'em coming!


  • Comment number 34.

    Episode three series, the best so far! There are definite concerns about the call quantity of data being stored by companies. But I'm quite sure what I've seen so far on websites such as Google and Amazon, to do with suggested advertising, rather highlights the fact that data is quantity over quality!

    What is more worrying is how much data is being collected and stored by government decree! It is easy and governments under the disguise of protecting the public (anti-terrorist motivations). At least corporations have to operate within some law. Governments can make their laws. Did you realise? That the British government some years ago so sold our DVLA information to private companies, companies supposedly involved in parking enforcement, effectively deregulating parking enforcement and handing legal process control from government to private companies! This is much more worrying stuff!

    Five or six years ago the web world of HTML, with academic cowboys, puffed up with pride at their own skill, setting up in the spirit of openness, totally open web environments. Some web-masters (as they so named themselves) would put people at risk of being put on the Internet information without knowledge and permission!

    For example I discovered totally by accident some years ago when doing an Internet search about an old friend who did cycle Tours, a whole trace of stuff about an old girlfriend appeared on my screen! I was horrified to discover after two hours clicking a whole history of stuff she had done since we had split up! I had never intended to do this it was simple curiosity and I got a grip and stopped!

    With no training it was possible in two hours to get some detail about what holidays she had been on, who her new guy was etc! a history of someone's activities over a five-year period. Based on what some private individual had placed onto Internet websites that they had built themselves, putting up data without knowledge or consent. At least with social networking sites such as Facebook, twitter and whoever, there are standards. There is security, passwords site policies so on and so forth. And they may well sell marketing information to faceless companies, with some uncertainty of how this information the future. But surely the quantity of data will be so huge nobody will really know what to do with it? And what about the database standards? It's hard enough to link dislocated databases across corporate organisations such as the NHS to work! It is difficult to get any coherency with organised limited projects.

    I think it is wise to have an eye on future possibilities. But it is foolish and nostalgic nonsense to look back five years ten years, and say that those years were the best years of the Internet, they were the most free years of the Internet because they were not.

    And as was said, the data is there forever!

  • Comment number 35.

    Well if you are concerned with everyone knowing what where & when you have typed you need only remember there is no such thing as free. The cost of life its self is not free. So who said the web would be any diffeent! No when Tim burners lee founded the www that was the intention but when someone like a sheep in wolfs cloths comes along namely "googel" well the good times are are over! So you say I don't use the web "yeh right".well the bad news is even if you don't do you know who is posting/talking/being you! No well get in or get out all you need do is "look before you leap! No that should read think before you type & think twice before you hit return. Happy surfing:-)

  • Comment number 36.

    The program illustrates nicely how MARKETING is making use of personalised data, viewed in that context it all makes sense. It is alarmist to catastrophise that the internet threatens to control us and has an impact to our freedoms and liberty. The internet has power to influence us in new ways, is it any different to the subliminal messages we are bombarded with daily through other media. We all have complete agency to act and behave, however that may now become much more transparent. An interesting program but with a fundamentally flawed alarmist message.

  • Comment number 37.

    Accepting all that has been said about privacy and social networking, there is another side.

    Openness with the most personal data can be your saviour just as it can be your un-doing. There was no concealment about the 'colourful' private lives of David Mellor and Cecil Parkinson; who stayed in office while Mark Oaten, Ron Davies and many others have left office after having indiscretions discovered.

    What the fates of politicians illustrate, is that it's much more difficult to hold anything against someone whose whole life is transparent - good or moderately seedy.

  • Comment number 38.

    Bonjour bbc
    according to the documentary we saw sartuday, telling us or beter scaring us or beter paranoing us that one day all we are going to be cheked by elians, anyway, for me general people they have nothing to hide but if the elians have programes to harm a people i dont think they can do i mean devines elians which is the rich people, can only control people who got empty soul and full of desires i mean folish people who believe in vertual sience and thecnology those people they end up paranoed and hospital will be full of this people, but some peope still got believe and faith in god above all.

  • Comment number 39.

    I think the problem with the paranoia about personal information that is being collected when you use the web, is that the fears about what can be done using this data are being discussed in the context of how we feel about privacy right now and not how we might feel about privacy in the future. There is also a problem in that up until now this data has only been stored for tech savvy users, whereas in the future it will be stored for everyone since the web is becoming ubiquitous.

    The scare stories about your private information being used to deny you medical insurance or make you get turned down for a job interview, fail to grasp that perhaps in the future everyone will have some little secret or peccadillo stored somewhere on a database.

    If, in the future, everyone has some medical secret that today would cause them to be denied cover, what will the insurance companies do? Deny the insurance of everyone? I don't think so. Then they would have no business.

    If everyone has some secret that perhaps today would mean being turned down for a job interview even if they are eminently qualified, what will potential employers do in the future? They can't turn down everyone, so the goal posts will have to move and a lot of the "secrets" which today are damaging will just become less damaging and less of an issue.

  • Comment number 40.

    Jean-Rémy Duboc (https://duboc.me), PhD Student in Computer Science at the University of Southampton here.
    I'd just like to ask a few questions about privacy that, I think, are often neglected:
    - who is actually responsible for what young (minors) people do ? Is it the owners of Google, Facebook and all that, or is it their PARENTS ?
    - Today, data about individuals is accessible by a large number of people. Could this be considered an incentive to make the right choices, knowing that the consequences of our actions might be documented and published for a large crowd to see ? Why do we wish for a "private space" where we could do things we woulnd't do if we where publicly put in front of our responsibilities ?
    - On the long run, data about individuals is now stored by companies, not by the individuals themselves. Isn't this creating a imbalance in power, between those who have direct access to the data and those who need to ask for it? Could we create a more equal society if we gave the data transparently to everyone, instead of just a handful of powerful corporations? Wouldn't this more coherent with the original vision of the web?

  • Comment number 41.

    Just a quick point about Amazon's personal recommendations. They're only based on what you last searched for so if you looked for a gift for someone based on their interests, the products that come up next time are of no personal relevance anyway. It's also a timely reminder to sign out whenever you're done — as someone else in the family could easily see what you're thinking of getting them!

  • Comment number 42.

    It might interest readers to know that 1000's of people in the UK use the internet to increase their income, by being affilliates for companies like amazon.

    Quite a few people (myself included) actually make a full time living from marketing on the internet. Infact its freed me up to not only spend more time with my family and new grandson :)

    Its also allowed me to employ others.

    The internet has given people emowerment over their own lives, and continues to grow. While their may be some cause for worry over privacy from some of th giants like Google especially with some of their new and ill thought out service like Buzz and side wiki

    Overall Internet marketing enriches people, and not just from a corporate perspective.

    Nice to see this more in the mainstream though...well done BBC

  • Comment number 43.

    We were told that what we were getting from Google was not free at all. I watched with interest but never found out what price I was supposed to be paying. I think that it is wonderful that Google can provide so many useful free products by clever manipulation of advertising. They are welcome to information about my tastes and interests, as as is Amazon. It seems to me that as always with this subject, programme makers try to worry us merely to spice up a rather dull programme, which visually consisted mainly of the presenter striding along the streets or fiddling with her laptop.

  • Comment number 44.

    dpbrazil wrote:

    "The bit about the data on jews in Holland was pretty scary."

    I don't think so. The circumstances surrounding the Holocaust were specific, followed on from the Great War & the unwillingness of the Allies to draw a line under it, and are unlikely to ever be repeated.

    I also noticed that the TV expert believed that The Netherlands (not Holland) were occupied in 1939. I'm not sure why the BBC didn't notice this. Altogether now - "We're going to hang out the washing on the Siegfried Line"...

  • Comment number 45.

    causey wrote:

    "We were told that what we were getting from Google was not free at all. I watched with interest but never found out what price I was supposed to be paying. I think that it is wonderful that Google can provide so many useful free products by clever manipulation of advertising."

    Yes. I was thinking that too. The data they collect means great adverts for me, which tell me about things I can get. Adverts are great if they tell me about choices that apply to me. I find adverts on TV pointless since I don't want a car, and I don't need cat food.

  • Comment number 46.

    Just watched the third episode. I was expecting a lot more from the bbc. Krotoski fails to make any impact with the old whack-a-mole pop schtick - over here for a soundbite, there for a stare at the sea, back at the computer, looking at facebook. From a list of first class contributors like this, one might have thought we would get more than the same old tired examples.
    The stuff about passing on personal information on the web was naive, scaremongering tat. There were no examples of specific sets of information and how it might be used to our disadvantage. Rushkoff was good. Might have been a better show to let him rant for an hour.

  • Comment number 47.

    V. interesting programme. The most disturbing part was the question over how our information would be used in the future. The targetted advertising doesn't worry me so much, but that's because I refuse to be a victim of it. I have clear views on what I want, and what I can afford and ensure I don't overstep those boundaries. However, I have to accept that many people are victims of this in that they don't maintain that self control and the worrying trend that this can create.

