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Research / Insights on current and emerging industry topics

Better machine decision-making, rethinking digital ads, and smart cities will improve the health of the internet

May 1, 2019 | By Rande Price, Research VP – DCN

Mozilla’s newly released 2019 Internet Health Report offers insights from more than 200 experts examining what’s key to a healthier internet. The report is an open source compilation of research that tracks the internet and general technological progress. The findings center on three key areas: the need for better machine decision-making, rethinking digital ads, and the rise of smart cities.

Better machine learning

Machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) are the next generation of computing. They enable more powerful automation, prediction, and personalization. As AI intelligence works its way into our daily lives, we need to question the ethical decisions and potential risks associated with it.

Industry experts are concerned that the large tech companies that control social media and e-commerce, are also shaping the AI agenda. Given Facebook’s, Amazon’s and Google’s ability to gather large quantities of training data, they are developing powerful AI technologies. An ethical assessment of their algorithms is important to ensure the consumer’s fundamental rights are protected.

Rethinking digital ads

Digital ads monetize online content and services and are the key driver of the advertising economy. Many researchers contributing to this report are alarmed by Google and Facebook’s combined control of approximately 84% of the global digital ad market outside of China. Their access to user data as a source of global market power in business negotiations is a major concern. Targeted ads used by these companies exploit their users. A scandal uncovered a few months ago included ads on Facebook demographically targeted to exclude people of a certain race from housing ads. Another example, also on Facebook, allowed advertisers to use available data on the service to create an affinity group to target ads to “Jew Haters.” 

Some brands and marketers are stepping away from YouTube and Facebook but many still purchase their inventory for targeting campaigns. As a result of these scandals and others, users want to take control of their data. New software initiatives are being explored to offer a decentralized solution, giving consumers control over who has access to their personal data.

Rise of smart cities

Smart cities exist when the internet and connected devices are applied to solving problems from energy efficiency, transportation to government services. Similar to rethinking digital ads, collecting neighborhood data must be thought about carefully. Smart cities face challenges with regards to establishing policies and processes to guide the usage of local data with regards to privacy and transparency.

Steps to a healthier internet future

Many of today’s biggest internet companies still access users’ clicks, likes, friends, emails and downloads to fuel their business models. However, some companies are thinking about alternative business models and new technologies to give users control of their data. One such initiative is Purpose Foundation. It promotes “steward-ownership,” a legal structure to prioritize a mission over profit revenue model. It involves users in the ownership of the company to ensure consumers benefit in the economic growth. Importantly, involving consumers in internet innovation and safeguarding personal data are key steps to a healthier internet.

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