No Internet Access is a Pain in the Derriere in Addition to Being a Human Rights Issue

I'm always amazed how dependent we are on our Internet connection, and it's never brought home more than when my connection at home is out, as it seems to happen about once every 18 months. I had a notice on my door two days ago that my phone company was going to be upgrading equipment in my neighborhood, which was also obvious by the spray painted instructions on the street next to my driveway.

I called the phone number on the flyer, and talked to the tech who answered, telling him that I worked at home and really needed to not lose my connection when he was tearing up the street and installing whatever he was installing, and was absolutely assured that my service would not be interrupted.

So of course today I'm on the phone with a colleague, getting ready to select images together for a video we're working on, and boom! No phone, no Internet. I call the tech (smart to save his number, lol), and ask him if he's working on my street. No, he says, not him. (I suspect he was down about 4 blocks at the big box which is where the problem always is). And then I had to dig up the old printed phone book to find a number to call for phone service, because I have no Internet to look up the number. After going through menu after menu, after menu, online tests, waiting on hold, I was informed that yes, I do have a technical problem, and the technician can be out to my house as soon as tomorrow at 8 am. The window of course is 8 am to 7 pm. Really? An 11 hour window? Well, I never did talk to a human, but my automated response experience was lengthy, but satisfactory.

So now I'm on my second visit to Starbucks today (thank you Starbucks for free wifi!), until my battery runs out again (I made it 2.5 hours earlier today).

But in addition to not being able to work — no email, no Internet access, no social media, no collaboration, no calendar to figure out who I'm supposed to be on the phone with when, but really just no anything, I realized I also can't easily transfer money between my accounts, look up a doctor to see if he's on my insurance, pay my daughter's remaining camp deposit, or post on my Team in Training blog. I have a smartphone, but you know, I'm seriously not even considering doing all of this stuff on it because — 1) all of my bookmarks are on my computer and 2) it is slow!!!! Reminds me of the bad old days of dial up.

 Because I work in accessibility I'm well aware of the United Nations report released earlier this month that declares Internet access is a human right. The first few paragraphs of the article in the link state:

A United Nations report released Friday declares Internet access a human right. Presented to the General Assembly, the report by UN Special Rapporteur Frank La Rue states that, "the Internet has become a key means by which individuals can exercise their right to freedom and expression."

As LaRue highlighted, Internet access can be particularly valuable during times of political unrest, as evidenced in the Arab Spring uprisings. LaRue emphasized the power of the Internet as a communication medium and said in his report that, "given that the Internet has become an indispensable tool for realizing a range of human rights, combating inequality, and accelerating development and human progress, ensuring universal access to the Internet should be a priority for all states.
 And of course, you think, yes, that's right, it is! And not just for all of the amazing things you can do with social media channels and the Internet: expressing your human rights, overthrowing corrupt governments, saving lives in Japan, and connecting with your friends and colleagues all over the world, but darn it, every day mundane things like Internet banking, looking up phone numbers, making online purchases (thank goodness I purchased my case of Gu endurance sports nutrition last night before I went to bed), reading the news, and a multitude of other things. It's amazing how much of our lives has moved online.

When did Internet access become so ubiquitous that it's now a human rights issue? I think I blinked and missed it. :-)

The Paradox of Privacy and Anonymity

Last week I was on a monthly call with my mentor (if you don’t have a mentor in your organization, I highly recommend you get one – I find my mentor’s insight and suggestions always invaluable – I never finish a call with her without having jotted down several websites to check out and names of people to network with), and in the course of our discussion, I mentioned that I recently spent some time one evening Googling myself and checking what information is available online about me. While we were on the phone, she Googled herself and quickly found herself on the Spokeo website, which had ranked high in her Google search listing. She was unhappily surprised that her Spokeo listing was so complete, including the names of her husband and kids. She immediately filled out the form to remove herself from their database. Before I removed my Spokeo entry, I remember it linking me to my siblings, parents, and including a guesstimated mortgage balance and salary.

But as Spokeo itself points out, it’s just an aggregator – it gathers information from third party sources such as phonebooks, social networks, real estate records, online maps and marketing surveys. So removing yourself from Spokeo only deletes your Spokeo entry – not the information in all of the other databases you’re in. (However I still recommend you do it – here’s the page.)

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /
 I posted the same information about the need to Google yourself on a regular basis on my Facebook page later than night, and again, had an interesting conversation going. One friend pointed out that she found all sorts of information about her father on Spokeo, yet he almost never was on the Internet, and certainly was not sharing any personal information if he was online. Another friend shared that she'd found she was labeled as belonging to a particular religion based only on her last name, even though she wasn't affiliated with that religion, and she would have never filled out anything claiming that she was.

I think I’m fairly savvy about how judicious I am about sharing information – even though we all know (or should) that there is no true privacy on the Internet. My Facebook privacy settings are set to friends only. I never answer marketing questions about my salary. My mortgage balance is known only to my bank and me. From my LinkedIn profile, you can easily find out which companies I’ve worked for, and for how long, and I’m fine with that. Yet the sources Spokeo used had it all anyhow.

This ability to sift through our online presence and extract information about us is a marketer’s dream, and as a marketer I can appreciate that. (Google, Facebook and LinkedIn are appreciating it too, since ad revenue is the reason their income and market valuations are so high.) No longer do we marketers have to pay huge sums to saturate the marketplace with our messages to get the number of impressions we’re seeking. Instead, we can market to consumers personally, entirely based on an analysis of each person's online presence. The advantage to you (and me) as consumers is that we no longer have to wade through pages and pages of irrelevant products and services to find the specific topics we’re interested in. Individually targeted marketing is our new reality.