    While the credit crunch had a lot to do with bankers and banks telling us to max out credit cards, was our willingness to do this based on this kind of advertising - telling us what we should want. I'm lucky enough to be, to date, unaffected in that I just refused to listen.

    One thing I would take issue with on the programme was the issue that our web pages are no longer "independent" and "unique" that they're all formatted for us. While there is some truth to it, I see a lot of unique looking pages on social networking sites and people with a little internet know-how use their creativity. Even when they don't comments and twitters etc are often used to express individual views against the grain of consumer capitalism.

    The internet allows us to confirm if we chose the easy way, but we have the choice not to and express our own views and many do, and many good things come out of it (and bad things as well of course)

  • Comment number 48.

    first of all i must say that the last 2 shows were full of factual information and were fantastic to watch. I have just watched the Cost Of Free episode and was amazed to how companied use information such as are search results and the content of are emails to target specific Ads at people. I run a website that provides free software downloads and to help pay for the running costs of the website we use the Google Adwords service. what i find truly amazing is that a super multi billion dollar company like Google will allow almost anyone to sign up and advertise google advertisements on there own website in return for £X amount per click meaning they can take advantage of even the smallest opportunities of referring a consumer to an advertisers website.

  • Comment number 49.

    Hi, I'm a 17 year old student, and I use the internet mainly for Facebook etc, and entertainment, for example playing games or watching videos.
    I have noticed before how certain ads are targeted towards me, however, this does not concern me YET as it is only applied online.
    However, It would be a different story if It was applied to "real life".

  • Comment number 50.

    Well we have all had to pay to make comments on this site by giving the BBC details about ourselves, I don't think the irony has been lost on several people posting comments here. what is perhaps more disturbing is that you cant post a comment without giving certain information, I tried registering without giving my date of birth of email address, but it wouldn't let me. It is worrying not so much with what the BBC is going to do with the information but that we cant comment without "paying" to do so, especially since the BBC is a public service, and that we have already paid through the license fee. The other thing that concerns me is the feeble defence they put up as to why they need this data. for example date of Birth disclosure is to protect children, but they could put in a false date of birth, thus rendering the point of collecting such information pointless.
    My other point that I wish to make is that in the programme they claim that data we disclose about ourselves will be store forever, but i was lead to believe the main concern about the digital age was the transient nature of data storage and the problem of storing data for long periods of time. the technology itself can not store data indefinitely, as hard drives degrade over time, also there is a cost in storing data, and as companies figure out what to do with the mass of data they are currently gathering, they will work out that it is not economical to continue to store masses of pointless data. For example lets say that Facebook goes out of fashion in a few years, advertising revenue declines, and the company ceases to trade, who is going to pay to keep the data centres running, now you might argue that they would simply sell the data to someone else, but without the means for this data to be constantly updated, it will soon become worthless as people change locations, status and even names, as they marry, and die, what company wants a data base of dead people?

  • Comment number 51.

    An interesting subject, exploring the concept of security from a different perspective.

    In a complex, rapidly changing environment, it is sometimes valuable to develop a set of simple rules; for example never send an unencrypted email that you wouldn't mind being shouted across the room.

    We need to bear in mind that the rapid advancement in technology has outstripped the capacity for social change and there are likely to be a number of emergent topics that we have not as yet foreseen. This episode seems to be searching for an emergent topic in the field of internet technology.

    Bear in mind that the concept of profiling pervades the ability to store and retrieve data at a high rate, inherent in today's technology. It is not just search engines, or indeed the internet that utilises such technology, if we have a store cards, personal information can be traced to us; the development of RCFID and barcodes means that organisations can track items through their supply chain.

    The sense of the programme for me is that technology has assisted the development of citizenship and autonomy, with maybe the realisation that not everyone is fully aware of the qualities and responsibilities of such a right.

  • Comment number 52.

    The Internet is'nt free, I have to pay SKY to use mine.

    Advertising has always been targeted like on t.v, radio and print. And they are an annoyance, and most people don't bother with them. After all nobody likes to be told what to do or what to buy. Humans are stubborn and selfish and will only act in ways that benefits ourselves.

    However the points made about the non-commercial personal data being stored against our knowledge is very relevant and disturbing. I've always had my suspicions about google. It seems to me they have some dark Orwellian vision of what the world should be like. They have personal data from our home computers, they have visual data of our home addresses, and visual data of our physical appearance. Why are they compiling all this information? And why has'nt anyone challenged them? If the government was behind such an operation then the public would be fiercely opposed. Maybe thats why governments have'nt intervened, because we maybe playing into their hands i.e biometric ID cards and national citizen data bases.

  • Comment number 53.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 54.

    Whilst I enjoyed the Vertual Revolution programme,I should immeadiatly declare a vested interest in the Google Adword section of the article,I will explain.
    I own Europe's largest specialist Golf Insurance comapany which celebrated it's 25th year in 2009. My company has traded throughout this period using the registered trade mark 'Golfplan' in 1998 we recognised the obvious benifits in setting up a Golfplan website and from day one we have enjoyed an organic page one, top of the page listing. This is due to the large volume of traffic activity when the most commonly used search term 'Golf Insurance'is placed in the Google search engine.
    I am generalising now, but when you are number one, new competitors will always devise ways to play catch-up which is fine, it's what the competition is meant to do ,it keeps us all on our toes, and stops us becoming complacent, and above all it keeps the market price under control.
    You should now be aware that I have no problem with competition, as long as it is fair, which leads me nicely into my major gripe with Google Adword's, and a grey area that I believe was missed by the researchers behind The Virtual Revolution, it would raised the interest levels even higher


    In 2003 A new player arrived on the scene using the oldest game in town, aggressive pricing and cheap policies, after several months I realised our new business levels were falling away and then realised this new competitor was obviously hiding my registered trade mark 'Golfplan' in the back pages of their website,(the ones the public never see) quite simply because if you entered 'Golfplan' into the Google search engine it triggerd the competitors sponsored Ad directly above our organic top of page one listing. I placed a formal complaint with Google, which they acknowledged, and within 21 days Google notified me that the situation had been corrected. I have no idea whether Google went into the offending website in guestion and removed the word, or more likely the many words (Golfplan), or if they instructed the site owners to do so, however, I can confirm that thankfully it was brought to an immediate end.

    Now the major gripe.

    Three months later Google announced the introduction of Adwords, the previous problem then returned very quickly, however, the difference now was that Google were openly listing the trade mark 'Golfplan' and inviting anyone with a vested interest to bid on it, and they do, many of them !!!!! Try it, just type in the word 'Golfplan' and see just how many companies are riding on the back of my registerd trade mark. This is not just happening to my company, there are thousands out there suffering from what I beleive to be blatent Trade mark infringement,and many of them are unaware of it.
    There cannot possibly be a more profitable way of trading than selling somthing to others that does not belong to you, the difference here is that Google can keep on selling it over and over and over again.

    Even Ronnie Biggs could only pull off The greatest train robbery in British history once, and the same with Heathrow Brinks Mat gold robbery.

    So now you know why Google's profits are rolling in quicker that they can count it, at this rate they really could end up owning 'The World'

    I understand that in America a Judge ruled in Google's favour when they were sued by an agrieved company, well that would happen in the States wouldn't it! But surely not under English law, that must go against everything my forfathers believed in and fought for.

    Ron Channon
    Managing Director
    Golfplan Insurance

  • Comment number 55.

    Is someone on holiday, or out of the office or something?

    I must say, I am disappointed by the lack of participation, in this blog, from any of the programme makers this week.

  • Comment number 56.

