We Need a Sheriff for the Internet

You know those westerns where the sheriff smirks and tells the bad guy who’s been terrorizing the citizens, “you’ve got ‘til sundown to get outta town,” then turns and walks away? It’s implied that if you don’t, Mr. Bad Guy, I’m gonna fill your ass fulla lead. We need that.

Day after day the stories that catch my eye, kids being bullied into committing suicide by online trolls, women being harassed with fake porn graphics, identity theft – also known as companies losing tens of thousands of people’s information to an open, black information market – even Instagram influencers having their accounts hacked and held for ransom. It’s disgusting.

The Internet is the new Wild West, and we desperately need a sheriff. A ruthless, smirking, trigger happy sheriff with a healthy sense of right and wrong, a thirst for punishment and justice, and zero tolerance for those who abuse innocents.

Instagram influencers having their accounts held for ransom? That’s a real thing. I just read about it today. But now that I think about it, it would explain the sudden absence of one of my favorite Instagram feeds, @fashionbombdaily. It’s run by Claire Sulmers, a curvy, brown skinned Harvard grad/fashionista who made her own very successful lane when the mainstream fashion industry refused to let her sit at their table.

Her accounts, with more than a million followers, were taken down for, man, had to be months, for no good reason that I found. Granted, I didn’t look too hard. I was too interested in the aftermath. It had to be a significant blow. Social media is big business these days, and once you have more than a million followers, it’s easier to monetize your brand. Sulmers had done so, quite successfully.

But she rose to the occasion like a champ. She monetized her personal Instagram account, opened up new revenue streams to replace some of the revenue lost from her main social media source, and just generally kept it moving until the feed was restored. It was inspirational. A modern day when life gives you lemons, make lemonade, story for any women interested in owning her own business.

Having read how some Instagram influencers are now hiring white hat hackers to restore their accounts, I wonder if that’s what happened to @fashionbombdaily? The Business Insider article said that hackers can get into influencers’ accounts by posing as brands interested in sponsorships or advertising. They use emails with phishing links, to access an influencer’s Instagram account, change the password and email, then lock out the rightful owner. Just dirty.

And apparently Instagram isn’t terribly concerned about helping these owners recover their accounts. “One Instagram influencer said in a blog post she only gained back her account after fans and others also reached out to Instagram and piled on the pressure.”

See? We need a sheriff. A cigar clamped between the teeth, gun slung low on the hip, hard ass with a team of righteous supporters behind him or her to go to bat for those of us who live with a constant mild state of anxiety that our information is at the mercy of unscrupulous Internet crooks.

It’s like Tim Cook says, we’ve got to stand up for our right to privacy. In a recent Time article, he said he’s called on “the U.S. Congress to pass comprehensive federal privacy legislation—a landmark package of reforms that protect and empower the consumer. Last year, before a global body of privacy regulators, I laid out four principles that I believe should guide legislation.

“First, the right to have personal data minimized. Companies should challenge themselves to strip identifying information from customer data or avoid collecting it in the first place. Second, the right to knowledge—to know what data is being collected and why. Third, the right to access. Companies should make it easy for you to access, correct and delete your personal data. And fourth, the right to data security, without which trust is impossible.”

Cook went on to say that the toughest thing about maintaining data privacy is that most of the violations are “invisible.” Meaning, people don’t know about and do not consent to the practices that make our data vulnerable. For instance, we often have no idea when the online retailers we patronize turn around and sell all or some of our purchase information to data brokers that package your information, and then sell it again. It’s a rude, extremely profitable mess, and that’s putting it lightly. These data brokers are exposing people to harm, and there is little to no regulation in place to stop them.

It’s strange to think of it, but the Internet hasn’t really been around that long. The problems that we’re having with data privacy are fairly new. They likely will be worked out in time. But good grief. How much – and what exactly – will people have to suffer before things get straightened out?

It’s like Cook said: “Technology has the potential to keep changing the world for the better, but it will never achieve that potential without the full faith and confidence of the people who use it.”

We need to put pressure on legislators to take data privacy more seriously. There’s a lot at stake, personally and professionally.

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