US-born academic Aleks Krotoski has warned that sites such as Facebook and Google have an agenda, even if their designers have not knowingly built the sites this way.
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Krotoski, who is a presenter of BBC2's The Virtual Revolution, believes that any web service, whether it is Facebook, Google, an e-commerce shopfront or a council website, uses an empirical model of human beings, which influences how people and society interact with their services.
The UN has decreed that access to the web is a public right. Krotoski, who spoke at the Business Cloud Summit 2011 in December, said people use the internet like a public utility. “We have moved away from a material culture to a virtual one.”
During the keynote presentation, Krotoski said some academics describe humans today as cybernetic, where people extend themselves through the use of computer technology and the internet.
She said people upload their profiles to the web in an uncritical fashion. However, Krotoski believes everything people use online, in terms of technology and web services, has an agenda. “How these agendas sit with us are not yet fully understood,” she warned.
From Wikileaks, to Google, to Facebook, the digital platform itself is suffused with the principals that are decreed by the context in which they are produced, she added. Krotoski said web consumers often overlook this fact, as do web developers and designers "when they need to get stuff out of the door”.
"The people who design and build web services have to act like psychologists who think human beings can be measured and reduced to binary ones and zeros in order to code the human being. And how they choose to create the human is a political decision,” she said.
Krotoski warned that internet users are subject to how people such as Larry Page, Sergey Brin and Mark Zuckerberg, among others, construct the human being in their computer systems. “They are imposing an ideology about how they view us. It is likely they don't even realise what they are doing.
“We may ultimately find ourselves and our societies in a different place [from today] because the technologies we are using to archive, articulate and reach out and touch one another work in a variety of ways,” she said.