    Hello all,
    Many thanks for watching the programme so closely - and for bringing and sharing your thoughts here. It's a provocative subject, and was quite a difficult episode to produce: so many issues to balance and present... It's clear we didn't please everyone, but we're glad to have inspired the debate!
    Two sample opinions from the comments above highlight the diverse opinions on the subject of the flow of online data (personal or otherwise):
    'The whole way through I was just thinking, 'so?' and 'well, duh'. I honestly don't care if companies, advertisers and anyone else want to try and tailor my world around me or turn me into their ideal demographic.'
    'I have long had concerns over who stores our online data and who then has access to it. I suppose my initial question would be can so much power be given to so few?'
    I chose these two comments purely as they illustrate two views, but you can see from the comments here that there are many more arguments and facets to the issues raised.
    Another comment that chimed for me was that of Dr John Leach
    'privacy in the traditional sense (of limiting who has access to our personal info) is being eroded. However, this does not mean people have no choice but to accept a lower level of protection in the future than in the past. It means that the protection that has traditionally been provided by privacy needs to be provided instead by other means, such as transparency and accountability.'
    This reminds me of similar arguments being made around the transition from 'old media' to 'new media' - the music industry, newspapers [journalism], video content... It's that (forgive the buzzword) paradigm shift that the internet and web have instigated - it doesn't mean the end of everything, it just means everything's changing - and adaptation is a far stronger response than panic.
    >>>Several of Dr John Leach's comments, Andi Ye's comment 'What the fates of politicians illustrate, is that it's much more difficult to hold anything against someone whose whole life is transparent - good or moderately seedy.' AND Steve Brammer's comment 'If everyone has some secret that perhaps today would mean being turned down for a job interview even if they are eminently qualified, what will potential employers do in the future? They can't turn down everyone, so the goal posts will have to move and a lot of the "secrets" which today are damaging will just become less damaging and less of an issue.'
    ...remind me of Jeff Jarvis' description of a future of 'mutually assured humiliation' A world where privacy is dead and transparency has created a different climate for judging the actions, projects and plights of others.
    This also reminds me of Bill Thompson and Baroness Susan Greenfield locking horns over the death of privay at our Web at 20 event at the very beginning of our production - you can watch a video clip of that moment here
    ''I find it Ironic that after watching the latest episode that I have to register and provide details in order to post a comment. Isn't that a bit of an oxymoron considering what the latest episode was about.'
    No, the irony isn't lost on me either! There's not much I can say, other than to say the blogs commenting system is what it is to prevent trolls and provide a degree of provenence to online interaction. It helps prevent spam and the likes of YouTube commenting as well.
    bedbug97 'The Internet isn't free, I have to pay SKY to use mine.
    Indeed - and I pay for my connection too. It's the 'free' services provided once that connection is made and paid for we're talking about really; but you're right the 'free internet' can be bandied about casually, when somewhere someone is paying for the connection to exist. (Would it then be fair to say that the World Wide Web is (generally) free to use? It feels a bit like saying the rides in an amusement park are free after you've paid the admission fee to the park, but...)
    Many thanks to everyone for their thoughtful and thought-provoking comments so far. They are very much appreciated. I have been away from the blog until today, so apologies if it seemed that this post, these comments, were being neglected or falling on deaf ears. Assuredly not the case!
    There are a couple of issues raised here I'm asking colleagues about to find better answers than I could provide.
    All the best,

  • Comment number 57.

    I'm really enjoying the series but found the tone of this program overly paranoid. What exactly is the Big Bad Wolf going to do with this mountain of personal data it has on you?

    At the end of the day this is all about the money. All these 'data hoarders' want to do is make more money out of you and you have the final say how you spend you cash or which links you click. Yes, other more damaging aspects of your life could be influenced by what these organisations know but these are rare and unless there's a financial incentive why bother. Using the Dutch Survey / Jews / Nazis example was rather extreme and playing up to people's base fears and paranoia. It could happen but then the Earth 'could' get hit by a giant asteroid tomorrow and we'd all be dead. This is where Stephen Fry had it spot on. People are happy with this as it makes their lives better and bad people will always find ways of using good things to do bad things but it doesn't mean we shouldn't use the good thing.

    Fear sells so you need to just as careful how you treat underlying messages such as this. Watch Adam Curtis's piece in this weeks Newswipe to illustrate this.

    One point I did disagree about was the 'demographisation' of people by using common tools and having your web content conform to your view of the world. Personally, the web, and particularly Social Networking, has vastly expanded my knowledge of opposing views and tools like StumbleUpon are specifically for 'finding' sites you wouldn't normally come across.

  • Comment number 58.

    Not to unsettle anyone since we are discussing privacy and confidentiality.........but when I logged in, Safari produced a message:

    "Safari can't verify the identity of the website, www.bbc.co.uk......The certificate for this website was signed by an unknown certifying authority. You might be connecting to a website that is pretending to be "www.bbc.co.uk" which could put your confidential information at risk......."

    Now, if I was a Web newbie or relative novice like the silver surfers (50+ years old) or tweens coming online or even anyone who's received those nonsense phishing spam boiler room emails about how you have US$ millions waiting for you in some Nigerian / Burkina Fasso / Galapodian island bank account and all you need to do is give them your personal bank details including pin codes over unsecure (i.e. non-HTTPS), I'd be concerned about these browser alerts and what it means for my privacy!

    This is why my tips for online privacy are:

    (1.) UP TO DATE ANTI-VIRUS SOFTWARE. Scan your computer regularly.



    If it says British Broadcasting Corporation as the entity but then provides an address in some obscure country as the location (like Burkina Faso)........then the site you're connecting to is unlikely to be the real BBC.

    The BBC is based in London, United Kingdom (or GB).

    (4.) RESET YOUR BROWSER REGULARLY, i.e. clear the cache, cookies and browsing history along with filled out passwords and forms.

    (5.) BE AWARE OF UPDATES IN PRIVACY SETTINGS & TERMS ON SOCIAL NETWORKS and do what's appropriate to protect your interests.

    Google, Facebook, Phorm et al have all overstepped the privacy boundaries and had to make improvements.

    Users also have a reciprocal responsibility to protect their own privacy.

  • Comment number 59.

    Now, having dealt with that.......:*)..............Here are my views on Prog 3.

    @Dan Biddle --- I’ve been away from this blog too, so quite a lot to catch up on!

    @BBCVirtRev team --- Thanks for the list of credits on this blog and trackbacks to people’s perspectives as the project was gestating. There were some scenes that made me LOL because they were positively influenced by what blog participants here (non-BBC, potential TV audience) were proposing as production shooting and editing were underway.

    From what I’ve watched so far (Prog 3) the graphics, interviews and strands of discourse segue and intertwine in quite interesting ways that open up for further debate, engagement and follow-up series (e.g., more in-depth profiles of key players, more nuts&bolts talks about code and how haptics is changing the human-machine interface, even a ‘Year in the Life of a Start-Up’ documentary etc.).


    Finally I managed to catch one of the programs in an excellent series that many Web contributors including myself nurtured and shaped in our own ways. Most of the credit goes to BBCVirtRev team for making a docu-series that’s accessible to the majority of non-techie viewers whilst also sharing vignettes that appeal to the techies and business folks.

    US$200 per second in Q4 2009 for Google?! That’s the price of an iPhone or a PS3, isn’t it?


    No program is going to please everyone and probably of more interest is a program that simulates diversity of perspective rather than perfection. Perfection’s improbable anyway since we’re PEOPLE NOT ROBOTS after all (ha ha, see my pseudonym).

    Personally, I liked the cutaways of Aleks being on her notebook in an Internet café one second and then walking along the shore, contemplating, the next rather than stacks of Web servers or network cabling or rows of geeks --- simply because it reflects the fact that we and the Web are part of WIDER NATURE & EVOLUTION and we’re seeking meaning and answers which are not only bound by the Web and nerd worlds but with our own consciousness (from the sounds of the sea, from journeying on moving vehicles, from being the only woman sitting in a Westpoint classroom on cyber warfare, etc. as shown in Prog 3). She pitched the presentation style right: openly questioning rather than dogmatic and closed. It wasn't paranoia about the inevitability of "Big Brother" which came across, more that we should increase our own awareness about how the Web is shaping up and should get more involved in discovering these aspects of IT.

    Re. the privacy aspects and any Orwellian future, I’d say that given the recent brouhaha about Google Buzz there’s probably a consensus that few people would agree to any single techco or “Big Brother” having the power to host our medical records and other truly private and confidential information --- particularly if that techco disintermediates us from having ultimate rights and responsibilities over where, how and with whom our information is shared.

    Google had to very quickly give us the tools to control our own privacy settings just as Facebook and others did when they made similar mistakes.

    Actually, if the engineers would step away from the processes of what is technically and tap more into human nature, concerns and instincts they’d realize that there are simply…………EMOTION-ORIENTED ENGAGEMENTS ONLINE WHERE AUTOMATION DOES NOT AND CANNOT WORK. One of these is our personal and moral discern about who we trust with what content of ours, when, how and why. Again, we are not robots.


    I’ve been busy doing my little byte to architect and build the next 20 years of the Web (more later) and whilst I was watching Prog 3, this kept looping in my mind, “So far the Internet has been about big business making money FROM our knowhow. The next revolution surely needs to include big business paying money FOR our knowhow.”

    No, I don’t mean paying celebrities and kids to plug products:



    This form of plugging is merely moving what Eric Schmidt noted as “broadcast” marketing in his interview away from corporate PR machines and letting representative examples of the target audience endorse or “castwrap the sweeties” (I’m coining that here, LOL).

    Nor do I mean Google’s current Adwords model and SMEs earning income by agreeing to place Google’s Ads on their sites and getting a % of advertising clickthrough fees.

    I mean where we’re not exchanging our privacy and user-generated content for free but instead FOR A FEE.

    Before this can happen, though, some core restructuring of html, RDF, FOAF and OWL etc. protocols need to happen. This takes us to the next 20 years and what is already emerging as the Semantic Web components and tools. More info here for those interested:


  • Comment number 60.

    And now let me focus in on 3 observations within Prog 3 that are interesting for current and future Web developments:

    (1.) GOOG

    Whilst Google has various merits, it doesn’t “make sense of the Web” or provide us with our “precise wants and needs,” which is what Program 3 presented.

