Internet pioneer: Social media giants 'merely paying lip service' to changing behaviour

A computer scientist who helped develop the internet has said social media giants are engaged in "surveillance capitalism" and are "merely paying lip service" to combating the rise of disinformation, data misuse, and online abuse.

Paul Vixie said that social media firms were not doing enough to combat the spread of bad information and the use of private data by people with bad intentions.

"They are merely paying lip service to it, delaying and deceiving and misdirecting as a way to continue growing revenue and their share price," he said.

Mr Vixie -- whose pioneering work on the Domain Name System (DNS), the so-called phonebook of the internet, helped pave the way to his being inducted into the Internet Hall of Fame -- was speaking ahead of International Data Protection Day on Monday.

However, he said there were signs that other prominent historical technology and business leaders who were aware of their legacy could turn the tide.

"I don’t have a lot of hope for the leaders of the current crop in the short-term, but I do have some hope that some of America’s billionaires, as they reach their golden years, are ending up realising they have been slashing and burning, and that they now need to replant what they have taken.

"We are seeing some good results from the Bill Gates Foundation, and Warren Buffett is no longer interested in winner-take-all gains as he once was. I don’t think we can wait for Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg and the others to reach their golden years before we can hope for change," he said.

Those abusing the internet to influence political matters were currently winning the war being waged online, he said. However, Mr Vixie said he was hopeful that the innovators like World Wide Web founder Tim Berners-Lee and others motivated by social and community progress would eventually win out.

“Mr Berners-Lee is working on something, that if successful, will allow a kind of overlay on top of the internet that will allow a little more privacy and security.

"You can’t build a utopia in one step but you can take a series of small steps towards it. He wants a set of norms that will allow you to keep your data, in something like a set-top box in your house. You own it and control it, and your permission must be sought to use it.

"We must not let it just be the big tech companies that decide humanity’s future. There are enough people with good intentions out there. A lot of what has been done to make the internet grow so spectacularly was not commercial in nature. There are a lot of open source programmers who want to give something to the world for free, for good.

"I’m not expecting internet billionaires of the current generation to have a change of heart soon, but I am expecting innovation to outfox them incrementally, one small step at a time. It may be faint cause for hope, but it is hope nonetheless.

"As a concept, the internet is permanent. We are always going to have one. As to what it is, how it got that way, and what it can be next, is still in our hands," Mr Vixie said.

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