A Look Back: The 3 Largest Internet Stories of the 2010s

Posted: 28 December 2019 8:00 am
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The Internet became both the greatest source of good and the world’s largest security threat in the 2010s.

This is part of a series detailing the biggest stories of the decade. Stay tuned for our picks of the biggest mobile and shopping news of the 2010s and be sure to check out our insurance and money lists.

The 2010s was the decade the Internet came into its own. Buoyed by the advent of social media in the late 2000s, the Internet became the primary way the world communicates. With many of the old standards — like telephone and television — now largely carried by internet protocols, the Internet became a basic human right in the 2010s.

The Internet, however, was not without its problems. The decade was marked by an active debate about if anyone has a right to privacy — especially online — what should be the role of the Internet in politics and if the Internet is a commercial endeavor or a public forum that should be protected and left free for all. With blockchain leading the list of innovations the Internet birthed this decade, the 2020s will see the Internet expand yet again in unforeseeable ways.

Here are the 3 largest Internet stories of the decade, as determined by the Finder crew.

The privacy wars

Privacy is a difficult issue when it comes to the Internet. As the system — by its nature — encourages data-sharing, it’s hard to guarantee that anything sent over the Internet will stay out of the hands of bad actors. From private videos and texts to personal information such as bank accounts and Social Security numbers, this decade has seen some of the world’s brightest minds try and fail to stem what has been called “the Hacker Revolution.”

This push for privacy has manifested in several ways in the 2010s. One of the most pressing is the open debate about who gets to control data on the Internet. Many of the larger Internet service providers argue that a select number of websites, such as YouTube and Netflix, are monopolizing bandwidth at the expense of the ISPs’ own provided services, such as cable TV. The ISPs lobbied the Federal Communications Commission to drop the common carrier designation the Obama administration gave the Internet. The common carrier status insured the ISPs could not charge different rates for access; under the 2017 rules amendment, the ISPs are free to throttle speeds if they want to, but only if they publicly declare their intentions.

Another front in the war includes the General Data Protection Regulation, which was passed in the European Union in 2016. The rule gave ownership of personal data to the individual, making activities that may endanger the safeguarding of personal data illegal. This includes data collection — such as what Facebook was accused of allowing with the data analysis firm Cambridge Analytica — and computer hacking.

Sony emails leaked by North Korea

These efforts, however, don’t necessarily equate to success, and the Internet in the 2010s saw the increased politicization of data and data acquisition. An example of this happened in 2014, when hackers that identified themselves as “Guardians of Peace” attacked the computers at Sony Pictures, placing a red skeleton against a backdrop of digital gunfire and a warning on every screen, reading “We’ve already warned you, and this is just a beginning. We continue till [sic] our request be met. We’ve obtained all your Internal data including your secrets and top secrets. If you don’t obey us, we’ll release [that] data.”

The hackers, who were affiliated with the North Korean government, destroyed half the studios’ computers and servers and stole all of the studios’ data before deleting it from Sony’s network. This data included personally compromising emails, scripts for movies yet to be produced and yet-to-be-released completed films. North Korea was responding to the pending release of the film The Interview, which openly mocked former North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.

This mass hacking would be repeated by Russia during the 2016 US Presidential Elections. As with North Korea, the attack was politically motivated, there would be an almost universal consensus from the intelligence community about who was involved, and WikiLeaks — once, a trusted journalistic source for whistleblower-released data — would be involved. The Sony hacking reflects the beginning of the use of the Internet as a tool for one government to cyberattack another government.

As the actor George Clooney put the North Korea hack at the time, “We have a new paradigm, a new reality, and we’re going to have to come to real terms with it all the way down the line. This was a dumb comedy that was about to come out. With the First Amendment, you’re never protecting Jefferson; it’s usually protecting some guy who’s burning a flag or doing something stupid. This is a silly comedy, but the truth is, what it now says about us is a whole lot,” Clooney told Deadline Hollywood.

“I understand that someone looks at a story with famous people in it and you want to put it out. The problem is that what happened was, while all of that was going on, there was a huge news story that no one was really tracking. They were just enjoying all the salacious sh*t instead of saying, ‘Wait a minute, is this really North Korea? And if it is, are we really going to bow to that?'”

Arab Spring

It’s important to note, however, that the decade started with an example of how powerful social media can be when used toward a greater cause. The Arab Spring Revolution largely started over Twitter, YouTube and Facebook. It spread to protests throughout the Arab world, challenging everything from the energy crisis of the 2000s to the oppressive regimes of many of the Middle Eastern nations to low standards of living. In Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain and Syria, the Arab Spring triggered a political change that saw regimes topple or insurgencies and civil war pop up.

While the Arab Spring movement largely died down by 2012, social media as an engine of change continued throughout the 2010s. Occupy Wall Street, a protest movement that sought to bring attention to wealth inequality in the US, organized protests, sit-ins, and “sleep-ins” throughout the United States, while existing almost exclusively as a virtual organization. Euromaidan, a series of protests in Ukraine in 2013, was organized over social media to protest the pro-Russian government’s blocking of an association agreement with the European Union. The protests led to the ouster of then-Ukranian President Viktor Yanukovych and his government in the 2014 Ukrainian Revolution.

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