    In fact, Google PROVIDES AND DISPLAYS AN INDEX of the Web just as Windows Search, Yahoo! Search, Ask and other search engines do. These aren’t the definitive or complete index, just an index. Alas, none of the search engines make sense of the Web. We humans still need to rely on our perceptual filters to click through the numerous pages of links listed in that index to identify, sort, prioritize and discern the link and information that is spot on for our purposes and preferences.

    As Professor Terry Winograd of Stanford who tutored Brin & Page of Google noted, “PageRank adds up votes and gives a close approximation of what you’re looking for.” Adding and approximating are mathematical processes.

    Making sense is a sensory synergy that involves our five senses, logic, emotions, moral discern and more beyond mathematical processes.

    The Price = Bid X Quality equation given in Prog 3 is not quite right (even if as PR for any search engine it is what they’d all like to see). PageRank and other search algorithms provide the QUANTITY or number of times a link is referenced to other related links. It tallies these links. It adds up the probability of the variables being within a certain grouping and overlapping with each other --- as per Venn diagrams.

    [I know this because I have a maths degree and some knowhow about Bayes and other statistical algorithms that go into calculating near-neighbors and group sets for relevance in search.]

    The situation is that there is NO COMPLETE AND OBJECTIVE MECHANISM OR ALGORITHM FOR DISCERNING QUALITY AS YET. Five star rating systems and sentiment engines are known to be flawed and skewed at worst and limited at best:




    Professor Nigel Shadbolt’s comments in Prog 3 about the need for CONTEXT are spot on. The search for context is why the technologists at the forefront of Web development are now focusing on the Semantic Web and its potential frameworks for structuring online content so that humans and machines are on more of the same page about what we mean when we go online and our curiosity leads us to search, delve and explore. Context includes text, images, graphics, opinions, ratings, etc. and not only tallying up how many times a hyperlink is connected to another hyperlink or referenced on N webpages.

    Semantics is already live in Google Search, MS Bing, Yahoo!, Reuter’s Open Calais, Freebase, etc. There are also sentiment engines and visualization technologies that present search results in a more intuitive way to us than text alone, such as Wolfram Alpha and the forthcoming Google Squared. "A picture RDF says a thousand words, etc."

    * https://www.wolframalpha.com/

    * https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t2onuEXThPs

    As Prog 3 also highlighted there are recommendation engines such as Amazon’s to help us navigate through products and help us make sense of whether or not they’re worth buying. Again, these are limited to previously clicked on links and also some time delayed analysis about what someone else belonging to a certain user group with a certain demographic profile to you bought, also known as "collaborative filtering".

    In any case…………at some point………..by 2030……..the Web and each of its data items will make sense and have relational context to each other, but at the moment neither Google nor any other search engine can be accurately said to “make sense of the Web”.

    They index --- just like a dictionary. They can’t interpret our emotional or moral states of WHY we’re looking for this piece of information and not that piece or the context of how we’re going to use that information.


    Douglas Rushkoff’s comments about the conformity of socnet profile pages in Web 2.0 (era of social media) and “people like me” recommendations contrasting with the individualism of Web 1.0 homepages are revealing about digital colonization.

    The World Wide Web spans diverse cultures with variations in social norms, tastes and values. It would be a genuine opportunity missed if instead of opening ourselves up to those perspectives of diversity we either engineer homogeneity as a condition of membership to the online “club” or we assume some false security in what/who we know.

    Often, the true leaps of human advancement are serendipitous, stochastic and (yes) don’t synchronize with flat squares because they’re spheres of Enlightenment.


    As noted above, the privacy issue raised its head again with the recent launch of Google’s Buzz and what happened reflects the fact that social media still have some way to go to truly understand the CONTEXT of our relationships and the ownership we ultimately want and need to have over our privacy.

    * https://techcrunch.com/2010/02/12/google-buzz-privacy/

    Just because we email someone frequently does NOT mean they are our closest friends. Just because we visit Website X and the cookie collects that information does not mean that we are “who the cookies say we are” as John Battelle suggests in Prog 3.

    Unfortunately, at the moment, machine code and online metrics makes interferences of who we are based on QUANTITATIVE information (how long we stay on a site, how many times we email someone etc.). However, as Google Buzz et al show, there is still limited information about the QUALITY of those relationships or the WHYS of a product / content etc. interesting us.

    Marketing agencies pay US$ millions to gain access to these quantitative databases and to cut+dice the information to target us with more adverts and more surveillance for the simple fact that……………..

    They still don’t really know who we are in reality.


    Hmmn, well…………..Offline……In real life........…We are the adaptive amalgamations of experiences, emotions and engagement with others. We’re infinite in our DNA, being and potential --- never accurately encapsulated by any socmedia profile page, cookie track, web crawl bot or uni-dimensional interpretation of what we search for or how long we spend on a site for a finite period of time that conforms with corporate metrics: minutes, weeks, months, most searched terms.

    Meanwhile, online......in virtual life.......we are currently a series of silo data points that corporations are trying to connect on some sort of global social graph of our digital footprint --- which by its very structure is a limited way of trying to get to know us, imo.

    There IS a way to synchronize quantity metrics with quality context to make more sense of Web content, and I’m on that origination and development journey.


    With that in mind, I also want to comment @Ron Channon’s point about online intellectual property (including registered TMs etc.). Notably, the technology players who seem to have the software development, platforms and the monetization models are…………

    US origin (typically Silicon Valley incubations).

    Entrepreneurs in the UK may not be aware that UK intellectual property law may be reducing their ability to protect their IP and monetize it in an equivalent way to if they were incorporated in the US and filed their IP in the US.

    There is a gap between digital rights originating within certain jurisdictions and enforcement in other jurisdictions. Online property rights are arguably as important to become informed about as privacy provisions.

    +1 for @Dr. John Leach makes a valid point about the need to update the Data Protection Act --- particularly needed to reflect the rise of social media sharing --- and the distinction between privacy laws and data protection ones.

    Ok, see you all on Prog 4 comments. I'm A_PERSON_NOT_A_BOT so I wonder if this makes me a Homo Interneticus................


  • Comment number 61.

    Privacy - very interesting. Of course in the UK if you do not own a Television the BBC sends "people" round to hassle folk. The BBC and the TV licence database was an early form of the big brother state Britain is. At least you avoid facebook etc.

  • Comment number 62.

    This is an amazing series is awesome but I wish there was more metioning of the Free Software Movement and Open Source!!!

  • Comment number 63.

    There's ways round all this, I saw this - asset stripping your profile years ago - and have now made amends. Quite simply I have numerous online persona - all false, the main two though are a middle aged man with an average name and profile and a middle aged woman with an average name. I have email addresses for them, DOB's for them, phony addresses - everything. It soon becomes second nature never to give anything away, and you soon stop becoming precious about your actual identity.
    I now only use my true self when I absolutely have to - and you'd be surprised how infrequent that actually is - usually only when I'm banking.
    It's good to think that someone or something somewhere is holding (and using)data on a very strange, very false internet user, and by the way - this isn't me.

  • Comment number 64.

    mstefanovic's comment 'I also had to leave my personal information to post this comment. Could you please explain 5 cookies I got from you? Also for some reason to view this page I had to download this image:
    This is a strange image since it is 1 pixel big, too small for me to see it, why is it there I wonder?

    Fair question - I'm no expert on this, but hopefully the BBC privacy and cookies information will be useful in explaining those cookies you mention.
    Regards the 1 pixel gif I think (from the url of the image) that's to do with our site statistics reporting numbers of visits to a page etc.
    Hope this helps,

  • Comment number 65.

    Am enjoying this series immensly, Prof Krotoski presents very well. I wonder what her (ironic) views are today following the BUZZ Google fiasco! Very topical given the series. Personally having watched the first episodes I was feeling the tiniest bit smug in not having put too much personal stuff out there for the very reasons discusssed. But then today I learn of BUZZ - you could knock me over with a feather (polite euphemisms for !!!)

  • Comment number 66.

    Further info to my reply about cookies above - I've just been told that four of them were dropped by BBC iD, presumably to save sessions and such. One of the cookies was a pulse survey cookie (the BBC's online survey for users about the site itself).

    Many thanks,

  • Comment number 67.

    Surveillance for marketing purposes extends well beyond Google Search and web browser cookies.

    There are more mobile phones than there are PCs, laptops and netbooks. These are also devices for tracking us and our virtual / digital engagement with others, with products, even with ringtones. Someone who downloads 'Crazy Frog' is allocated into a certain demographic grouping whilst someone who downloads 'Poker Face' / Insane in the Brain' (Cypress Hill for non-gangsta grungers) / Debussy's Sonatas / Miles Kingston into other demographic buckets.

    Behavioral targeting is already being supplemented with LOCATION AWARENESS ADVERTISING and the projections are that mobile browsing will soon catch up with and even could supersede Web browsing.

    So...........online privacy issues are also MOBILE privacy issues.

    If the futurologists at the likes of Microsoft have any say in when, where and how we'll see haptic, pop-up location-based, behavioral advertising...........Here's the vision for 2019........

