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  • Ian Ritchie : Scottish Business Insider

The art of stopping dark abuses of technology before they happen

AT LONG LAST, social media companies have been firmly put on the naughty step; guilty as charged of spreading fake news, encouraging young people to experiment with suicide or anorexia, spreading falsehoods about the risks of vaccinations, and allowing white extremist terrorists to broadcast live their murderous actions to the world. Their claim that they are merely neutral communication channels and not publishers, and that they have no responsibility for the content they distribute, is now getting severely challenged by lawmakers and serious regulation is on the way.

Although Facebook and Twitter are over 10 years old, legislators are only now struggling to catch up. The dark abuses of technology seem to always take authorities by surprise but it doesn’t have to be this way. It would be much better to anticipate the possible misuse of new technologies and enact legislation to protect the public before the bad things happen. The companies which market such technology are the world’s largest and most profitable, and would have to obey the law anywhere they wish to operate.

For example we could make it the law that all drones legally sold would need to be equipped with a kill switch feature which could be used by authorities to safely bring them down if they are flown near airports or over crowds of civilians.

We should insist that all ‘internet of things’ equipment, such as security cameras or embedded medical devices should be required to have some basic security installed so that they cannot be easily hacked. Just as medical devices and pharmaceuticals are subjected to stringent safety checks before being allowed to be marketed, systems should be set up to award kite marks to devices that comply, and make it illegal to sell any that don’t.

Mobile phones are capable of logging and reporting your location at all times and there should be strict limitations on how this information can be used. You should need to give explicit permission for applications to collect location information otherwise it should be prohibited.

Facial recognition has developed in recent years out of all recognition. Many iPhone users now routinely use the image of their face to switch on their phone. Just as with location data there needs to be similar restrictions on how your image can be used. Any use of your facial identification data should also have to get your explicit permission.

Many people have installed smart speakers such as Amazon Echo, Apple’s Siri or Google’s Home and enjoy the ability to ask them to switch lights on, call up music, or play radio stations and these technologies are now also being installed in smart TVs and satellite receivers so that they can also be operated by voice command. We need to make sure that these devices are not listening in to casual conversations and using it for other purposes.

Finally, Governments everywhere should follow the lead of tiny Estonia which has instituted a digital ID system which uses 2048-bit public key encryption and blockchain technology to allow everybody, from banks and official bodies to individuals, to prove that they actually are who they say they are. If implemented more widely, scams and phishing schemes would quickly become easily detectable and social media systems would emerge which could only be used by people whose identity is verified. Hate speech would quickly disappear and defamatory comments could be quickly identified and dealt with.

We need to get smarter earlier – let’s at least try to stop the misuse of new technology before it happens.

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