Triumphs and tumbles: The Internet in 2015

Triumphs and tumbles: The Internet in 2015
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The Internet survived cable monopolies, massive data breaches, and crypto dunderheads in 2015, but the battle is far from over

This past year in technology has been quite the roller coaster. Of course, you could say the same for most years in the past few decades, but this year went above and beyond in many ways, most of them having little to do with technology itself, and more with its impact on modern civilization and politics. A number of watershed events this year will ripple far into the future.

It's a challenge to pinpoint the most significant technology-related event of 2015, but in the United States, it may be the FCC vote upholding strict Net neutrality regulations. The actions and words of FCC chairman Tom Wheeler came as a surprise to many who had written him off as a cable industry puppet, but in reality, he was up to the challenge. I can't say that my faith in him was absolute, but I did call it a year before.

It's not possible to overstate the importance of this decision to the future of the Internet and the future of the U.S. and world economies. Disallowing corporations to control and constrain access to Internet resources based on business deals and incentives means that the Internet can continue to grow and provide the mechanism by which myriad new resources and technologies will be developed and delivered.

Historians will look at this event in 2015 as a mountainous step forward. We can only hope that we can keep to that path and complete the process of divorcing content providers from Internet service providers, and drag our Internet infrastructure into this century though competition if possible, and regulation if not. There's no other alternative.

2015 also brought us the thankfully failed merger between Comcast and Time Warner Cable. Comcast is now busily trying to up the ante and charge its captive customers even more for less service, adding data caps in the process. One could only image what evil the company had planned if it had actually succeeded in controlling the Internet for half of the United States.

Of course, Comcast doesn't see it that way. In a recent Business Insider interview, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts has some ideas why his company is so universally reviled, but they're not terribly grounded in reality. He goes on about how expensive content is, completely ignoring the fact that content has nothing to do with Internet access. He makes the case against his own company -- content providers should not also be service providers, full stop. Then we get some talk about GPS trackers on techs and small refunds for late and missed appointments. Again, he (probably intentionally) misses the big picture.

Customers don't care about GPS trackers on techs. Deliver the service customers are paying top dollar for without caps, without complaint. Provide hardware that actually works and isn't a decade old -- and costs top dollar. Don't have predatory customer service departments that require a customer to hire a legal team to cancel service or to resolve billing errors. This isn't rocket science, and it's not even technology-related. Comcast and the other big ISPs need to stop acting like abusive monopolies if they do not want to be deemed as such. Of course they won't, because they are monopolies.

The past year also brought us the first data breach that struck directly at the personal lives of millions of people. This wasn't "just" credit card data and personal information. This was far more insidious. When the list of accounts was published, all hell broke loose for many people, whether they were guilty of personal indiscretions or not. Families were destroyed. People committed suicide because of this data breach.

The world has seen massive data breaches before, but those attacks generally targeted money. This one targeted people. It won't be the last of its kind.

Speaking of massive data breaches, 2015 also witnessed the U.S. Government Office of Personnel Management data heist, in which the most minute and personal details of more than 18 million U.S. government employees and their families were stolen by entities unknown. The repercussions of this particular event may haunt us for decades. The people affected will never have a normal life again, and we as a country have been made more vulnerable because of that.

Now, in these last days of 2015, the very same government that cannot keep a handle on the most sensitive of information is asking to continue surveillance on the Internet, while a number of candidates to lead that government are demanding that backdoors be added to encryption standards to make surveillance easier. And late last week, Congress passed a budget bill with CISA attached. President Obama signed it late Friday evening. The U.S. government can now legally access personal data from private companies without needing a warrant. That way madness lies.

Of course, there were many other noteworthy events in 2015, but these are the ones that will have staying power into the coming years. The maturation of the digital world is no less of a struggle than puberty ever is, but we will hopefully come out the other side with a far better understanding of what we have created.

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