    * https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RvtxupQmRSA

    In future follow-up versions of 'Virtual Revolution' we may see Aleks (or whoever is presenter) wandering along a beach, pressing a button on her coat and accessing the Cloud which beams her emails, adverts, calendar etc. straight down onto.......

    The pebbles on the beach.



    Oops and there's a missing word in my previous post @6:56pm on 15 Feb 2010: "technically POSSIBLE". Thanks.

  • Comment number 68.

    @A_PERSON_NOT_A_BOT (welcome back btw!) 'In future follow-up versions of 'Virtual Revolution' we may see Aleks (or whoever is presenter) wandering along a beach, pressing a button on her coat and accessing the Cloud which beams her emails, adverts, calendar etc. straight down onto.......

    The pebbles on the beach.

    Don't worry, we're already planning the second series using this sixth sense technology :)

  • Comment number 69.

    When is part 3 available in the 3D documentary explorer? That's the only way to see it outside the UK.

  • Comment number 70.

    Sorry for the belated comment

    First, a great episode BBC

    Second, the problems, judging from the preceding comments are:

    1) Privacy of information
    2) Mass storage of unnecessary data
    3) Use of personal information
    4) Free search v. paid search
    5) Data Protection principles
    6) Disclosure of personal lives
    7) Damaging comments v. truth
    8) Technical process v. human instincts

    My Comment:

    Given the technology and near real time connectivity and searches; is mass advertising* the most efficient use of this technology?

    *Advertising is suppliers trying to tell everyone or targeted groups about their products and services. It's like shouting at a crowd. This was fine when we all lived in villages, but the global village is a bit bigger and using the same old technique, is not efficient or respectful. No wonder some advertising is bordering on intrusive and annoying.

    We need to remember Google is, first and foremost a search engine that hovers up data and portrays quality of website content based on algorithms and links, and not on direct human judgement. Therefore, using Google as a procurement platform should be done with caution.

    The assumption that a Supplier's website is content rich and search engine optimised does not mean they will provide a quality service. We all know businesses with terrible websites, and many with no website at all, who provide a brilliant service.

    The top ranking businesses we find on the web are the businesses that people have been blogging about and or they have spent time and money of optimising their website and paying for add words or professional bloggers, arguably when they could have been spending more time with Customers. Not an interesting fact, you may think, until you consider that 3.5m (i.e. 75%) of the UK's 4.6m business are one person enterprises.

    Therefore, too many small and start-up businesses, are finding the likes of Google a large barrier to market. It is not ideal for time and money starved small businesses. Plus, Customers are not finding the full wealth of good Suppliers that are out there.

    At the end of the day, Google is a brilliant web content analytical tool and not a purpose built procurement system.


    To use the internet to search for good suppliers of products and services, I believe we need;

    1) More quality controllable accounts/privacy
    2) More human user reviews/perspectives
    3) A better thought out marketing (Customer and Supplier matching) system
    4) More Customer prompted advertisements from Suppliers

  • Comment number 71.

    I would just like to say well done to all who are involved with the making of Virtual Revolution and well done to Dr Aleks Krotoski who presents the series. I have found the series interesting well presented and easy to follow as well as relevant to every day life. We need more programmes like this keep up the good work.

  • Comment number 72.

    Mr_A wrote:

    "We need to remember Google is, first and foremost a search engine that hovers up data and portrays quality of website content based on algorithms and links, and not on direct human judgement."

    This is the crux of the current and pre-existing limitations of all search engines and if coders don't tackle this it will become a perennial and indefinite limitation.

    Here's the situation: algorithm and links are predicated on mathematical logic which means it's code-able. Human judgment embodies with it objectivity, subjectivity, experiences, emotions, memories, perceptions, risks, wit and sensory context.

    THAT is the challenge: how can we encode or structure all this subjectivity, experiences, etc. in a framework that is meaningful and can also be processed by machines?

    The answer cannot and will not be found in increasing the quantity of human user reviews and perspectives alone. That would still result in circularity of thinking and the same challenge: how do we discern the QUALITY of those reviews and contextualize how the perspective fits into the decision-making process?

    So....we need to break that circularity of conventional thinking and path anew. This is starting to happen.

    What Sir Tim Berners-Lee and the Semantic Web Group are doing is a critical attempt to provide those meaningful frameworks. However, there are still other bridges between logical algorithms and human judgment that have to be imagined and innovated.

    And I'm going to state it here: the code / programming language doesn't exist yet so just as Alan Kay invented SmallTalk, Grace Murray Hopper originated Fortran, etc..............Someone has to invent the logic-human judgment programming language catalytic converter.

    It's definitely not in any of the AI or natural language processing (NLP) which I've seen or tested to distraction so far, and I'm including Google Search (as much as I like to google).

    Mr_A also noted: "using the same old technique, is not efficient or respectful."

    Ok, here was my epiphany about online analytics and matching systems: it's like using a ruler to try and measure someone's heartbeat or some scales to try and weigh someone's consciousness.


    So.......I can either continue to use those analytical tools and (mis)matching systems because there's no alternative and programmers keep coding hammers instead of nutcrackers or scalpels or drills .........................In much the same way that before Willem Einthoven invented the ECG in 1903 and Raymond V. Damadian invented the MRI scanner in 1969 (same year as Buzz Aldrin et al landed on the moon btw), the only way to gain insights into the brain was by........LOBOTOMY and physically weighing the brains of the likes of Babbage, Thackeray and Einstein...........

    OR I can cross-pollinate my knowhow and experiences and maybe invent some new measuring tools.

    Well, I chose to create and code some new tools. ETA: before 2012 Olympics.

    Who knows? It would be so cool and funny if I could synch it with SixthSense too!

    @Dan Biddle --- SixthSense-type technology is also being tested as prototypes in Israeli medical circles and there's also a Dutch designer-developer who's created game projections so we could play ten-pin bowling or table foosball anywhere. In a way, SixthSense is an evolution of what's been achieved with Smartboards and infrared pointers for controlling Powerpoint slides.

    One of my friends has coded and prototyped something even cooler than SixthSense. If he ever commercializes it Lady Gaga and any musician who can fill stadiums will beat a path to his door.

  • Comment number 73.

    Relevant on the privacy issue wrt Facebook and Google Buzz; a class action against FB, an FTC against Google Buzz and an apparent "confusion" by users:

    * https://www.macworld.com/article/146481/2010/02/facebook_lawsuit.html?lsrc=rss_news

    * https://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20100217/ap_on_hi_te/us_tec_google_buzz_privacy_complaint

    * https://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2010/feb/17/google-buzz-schmidt

    Anyone interested in privacy issues should read the EFF site regularly:

    * https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/archive/2010/02

  • Comment number 74.

    I hate this "informative" and well prepared video, I feel that it comes from a bias from the start. All the way I felt more even on her face and expression then what she said or the interesting information, that Aleks Krotoski wants to put across her personal feelings.

    She fears and hates what the web offers us and shows us more the "future perils" then the positive aspects. As if, she had a negative experience herself.

    Yes, most of the things in the video are true, but the negative side is a lot more outlined in this video then the positive sides.

    I am 76 years old.

    I did assist to the Web revolution (and the computer revolution) from the begining. I love it! I use it! I am happy, we no longer have to pay a lot to be able to use computers, I am happy, we can do things we only dreamed in the begining of the 80th, I am happy I can publish my photos on flickr, and blog about my life, buy books on Amazon, search for information on Google, and have answers come back personalized.

    I am an adult, and change my tastes from time to time, but I am happy that Amazon "recommends" some similar items. So what? Before, there where friends, church, neighbor's who recommended us and was it better?

    Evil exists, and Nazis existed and will come perhaps others similar. So what? Should I not make friends on-line? Should I not connect with others? Should I not shop on-line? How much we do and how naive we are and how much we tell about ourselves, is a personal decision.

    We have multiple facets. We can show. We can hide. I choose not to hide. And so far, all people I met, after getting them know on Flickr through their images, or on blogs, through their writings on their blogs, I was very happy about them. As I am happy about most of the books I did buy.

    We can now connect. Almost free. I do not fear the "cost of free".

  • Comment number 75.

    Those who adore SF as it were, will not expect the BBC to follow with episodes 5 to 7 anytime soon. You will have to extrapolate - I know it sounds painful.

    Robin Rowlands the 'valiant and virtuous'
    Guildford Surrey

  • Comment number 76.

    My remarks on the BBC documentary “Virtual Revolution: The Cost of Free" on my blog: https://fuchs.uti.at/326/

  • Comment number 77.

    The Netherlands were invaded in 1939: Incorrect
    The Netherlands were invaded in 1940: Correct
    Please spank the fact checker? Thank you!

    Indeed the Dutch authorities were very careful registrators. A fat "J" for "Jood" was printed on the cards of about 70.000 persons. The Germans only had to round the people up.
    The Dutch resistance group led by Gerrit van der Veen en Willem Arondéus attacked the Register and managed to set the place on fire. The fire brigade did a very "bad" job of extinguishing the fire. Unfortunately there were duplicates in The Haque. Twelve members of the resistance group were executed because of treason.
    Will there come a time that we need to take down the puter-farms of Google and the like in a similar fashion?

