Censorship is Not a Solution: Know Your Digital Rights
Megan Erickson is an Associate Editor at Big Think. Prior to Big Think, she taught reading and writing to ninth and tenth graders in NYC public schools and tutored students of all ages at the Stuyvesant Writing Center, which she helped launch. In her spare time, she worked in the communications department at the Center for Constitutional Rights and served as a mentor at the Urban Assembly, where she designed and led an extracurricular civics course on grassroots community action. She’s written on education, small business, and the arts for CNNMoney, Fortune Small Business, and The Huffington Post. Megan received her master’s degree in Education from Teachers College. You can reach her at email@example.com.
What's the Big Idea?
If you’ve ever shopped, socialized, or signed up for anything online, there’s a chance that information you offered up willingly, in a seemingly private context, is actually being shared or sold without your consent. As the first fully networked generation, we have the privilege of being connected 24/7. But we also have the responsibility to ensure that our data is being handled fairly and scrupulously by governments, private companies, and internet service providers like Facebook and Google.
According to Rebecca MacKinnon, cofounder (with Ethan Zuckerman) of Global Voices, and author of the book, Consent of the Networked: The Worldwide Struggle for Internet Freedom, concern about cyber crime has lead to "an increasing tendency to pass laws that allow law enforcement and private companies access to our information to follow what we’re doing, to demand that companies hand over information with less and less due process" in the United States and Western Europe.
“Services you depend on are collecting your information," she says. Click on the "Why this Ad?" box in your Gmail account, and you'll see this notice: "This ad is based on emails from your mailbox. Visit Google’s Ads Preferences Manager to learn more, block specific advertisers, or opt out of personalized ads."
Some web companies even track online viewing habits and preferences in order to target their advertising to each user. There's been much media coverage devoted to cookies, which enable any website you visit to send and receive information from your browser without asking. As a New York Times writer put it recently, "The dream of every retailer is to know exactly what its customers are thinking."
But it's not the services or even the barrage of personalized advertising that is a problem. The real danger is the relative lack of oversight and accountability when it comes to the privacy of users on the web, especially given our collective social dependency on it. (Note the inherent passivity of the word "user".) The internet has opened many doors. Now we need to be careful to specify who can and can't walk through them.
MacKinnon is not suggesting that we abandon social networks or return to snail mail. She has a Facebook profile herself and she uses email just like the rest of us. What she is arguing is that it's essential that the public have a voice in shaping the rules that govern our daily lives - despite the ease and novelty of free applications and instant connectivity.
What's the Significance?
"We need to be exercising our power," she says, by becoming active, engaged participants in the global struggle for internet freedom. To do so would require concerted, collective action - much like the petitions that arose in response to SOPA legislation - to insist on government policies and regulations which keep the internet free. You can also defend your rights online as an individual. Here's MacKinnon's advice:
Explore how alcohol affects your brain, from the first sip at the bar to life-long drinking habits.
- Alcohol is the world's most popular drug and has been a part of human culture for at least 9,000 years.
- Alcohol's effects on the brain range from temporarily limiting mental activity to sustained brain damage, depending on levels consumed and frequency of use.
- Understanding how alcohol affects your brain can help you determine what drinking habits are best for you.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx a team of DNA sequencers has figured that out.
- A team at UMass Amherst recently sequenced the genome of the Canadian lynx.
- It's part of a project intending to sequence the genome of every vertebrate in the world.
- Conservationists interested in the Canadian lynx have a new tool to work with.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx, I can now—as of this month—point you directly to the DNA of a Canadian lynx, and say, "That's what makes a lynx a lynx." The genome was sequenced by a team at UMass Amherst, and it's one of 15 animals whose genomes have been sequenced by the Vertebrate Genomes Project, whose stated goal is to sequence the genome of all 66,000 vertebrate species in the world.
Sequencing the genome of a particular species of an animal is important in terms of preserving genetic diversity. Future generations don't necessarily have to worry about our memory of the Canadian Lynx warping the way hearsay warped perception a long time ago.
Artwork: Guillaume le Clerc / Wikimedia Commons
13th-century fantastical depiction of an elephant.
It is easy to see how one can look at 66,000 genomic sequences stored away as being the analogous equivalent of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. It is a potential tool for future conservationists.
But what are the practicalities of sequencing the genome of a lynx beyond engaging with broad bioethical questions? As the animal's habitat shrinks and Earth warms, the Canadian lynx is demonstrating less genetic diversity. Cross-breeding with bobcats in some portions of the lynx's habitat also represents a challenge to the lynx's genetic makeup. The two themselves are also linked: warming climates could drive Canadian lynxes to cross-breed with bobcats.
John Organ, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey's Cooperative Fish and Wildlife units, said to MassLive that the results of the sequencing "can help us look at land conservation strategies to help maintain lynx on the landscape."
What does DNA have to do with land conservation strategies? Consider the fact that the food found in a landscape, the toxins found in a landscape, or the exposure to drugs can have an impact on genetic activity. That potential change can be transmitted down the generative line. If you know exactly how a lynx's DNA is impacted by something, then the environment they occupy can be fine-tuned to meet the needs of the lynx and any other creature that happens to inhabit that particular portion of the earth.
Given that the Trump administration is considering withdrawing protection for the Canadian lynx, a move that caught scientists by surprise, it is worth having as much information on hand as possible for those who have an interest in preserving the health of this creature—all the way down to the building blocks of a lynx's life.
The exploding popularity of the keto diet puts a less used veggie into the spotlight.
- The cauliflower is a vegetable of choice if you're on the keto diet.
- The plant is low in carbs and can replace potatoes, rice and pasta.
- It can be eaten both raw and cooked for different benefits.
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