Ups & Downs of the web 2018
The following is an excerpt from a post from all the members of the Samsung Internet Developer Advocacy group on web ups and downs foe 2018. I encourage you to go read that post and hear what others in my group had to say.
On the negative side, we’ve seen the rise of notification spam and spammy notification permissions requests. For example, many sites have started to ask for permission to send push notification on first visit. This antipattern has the potential to poison the well for push notifications, as people will quickly experience notification fatigue. Browsers will have to take a stronger role in 2019 in policing who gets to ask you permission, mirroring the role they’ve been playing in blocking web tracking.
2018 has been a roller coaster ride but I am definitely seeing some signals that make me upbeat about the future of the web. For one, we have had the rise of progressive webapps and the adoption of PWAs by big web brands. These days, on my Android phone, I am using Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Starbucks, Uber, Lyft, Mastodon, and Google maps almost exclusively through PWAs.
Speaking of web tracking — I think it’s positive that we’ve seen tracker blocking becoming mainstream. Samsung Internet shipped this function earlier this year (as an opt in). Firefox on desktop also has started to block some trackers by default and will be doing more in 2019. This reflects the unfortunate truth that the ad tech industry needs to be reined back and people are taking matters into their own hands to do this.
One of the key positive trends I’ve seen this year — in the web but also in the technology community in general — has been the increasing awareness of ethics in technology. We’ve all borne witness to what happens when technology is applied without ethical consideration. Privacy-damaging ad tracking is one great example, especially when that tracking (and subsequent ad retargeting) can be a trigger for a traumatic event or can put members of a marginalised group in danger. I’ve started some work in the W3C TAG to explore the idea of applying ethical standards to new web technologies while they are in development. This is based on the (radical?) idea that the web should be beneficial to society — not only to business.
I hope that 2019 will be a year when many tech companies and communities look themselves in the mirror and begin to adopt ethical frameworks to ensure that they put human rights and human dignity at the core of their thinking. The web continues to evolve and incorporate new technologies, and we have been privileged to be a part of many of these developments. We need to also ensure these new web technologies enable personal agency and freedom of expression and do not lend themselves to abuse by bad actors.
Finally, another worrying trend happening on the web is Balkanization. As the New York Times editorial board wrote about in October, the global nature of the web is increasingly coming up against laws enacted governments who wish to enforce their versions of reality, of societal norms, or of morality on people globally. Ada already wrote about the chilling effects of SESTA/FOSTA in her piece above [see the original post]. Now we are learning to companies such as Slack are overzealously applying what they perceive as US laws on a global stage, banning users with ties to various countries embargoed under US law. Fortunately, this isn’t the way the web works. The web is inherently resistant to this kind of interference. As centralized platforms exert more control and try to enforce local regulations on a global stage, people will inevitably explore new, more open platforms. The web enables people to vote with their feet. Balkanization in the sense of users abandoning centralized platforms for more distributed systems might actually be a good thing in this context — an immune system response to a threat to the web.
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