    The series is most interesting only this part got stuck too much so to say in the privacy problem of the individual. The massive data gathering can also be used to find, describe and control all kinds of groups of people. I would have loved to hear more about that.

    A lot of people seem to think that they have nothing to hide, but don't realize that they do NOT make the rules, ultimately the rules are made by the companies and in the end by governments and they can change the rules. All of a sudden you have something to hide!

    julie70 wrote: "It is a personal decision." Mmm... In my opinion that is quite debatable. A lot of "personal decisions" can create terrible havoc for others.

    Oh, and, please is it possible that the political opinions of the makers are not imposed on us viewers too much. I did not know what kind of person John Batelle was, when I heard him say: "... this is exactly how we evolve into a fascist state, a socialist state or a dictatorship"

    Now thank you very much dear John, for showing us your real political colors and political ignorance by equating socialism with fascism and dictatorship. Mr. Batelle, you make me p**e! (By the way there has never ever been a real socialist state, that has been taken care off by the Bolsjewiki together with the Capitalists. But that is another story.)

    Again the presenter knows how to walk around, look at passing ships and stroll with a mighty bridge in the background. All very logical images exactly illustrating the spoken word. NOT! I repeat: Wember, "Wie informiert das Fernsehen" (1975) There must be somebody with the BBC who speaks German!? OK, I'll stop complaining, because the other parts of the series will have been shot and edited already.

  • Comment number 78.

    Ich bin chinesisch (und nicht mit der BBC), aber ja --- LOL --- ich verstehe, Wember ""Wie informiert das Fernsehen". We whom inform television.

    Documentaries, unlike dramas, are not supposed to be any sort of Odysseus triumph of good over evil or capitalism versus socialism versus fascism that reflects the personal political philosophy of the key protagonists or storytellers.

    "Not supposed to be" doesn't mean that they can't have Homerian elements in them, though. If that makes the viewing journey interesting and opens up discussion.

    Still I'd agree with other viewers' points about fact-checking, objectivity and not seeding paranoia about privacy. This partly explains why I highlighted that Google is NOT “make sense of the Web” or provide us with our “precise wants and needs,” which is what Program 3 presented.

    And tried to make people aware that there are limitations in what the Web can do and an entire myriad of THINGS THAT ARE UNDER DEVELOPMENT AND NEED TO BE IMPROVED:

    * semantics
    * collaboration
    * privacy
    * how companies track users' interests
    * how companies reward users for their participation

    What is true of this production is true of most final goods: people arrive at it differently because they're previously informed by their own knowhow and experiences.

    The production team are content makers and sociological diarists. They are not coders or developers. They are also not business model strategists or security experts, etc. They are going to have a subjective orientation and approach to the series rather than a purely objective one whereby they show us reams of algorithms and network servers.

    Given these factors, what they have produced is excellent and there's a lot from the process that they will learn and improve upon for the next time with viewer participation.

    In fact, people's diverse opinions on this blog ("HATE THE PROGRAM, LIKE THE PROGRAM, COULDN'T CARE LESS ABOUT THE PROGRAM!") is part of a form of collective enlightenment about facts, perspectives and elements that the BBC team don't know / aren't aware of and, equally, what the viewer audience doesn't know / aren't aware of.

    Like most people I know some WW2 history but not about what Dana Boyd shared on those Dutch files being used in that way.

    For that respect, the whole VirtRev docu-project is a learning and improvement experience for all of us.

  • Comment number 79.

    @Christian Fuchs --- instead of produser the current lexicon for user-content generation that is connected to subsequent transaction purchase is "PROSUMER". On the points of the democratization of media towards participatory systems and human creativity it may be of value to read Professor Eric von Hippel:

    * https://web.mit.edu/evhippel/www/democ1.htm

    Eben Morgan's proposal is something I'll look into when I have more time. Having our own VPNs wherein the IP of whatever we produce is owned by us and we license it out for a fee to companies who want to populate their hub of the Cloud with our content would certainly turn the entire online business model on its head!

    On the question of whether it's an intrinsic or extrinsic challenge, I'd probably say extrinsic.

    One aspect of online advertising which is critical and wasn't covered by the program makers or the talking head experts is.......TRADE BARRIERS TO ENTRY. Those of us who have some classical and neo-Classical economics education will be aware of Alfred Marshall's and JK Galbraith's addendums to Adam Smith that specifically cover advertising.

    Google's current dominance of the search market, as much as 70% in the UK could, on the one hand, be said to be a reflection of when capitalism (offering a superior competitive product) is also parallel with a form of social monopoly that has potential to lead to fascism via central control.

    And yet........Google is pro-Open rather than walled gardens so it's quite a fascinating hybrid of economic models at play.

    To my knowledge, there are no bona fide qualified Internet economists in the series interviews so until / unless someone of the stature of AdamSmith-Keynes / Marx-Engels-Mao comes forth and shares their analysis on the Web economy none of us can determine whether it is a fascist or polytopian social Capitalist scenario that we are emerging into with the Web when we exchange our privacy for personalized advertising.

  • Comment number 80.

    Typo above: fascist or polytopian social capitalist....

  • Comment number 81.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 82.

    There's a cartoon clip following Terry Winograd's revelations about the secrets of search engines, which details Google's algorithm, using Joe's cars as a working example for keyword association, quality score etc. Know where I can revisit that as a stand-alone video?

  • Comment number 83.

    Are you not able regain privacy on Google searches and web sites by 'not accepting' cookies in the preferences of your browser?

  • Comment number 84.

    Parents whose children may have been given a laptop by their schools or who are online, please be aware of this case: lawsuit against a US school for spying on their children via the webcam-

    * https://uk.news.yahoo.com/5/20100220/tod-school-used-webcams-to-spy-on-pupils-870a197.html

    People concerned about privacy invasion should also be aware of something called "remote access" whereby companies (sometimes reputable, sometimes would-be criminals) gain access to your desktop to "troubleshoot and fix" a glitch in your computer and are spying on you and your machine.

    Anyone interested in finding out more information to remove their personal information from the Internet and search engines like Google can read guides like these and then act accordingly to their own privacy needs:

    * https://www.squidoo.com/personalInformation

    Paranoia and fear have no place in human advancement and enlightenment. Both induce inhibitory chemicals in our brains and our being that arrests curiosity, creativity, imagination, collaboration, action and the willingness to discover the wisdoms of others and explore for improvements.

    Th easiest way to defeat fear(s) is to continue to be informed and to facilitate those flows of information.

  • Comment number 85.

    I recently discovered exactly how hard it is for most people to keep hold of their personal data. I bought a book from some one online and they sent it to me using a used envelope. On it was their home address, and after five minutes on Google I had their work address, their job title, their private email address, their work email address, picture of their house, their Facebook page and photos of them and their friends.

    The web is incredibly useful and I am a huge fan of it but people are incredibly naive about their information security. Most are as leaky as a sieve. I personally keep very close watch on what I allow about myself online, using multiple disposable email addresses, never giving out photographs, barely using social websites, never posting on forums etc. I wonder if people will continue to be as open and frankly clueless with information as they are - I hope not.

  • Comment number 86.

    It will be interesting to see how online privacy and the case for "open and free" changes with this conviction of Google executives in Italy:


    As I commented previously, mobile phone privacy is an associated issue. At the moment our pictures are taken by complete strangers without our permission, payment or release forms.

    There is now a mobile application called Recognizr which opens up the possibility that a stranger can take a picture of us and the face recognition software will instantaneously tell them who we are, what we've posted online, where we live, who we're connected to etc.:

    * https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5GqJHaNRlas

    * https://news.cnet.com/8301-13772_3-10458736-52.html

  • Comment number 87.

    Some people are prepared to relinquish their privacy in what has been labelled the narcissistic accumulation of "followers" and "friends" on the social networks. It's partly a reflection of sections of the society wanting fame / infamy like the celebrities, and wanting that real-time. Instantaneously.

    Then there are others who join social networks to collaborate on specific projects and they have no appetite for privacy invasion or TMI (too much information). They're more interested in sharing intelligently and for positive purposes.

    In that sense, the Web is an ecosystem of our own egos and stages of enlightenment.

  • Comment number 88.

    I have spent the last 8 years researching and developing ways to allow individuals to manage their personal information 'under their control, with their consent, for their benefit'. I have long been concerned to discover that personal information about individuals is captured and stored, on average, in a thousand data silos around the world - the great majority of which are without our consent or knowledge. I believe the solution is to provide individuals with the tools to enable them to build and maintain their own secure data silo over which they have the ability to share appropriate information with organisations with whom they want a relationship - most importantly, the individual can also set the terms of such an exchange such as 'not for resale', 'in exchange for a copy of my activity log that you hold', 'there is a fee for access to this information'.
    There is a growing movement to deliver 'user driven' tools and services for individuals under the acronym VRM (Vendor Relationship Management) as a reciprocal to organisations' CRM silos to redress the balance and, hopefully, regain some trust and confidence in online relationships and transactions.
    I heard (Stephen Fry) that spam, the most inconvenient if not serious example of identity abuse, accounts for 85% of web traffic. This is both environmentally irresponsible and undermines the trust in the internet which is to no-ones advantage. It is imperative to allow individuals to protect their privacy when appropriate to regain Trust in the internet.

