Information Challenges

The technology transformations in the past 10-15 years has been remarkable. It is mostly driven by the internet, but there also have been several other advances in technologies that have helped accelerate research and development across the board. It has also leveled the playing field for many. For example, many authors and artists have been successful in directly reaching out to an audience through the internet that simply wasn’t possible before. The channels for success before the internet was limited, complicated and dismal.

But this also has resulted in a massive growth in the availability of information that are uncurated, biased, incorrect, so on and so forth. This has become such a huge problem that even for seasoned folks it is becoming impossible to identify whether some of what we see and read are true and accurate. One of the many horrifying examples is a recent horrifying story from India about a fake post that spread like wildfire through WhatsApp. Major technology companies like Google and Facebook continue to put in safeguards, but those intent on misusing the system bypass these immediately.

Everyone is busy producing new gadgets and monetizing the user base that no one seems to be investing enough in finding solutions for the long haul. They are busy finding bandaids and the blood appears to stop for a short period before gushing out!

On the one hand companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter have made it so easy to share information that has resulted in misuse, overuse and abuse. I will be the first one to confess that at some point in the past several years, I was posting on Facebook pretty much everything I did, most of them silly, but my followers “liked” it or commented on it and that kept me going. Until my wife said this had to stop because in every social gathering, a lot of my friends knew a lot more about our life than she felt comfortable sharing. So I stopped and I am so glad I did.

Everything I posted in Facebook is information that will live forever because I don’t have the time or inclination to go back and erase them. Frankly I don’t even know if I can delete them forever from everywhere it has been stored away. Now multiply that by billions and you can see the issue. Even worse is the information connectivity. Recently, I posted to my friends a movie recommendation on facebook – called “Toilet“. It is a movie about a village in India that does not have toilets, how a woman married into a family living in that village refuses to live there until toilets are built, and how this results in the village getting toilets. Before I knew, facebook started showing me ads and news items related to toilet supplies and accessories. This is outright stupid but funny! I am sure we all have experienced these types of situations.

To be fair, I have frankly benefited from a couple of these in my personal Google account – either systems or products that I had never heard of that have came to my aid.

At the start of the semester, we found that our students started receiving phishing scams promising them on campus jobs, but they have to pay an application fee. One would think that with all the information that we provide to the students, the students will ignore such emails. Nope, some took the bait. The scammers find ways to bypass systems and use clever social engineering techniques to get this accomplished.

The issue here is that we cannot rely on just Google, Facebook and Twitter to find a solution to this. We need to get back to a system where information is trustworthy and valued. If that means less information, so be it. We need an independent international entity to tackle this issue and I am fully aware that this is not going to happen 🙂

I don’t necessarily have a solution or hope that this will happen soon, but a fake news campaign that maligns one’s life or a WhatsApp message that kills innocent 65 year old woman is just not right.

Relevant reads from today’s (9/5/2018) NY Times:

Facebook and Twitter Have a Message for Lawmakers: We’re Trying

Can You Spot the Deceptive Facebook Post?

1 Comment on Information Challenges

  1. Ron
    September 5, 2018 at 2:51 pm (2 years ago)

    Really interesting read Ravi. I see much of what you mentioned in my own life (oversharing on social media, etc). With new technologies come new challenges, some of which can’t easily be solved with technology alone.


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