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Freedom To Think by Susie Alegre

Increasingly, the dark world of the internet is being revealed with nefarious motives driving a lot of behaviour by those who organise and run the whole shebang. The confluence of big data, big tech, and big money has meant that some decisions about privacy and algorithmic content have passed much of the population by - and there’s the rub: the algorithms populate the webpages of the unsuspecting with content that is increasingly polarising.

Susie Alegre’s new book Freedom To Think tackles a lot of these issues with an academic but accessible slant. As a human rights lawyer, there is much to discuss about the very nature of humanity through the knowledge and data collected by the big tech companies who, as the book notes, do not even think for a moment about sharing some of the most intimate details about users without the blink of an eye.

And it’s not necessarily a generational problem. Long thought to be the Luddites of the world, the hesitations that the older generation have had towards the growth and development of the interconnected world seem to have wound up to be the most accurate of the world. Compare that with the exponential rise in some of the sharing companies of the world and the usage of the younger generation exposing practically all these emotions in real time through short clips. The damage that such voyeurism can lead to huge concerns for those who engage with young people - from parents to teachers, law enforcement to employers.

But is it really such a problem? The arguments laid out in the book suggest that we are on the verge of losing not only our privacy, but ourselves. An old saying goes ‘if it’s free, then you are the product’. It is quite easy to see that, to these big tech companies, that is exactly the case. All the data and deep knowledge that is gleaned from posts, likes, emojis, searches and clips creates a profile that can be sold to advertisers who are still willing to pay a high price for the opportunity to put their product in front of unsuspecting and impressionable eyes.

While laws are in the pipeline, and some of the effects of the earlier rulings about large social media companies using third party trackers to assist with creating profiles on users - there are still major search based organisations that are able to gather their own direct data through internet browsers, search functions, along with many other tricks and techniques to grow their understanding of human behaviour online.

This is one of the most fascinating and disconcerting dives into the world of the internet. One that leaves you concerned and a little more than scarred by the incredible reach and profiteering that comes from the world of online marketing. So much so, that we may be losing our ability to think. Freedom to Think is a vital, brilliant, and hopeful book about what a future in the online space can be.

Reviewer: Chris Reed

Allen & Unwin


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