  • Comment number 89.

    Having already embraced the idea of the 'non-sequential' way of consuming information...
    I watched episode 4 inviting me to to take part in the web-usage experiment.
    I then watched episode 3 featuring mostly useless information about how my personal information might be used online.
    I then decided to take part in the usage experiment to find it requesting my e-mail address, postcode and country before I take part.
    Is there only me that finds this ironic/patronising/stupid/unnecessary?
    BBC - you know roughly where I am from my IP address, you don't need my email address because you're not writing me messages.
    I had enjoyed episodes 1, 2 and 4... but to see episode 3 and then to find out that an account with the BBC is a prerequisite to take part in the usage-thing is nothing short of absurd.
    (Here's to another few bytes of useless drivel... and you can have my tracking cookies... this isn't my computer anyways and I've made up an email address...)

  • Comment number 90.

    Our constant refusal to stand fast against Muslim intimidation opens an important door to Islamic conquest. We are holding a white flag to an enemy that can't make peace with those he considers to be satanic, that is: all non Muslims.
    I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your exposé on the internet, the installment "The Cost of Free" is an eye opener for me. It really depicts a fundamental flaw in the new social revolution, this flaw is that we are blind to the dangers of this information exchange. Your example of the Jews in Holland was a very important point. I am not underlining an alarmist point of view, but history's caution is simple, "If you ignore it, it will repeat itself". So I think we should, at the very least, try to change the internet culture to be a bit more private.
    On a different, but related note, a Ch.4 program on Islam's infiltration in government is also pointing at a potential danger of having our precious democratic way of life hijacked by fundamentalist Muslims. Just a though, could it be possible that our personal information, living permanently on the net, could it be, in Muslim's hands, be used against us? Granted it is a scary picture, but one none the lest that Holland could not of painted when it gathered information about its constituents.
    The sheer magnitude of the problem makes it hard for the best of us to consider and if you combine this with our collective apathy, makes even harder to resolve. In fact unless something dramatic happens, we will continue on this path and the outcome of both the invasion of privacy (all be it willingly), and the political hijacking of democracy by Muslim fundamentalist (in ever growing numbers) will inevitably translate our way of life into an unrecognisable society. Picture this if you will, two powers, the first one commerce, the second Islam, both battling for supremacy, they are both poised for conquest and both have a fundamental resolve, they are not apathetic, they are motivated by the most powerful motivator in the world, money (power), and religious belief (that is fuel by the creed of supremacy). Here is the clincher, we are the target, they each see us as potential to further their goal.
    How is it going to play out? I don't know, but I do know that, it's soon, very soon. As I wrote in the beginning: The ball is in our collective, apathetic and effete, hands.

  • Comment number 91.

    @Gedeon Simons --- You wrote, “Just a though, could it be possible that our personal information, living permanently on the net, could it be, in Muslim's hands, be used against us?” and make some sort of argument about potential Islamic conquest. [Typo on “thought” is yours and left intact to avoid misquoting.]

    Here’s an interesting fact: Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Oracle, Bloomberg, Dell, all of the major film studios (Dreamworks, MGM, Disney, CBS, TimeWarner, Warner Brothers, Universal, Columbia, etc.) and any number of investment banks and well-known companies have founders or CEOs of Jewish heritage.

    Therefore, Jewish-origin people invented the systems by which our private information is being shared, how it’s being monetized and marketed within our media interests. They’re engaged in conducting commerce that’s within their legal rights as entrepreneurs and business people.

    So.........instead of looking towards governments to address this particular privacy issue............

    Anyone concerned that Google, Facebook, Microsoft etc. is facilitating the sharing of information that may lead to a repeat of the Holland situation or anyone who has any type of Islamic phobia should contact those companies and ask them to change their privacy policies and reduce their ability to earn revenue from that information --- which simultaneously endanger us (because according to Gedeon Simons the Muslims will use it all against us).

    There, situation contextualized and solved.

    Now, a related point that will also comment on China’s terms of conditions for search engines to operate in the country and this whole notion of democracy, freedom of speech and privacy online. China forbids all sorts of search terms as unsuitable content. This includes: pornography, genocide, swear words and…………how to make bombs.

    It’s been documented previously that religious extremists and suicide bombers have used the search engines to find materials on how to do this as well as other Internet facilities to plan attacks.
    Therefore, for those who argue against China’s stance on a certain level of censorship and for complete Internet freedoms………..the search engines are facilitating people who want to create weapons that will kill and maim innocents.

    So if the search engines refuse to censor links like these --- all in the name of Internet freedoms --- then can it be said that they are accomplices in and facilitators of crimes by an extreme minority of terrorists (albeit unwitting)?

    If democratic governments do not implement legislation that prohibits materials like bomb-making or any other methods of destruction and maiming (biochem weapons etc.) --- again in the arguments of freedom and so as not to curtail commercial dynamism --- can it also be said that they are accomplices in and facilitators of the crimes by an extreme minority of terrorists (albeit unwittingly)?

    If we as individuals do not lobby online groups to have this type of material removed......ditto?

    It’s possible to see the moral and philosophical paradoxes about Internet freedoms and also protecting privacy and our ways of life now when we consider it like that, hmmn?

    Personally, I’m hopeful that the Web will develop into a NURTURING ECOSYSTEM WHEREIN ENLIGHTENMENT FLOURISHS AND COLLABORATIVE INTELLIGENCE ADVANCES OUR SPECIES AND WE’RE REWARDED FOR OUR POSITIVE CONTRIBUTIONS rather than one in which there is any sort of cyber Armageddon, fuelled by religious / political / hegemonic propaganda and paranoia from any myopic interest group.

    History and Thomas Hobbes, though, suggests that Man can be a selfish, brutal, narcissistic, aggressive and hubristic destroyer of others. Yet for all the wars and the battles (literal, philosophical, economic) one truth prevails:


    Moreover, people are not as apathetic or effete as imagined. Time and again, when the need arises, the common decency in people drives us collectively to take action against any would-be destroyers --- whatever the religious denomination or political allegiances.

    So, yes, the Web has its risks and it also has its opportunities for reform, to protect and nurture people’s privacy. Still let’s analyze it all within reason, better quality information and context. Let’s not contribute to the perpetration of any misinformation or paranoia about any religion.


  • Comment number 92.

    @Graham Sadd: Good luck with the development of your methodologies.

    I very recently had a conversation with a friend Stateside who's interested in developing a piece of hardware to address this very issue. I suggested he call it a "personal privacy pod" and here's how I think it should work. The PPP is where we store and control all the personal information about us. It's not on any corporate server. It's a server on our own person and only we have the codes (biometrics, captcha protected passwords and other secure measures) to unlock that information.

    Next, we'd carry a transmitting device in the same way we carry our car key transmitter and "beep" information to unlock our cars. It could even be as small as a button or brooch on our clothing. Then we beam up our personal privacy key; that is our legal consent for a company to access our private server specifically for the personal information we have control over and designate.

    They're not allowed to store that information for more than the period of the transaction itself.

    The company can then figure out ways to market to us and sell us products because --- instead of these cookies and spambots that are crawling social networks and our search terms (which wastes energy because of the huge server farms needed, btw) we're an integrated part of the production chain and tell them what we actually need, what we actually like and even get involved in designing the products.

    In this way, they can develop better inventory systems so that instead of producing 100 items that they think we want and then spamming us with information on these products, they only produce what we need and like.

    ===> reduced energy wastage
    ===> reduced spam
    ===> reduced advertising which annoys us

    ===> improved privacy
    ===> more efficient commerce models
    ===> better sustainability for the planet

    So that's one of my ideas. That's what I mean about taking issue with some of the unimaginative business models out there.

    Some imagination and smarter execution would reduce an entire raft of the current issues with the Web.

  • Comment number 93.

    Hi, I just wanted to say that while I don't always completely agree with some of the conclusions drawn in this series, I think it's one of the best documentaries I've ever come across. This is such an excellent series, and does a better job of presenting a broad overview of the philosophical aspects of the web than anything else I've seen. The only disagreements I have mostly stem from omission of some of the driving factors, especially one of the major new forces coming about in the last few years and changing the face of the internet- Search Engine Optimization. Another major trend that's of note is a new form of labor exploitation and legal circumvention through freelance sites.

