More worries about the net

Well, at the risk once again of sounding like a Luddite and a paranoiac, we grow ever more wary of the unseen presences that follow us around the internet.

We’ve written several times about our discomfort with looking at something on the net, then seeing an ad for that product on other websites we visit. It is obvious — and web giants like Google, Yahoo, Facebook and Twitter admit it — that someone is tracking our movements online.

Last week, Congress heard testimony from internet executives about Russians buying advertisements online designed to influence the 2016 elections. Using a method called “microtargeting,” Russians were able to personalize ads to reach possibly millions of American voters.

In other words, if you visited a site that backed or discussed one side of an issue in the campaign, you were likely to see ads on other sites that reinforced that argument. According to a story in The Washington Post last week, Russian trolls were able to design ads that backed perceived prejudices, preconceptions, and out and out phony stories using microtargeting.

Whatever the final result of all the investigations into the meddling of Russians in the 2016 election, one thing is clear: The country needs to come up with a defense that keeps hostile actors from influencing our voting process.

Right now, the new rules of advertising on the internet threaten our democracy. If the giants of online industries are allowed to continue to collect microdata on all of us, the problems associated with microtargeting will invite malicious use of the information.

Russian actions in the 2016 election should be a wake-up call to our nation. No matter what our political leanings are, all of us should want assurances our elections are free of outside interference.

* Editorials reflect the opinion of the publisher.

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