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Right time to make net gains

The recently published report from InternetNZ paints an interesting, and somewhat troubling, picture of our relationship with the online.

The annual survey of 1000 people compiled by Kantar Public, sets out to provide a snapshot of our online attitudes and behaviours, and reveal how the internet is impacting our lives.

Online accessibility is increasing year-on-year, with 64 per cent of households connected to fibre in 2022 [up from 45 per cent in 2018].

Internet usage is also on the rise, with 95 per cent of respondents online daily, with social media platform TikTok seeing the most significant jump in daily usage over the past 12 months.

But it’s apparent many see the internet as a double-edged sword.

In the past year, there has been a whopping increase in the number of people either extremely or very concerned about certain aspects of the internet.

Three-quarters of New Zealanders were concerned about young children accessing inappropriate content online, with 74 per cent of respondents registering their fears in 2022 [up from 38 per cent in 2021].

Security of personal data and online crime were extremely or very concerning for two-thirds of New Zealanders, as were cyberbullying and threats to privacy [eg. location tracking].

Even more troubling is that the inequity online appears to mirror that of the real world.

Minority groups such as Asian and Pasifika peoples and women registered the most significant fears about the internet compared to the average New Zealander.

More than 80 per cent of women were alarmed about inappropriate content online, and two-thirds were extremely or very concerned about extremist material and hate speech.

It’s disturbing, but perhaps not surprising, with the speed of development in the online space reaching dizzying levels.

Algorithms to addict users are becoming increasingly sophisticated, while the cyber arms race to develop Artificial Intelligence tools [see ChatGPT] is well and truly on.

AI ethicist Dr Timnit Gebru – [hired to co-lead Google’s Ethical Artificial Intelligence Team, and fired for writing a paper criticising a new AI tool] – says the internet is what we, humans, make it, and argues a lack of diversity in big tech and government regulation, is creating inherently unsafe online tools.

These tools, delivered [untested] by the profit-obsessed Silicon Valley, will carry all the bias, prejudices, and ‘isms’ that exist in the real world, she says.

And yet, these same companies are simultaneously selling us an AI paradise.

“My question is: Who is getting this utopian life that big tech is promising will come from AI?” Gebru asks.

The horse has already bolted is typical of big tech, with governments scrambling retroactively to reign them in.

While some tech companies have read the room and are proactively tweaking the algorithm, particularly when it comes to underage users on their platforms, it would be unwise to leave regulation in their hands, when profit is the primary goal.

Humans love to innovate. But we, and those in charge must have input into what we want that innovation to look like.

The internet is here to stay. We can’t live without it, but now is the time to design the one we want to live with.

Mary Argue
Mary Argue
Mary Argue is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age with an interest in justice and the region’s emergency services, regularly covering Masterton District Court, Fire and Emergency and Police.

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