    SEO is quickly filling the internet up with piles and piles of meaningless fluff, like never before, while freelance sites are also enabling small-time hucksters in new ways, allowing them to easily circumvent truth-in-advertising laws and things like minimum wage, etc. Look closely at the job postings and profiles on any freelance website, and you'll be able to draw many interesting conclusions after having read several. While electronic professionals are finding it easier to find contract work online, it's becoming harder and harder for those professionals to obtain living wages in developed countries, as poorer countries become more tech-savvy and familiar with English. It's common to see wages as low as 1 US dollar per hour advertised for things like computer programming and photo retouching on these sites. Often, they are even lower. Standard industry rates in developed countries range from 20 to 160 dollars an hour for these kind of services.

    People are also now being hired solely to circumvent anti-spam mechanisms on dating sites, message boards, and the like. They're also being hired to "write" and re-write meaningless articles, which are merely fluff cranked out to deceive search engines, and funnel surfers to ad pages with no real content. Ironically enough, the employers post demands of quality, and threaten blacklisting and the like if any plagiarism is found to take place, while offering rates as low as ten cents an article. Thousands of poor internationals with computers and basic English skills make their living posting fake dating profiles, social networking pages, or craigslist ads, (or responding to real ones) and harvesting contact info from responders, or sending them advertisements, scams, and sometimes viruses.

    There's now this whole culture growing up around getting people in front of ads, without ever actually delivering a product. People are just selling each others' ads back and forth. Kind of like a food chain... the smaller ad funnels you to bigger and bigger ads, until you eventually get to a larger business, unaware that the surfers on their site were deceived into ending up there, paying rates for hits to what they thought was a legitimate marketing company.

    I live in Austin, TX, a real hot spot for internet business. All major American computer manufacturers have facilities here, as well as Google, Yahoo, Pogo, Sony, and many of the driving forces in web culture and technology. I know many people who write SEO software and content for a living. I work in internet tech support myself, although I'm a graphic designer and Illustrator by trade. I can't compete with the people churning out garbage practically for free, as I take pride in my work, and must support the American cost of living.

    I think it would have been great if you interviewed William Gibson. This guy has such an amazing knack for seeing where these things are going.

    I haven't listened to the fourth one yet, but again, congratulations on such an excellent series; a jewel in the crown of the BBC's world-class documentary programming. I feel inspired and enlightened by the compelling questions posed here.

    Also gotta comment... one sure does have to work quite a bit to deliver a compliment to you folks.

  • Comment number 94.


    Just wanted to remark on the remote access issue you brought up...

    I, myself use a remote access program in the course of supporting customers' internet problems. There are users out there so completely incompetent in computer use, that getting them to type in a web address often takes 20 to 30 minutes of intense explanation. Walking them through command-line interfaces, registry edits, complex entries of modem strings, and multi-page settings dialogues would often be impossible without this tool. While I don't perform all of these tasks at work, there are many cases in which remote access can turn a two-hour plus call into a five minute one. I am often appalled at the thought that many of these people vote, and pray that they are more cogent in other respects than in computers. The program we use only retains control or access to the users' computer as long as both the tech and the user have the webpage open, and the internet connection is present. Once any of these are removed, the session must be re-started by both parties to work again.

    I admit, that if I wanted to, I would have the power to root around on a customer's computer while this program was in use, but the customer would see everything I was doing on their screen, and could easily pull the plug if they saw something going on that they disapproved of. Besides, I'm just trying to do a job, and help them get back on the internet and surfing happily. I am entrusted with confidential information on a daily basis, but I consider it my duty to protect that information, just like you would if a friend told you a secret. Jobs are hard to come by these days, and I'd like to perform well in mine.

    I think one positive factor about the loss of privacy is that we may start to leave behind these impractical and backwards neo-victorian ideals about the perfection of humanity, and start to celebrate each other as deeply flawed and beautiful people, to the man. We've still got a ways to go; but as I see it, the final logjam is the pervasive risk-averse philosophy of business and modern culture. If we can simply abandon the notion of finding someone to hold responsible and punishing them, every time something undesirable happens, and the notion of rooting out the flaws of others and hiding our own, privacy won't be quite as important to protect.


  • Comment number 95.

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  • Comment number 96.

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  • Comment number 97.

    @Michael Reuster --- Thanks for sharing your insights as a remote access practitioner. There are merits to remote access for troubleshooting, provided the technical support person operates within the legitimate and employment capacity of their remit and doesn’t either attempt to download a virus to the user’s PC or try to steal their personal details (bank account, etc.) for identity theft purposes.

    I agree that the entire SEO model is beyond ridiculous and another example of how search engines have become “loaded” rather than provide us with relevant and accurately prioritized links. Most importantly, few of us want the consequence of our small concessions of privacy to result in deluges of spam from SEO content producers. I once got 25,000+(!!!) junk emails within 48 hours because the hosting provider had an arrangement with some SEOs. As soon as I found out about this I switched to another hosting provider where I now (thankfully) get hardly any spam.

    That’s a loss of a customer that first hosting provider will never get back.

    Meanwhile, some social networks are reluctant to do anything about spam removal because it all contributes to their (inflated) traffic counts and…….these traffic counts may mean an increase in interest from would be investors. They see high traffic and they assume lots of people are visiting the site --- often without taking into account all the fake profiles and content created by SEO hired hands and spambots.

    So when any social network trumpets their 100+ million users it's probably advisable to apply the 80-20-90-10 rule to it; eighty percent of profiles and traffic are spam, twenty percent are authentic and of these 90 percent are lurkers and 10 percent are actively uploading and linking content. Ergo for every 100 registered users only 2 could be truly said to be “user engagement”.

    Again, the way traffic metrics currently operates is NOT THAT SMART. The machine codes really cannot differentiate between what is genuine human content, what’s spambot SEO content and then the hybrid of humans writing spambot SEO content.

    Again, this means an online market that’s loaded with information quality issues.

    It’s interesting that you wrote “one positive factor about the loss of privacy is that we may start to leave behind these impractical and backwards neo-victorian ideals about the perfection of humanity…..If we can simply abandon the notion of finding someone to hold responsible and punishing them, every time something undesirable happens….”

    In that case let’s stop having enquiries into the perpetrators of 9/11, the Iraq War, the Holocaust, Chernobyl, African genocide, global financial crisis, missing confidential files, MPs expenses, giant oil slicks that kill wildlife, industrial disasters, 6 Eurostar trains being stuck in the tunnel, corruption etc. Let’s not imprison or even enforce capital punishment onto rapists, murderers or people who engage in destructive actions against civil society. Let’s also not tax the bankers or democratically eject failing governments / central bankers / supervisory bodies who didn’t manage to do their fiduciary duties and honor their moral responsibilities.

    Let’s be idealists and say, “No one’s responsible. It’s just human nature. Survival of the fittest and who cares about the vulnerable, the old, the young, the ones not equipped to protect themselves.”

    Let’s also all forego the US$5,000 – US$10,000 from each household globally to bail out the banks and let’s all not talk or complain about it or hear about clawbacks in the media constantly because of upcoming elections.

    You see how Devil’s Advocacy and philosophical contextualization works?

    That’s what abandoning those notions of responsibility and punishment would really mean: let’s all be apathetic, amoral and non-participatory about consideration for the well-being of others.

    Hmmn………Socialism has its flaws like capitalism but at least it’s not shallow like aestheticism.

    Aestheticism is why you may want to re-read the definitions of “neo-Victorian” and Nietzsche’s book ‘Human, All Too Human’ (1879). “Neo-Victorian” is concerned principally with aesthetics --- the superficial external elements of beauty --- rather than with the perfection of humanity per se. The character Dorian Gray conceived by Oscar Wilde in 1890 would be correctly identified as “neo-Victorian” but clearly he was without the perfection of humanity. Actually, he made a Faustian pact and was the antithesis of humanity in his conceit, vanity, vindictiveness and selfish pursuit of instant gratification.

    Meanwhile Nietzsche followed on two hundred years later from the traditions of Thomas Hobbes who wrote in his seminal 1651 ouvre ‘Leviathan’ about the life of man being “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”. Nietzsche recognized with depressive realization how completely flawed and fallible we are.

    So the Victorians and neo-Victorians didn’t have any ideal about any perfection of humanity as such.

    Likewise, in the Web era there should be and is no naivety about any a priori perfection of humans. There is frequently inspiring humanity on the Web like when people crowd-source material to help make BBC documentaries and inform others with perspectives or when people raise US$ millions in donations for Haiti online or when people offer their support for whatever life issue is happening to us (moving home, employment situation, wedding planning, divorce, children, etc).

    Then there is the occasionally not-so-great humanity like when people flame, defame, stalk, abuse and worse others online by disrespecting their privacy and reputational rights. The case of the Facebook-facilitated murder of a teenager is the extreme example of what can happen when we abjugate our responsibilities to protect privacy:


    The issue is probably less about absolute perfection in privacy and more about progressive improvements. We recognize that people and systems are imperfect but can still strive towards incrementally making aspects of those people and those systems better, more informed, more coherent, more enlightened.

    Adaptive improvement rather than absolute perfectionism is actually the reality of ideal humanity.


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