And here’s where I get to the paradox. How could the online world where controlling the release of our private information is a constant struggle concurrently create an environment where the availability of anonymous posting has spawned anonymous cyberbullies, called trolls?

I enjoy reading articles, blogs, and opinion pieces online, and I’ve always enjoyed reading and learning from other readers’ reactions to and opinions of the articles and news. But, I’m noticing an increase in that kind of obnoxious troll behavior in the comments of many blogs and news articles — the most amazingly racist, homophobic, and mean-spirited venom spewing from someone’s keyboard – and all because the author can hide behind the anonymity of the Internet. Are there really that many maladjusted souls out there? Or is it the modern day, online equivalent to the mob mentality — the groups responsible for lynching, witch burning and the like?  Mob members feel free to ignore normal societal behavior constraints due to the protection gained by the inherent anonymity of a mob — activities that they would never take part in if they could be identified individually. Where because the troll’s (or mob member’s) neighbors, family members, boss or colleagues are unaware of the troll’s participation in the hatemongering, the troll feel free to get away with it.

I started this blog post last night and I found a spot-on supporting article this morning on Twitter (thanks @eric_andersen), which gives a psychological viewpoint on how the anonymity of the web affects those who troll: Anonymous alcoholics? Study finds web trolls get a feeling of abandon similar to drunks.

Similar to other advances in technology there always seem to be the potential for good and the potential for evil, and the Web and social networking are no exception. There are so many potential positives: collaboration, crowdsourcing, learning, teaching, exchanging viewpoints, and connecting with people across the globe. But we still need to remain vigilant about the flip, darker side – constantly checking on and controlling the sharing of our personal information, and working to disable the mob mentality that encourages web trolls.


Social Media Sites Get Down to Business

I think many people still don't see the power of social networking and social media. A lot of people also didn't see the profound changes that the printing press, horseless carriage, and cotton gin were bringing to the world as it existed, either. Okay, that was perhaps a bit tongue in cheek, but we are on the cusp of a revolution, and while individuals can ignore social networking and still have a fulfilling and complete life :-), businesses must jump on the bus before it pulls away from the stop and there's no calling it back.

I recently wrote this article that sums up the power of the three largest and most popular social media channels — Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube — and how we're harnessing that networking capability by connecting those with questions and those with answers in a series of IBM Accessibility Facebook Expert Hours I manage and moderate on the IBM Accessibility Facebook page. The next one, on Global Workforce Diversity, is happening on Wednesday, June 22 at 12 noon EDT. Check it out — you'll be amazed at what you'll learn from our panel of IBM experts.

Two Signs of the Times

I found two articles today that really grabbed my interest, showing just how pervasive the Internet and social networking have become in our lives.

The first one was from Fast Company, entitled: Facebook, Google, Yahoo Join Forces To Fix The Internet's Biggest Problem In Decades.

Essentially, we're about out of IP addresses — the unique numbers that you use when you go online -- even though we have billions. Wikipedia defines an Internet Protocol address (IP address) as "a numerical label assigned to each device (e.g., computer, printer) participating in a computer network that uses the Internet Protocol for communication." Moving from the current standard, IPv4, to the newest standard, IPv6, increases the pool of number by trillions and trillions, because the address size will be increasing from 32 to 128 bits with the migration to the new standard.

The test, called World IPv6 Day, was today — Google, Facebook, and Yahoo got together to put into play a, as Fast Company said, "...24-hour test to weed out any bugs and accelerate adoption, which some are calling the biggest experiment in the history of the Internet." So far so good. :-)

The Internet Society has what looks to be a comprehensive list of participants -- 434 plus the big 3, plus network and hosting companies.
If everything goes smoothly, it'll be transparent to 99% of Internet users.

The second article that piqued my interest today was in the San Jose Mercury News, Facebook spreads emotions among friends. In a nutshell, a Facebook data scientist analyzed the Facebook postings of 1 million English speakers and their roughly 150 million friends, and found that positive words in posts drove more positive emotions in the friends' posts, and vice versa. The effect lasted for up to three days.

The 150 million friends of those 1 million analyzed makes sense, because according to Facebook, the average Facebook user has 130 friends. Now granted, due to the Facebook algorithms, you don't see every post for every friend, but if you log onto Facebook any given day, which 50 % of the 500 million active users do (also a Facebook statistic), you are going to be "catching" the mood of a good number of your Facebook friends.

Now I don't know about you, but there are a few of my Facebook "friends", whom I finally realized are toxic Facebook posters, and I've deleted their postings from my newsfeed. I got to the point where I just couldn't stand to read all of the complaining and moaning and ranting.  (Why don't I just unfriend those people? Good question. I'll think about that for another post, lol.)

I like to surround myself with positive people, both in real life and online. What about you?

Ok, So Now I'm Blogging — What's Next?

I've been thinking about doing this for a while. If you wind me up, you can get me talking for hours about social networking, social media, Facebook, Twitter, blogging, communicating, ROI, reach, followers, likes, retweets, Groupon, crowdsourcing,  you name it. I can't help it — it's fun, it's exciting, I'm passionate about it, and whether you like it or not, and whether you're ready or not — it is changing the world and how we communicate.
We've seen a few examples that hint at the power of social networking both societally and personally — the coup in Egypt, the communications in disaster-struck Japan, careers made and ruined, funds raised, old friends and lovers reconnected.
We're just starting to see how the conversations between customers and companies, both for B2B and B2C, are changing. Consumers/customers and businesses have the opportunity to really and truly communicate. Businesses who ignore these channels and interactions are dinosaurs who will soon become extinct.