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When I thought up the phrase, “A Driver’s License for Surfing the Internet” I didn’t expect anyone to have thought about it before. So I was surprised to find that a think tank had already dreamed of this dream 19 years ago. And that 10 years ago, the US Government put a pilot program in place to deploy the idea.

Obviously, neither of their ideas went very far.

But they were misguided. The think tank wanted 11-year-olds to pass an Internet program before they could freely browse the web. And the Government wanted a universal identification system for all online users.

More on the right track is Tumblr’s recent launch of World Wide What – an Internet literacy project that uses language and imagery native to Tumblr to teach users how to be safe and skeptical when using Tumblr. That means teaching through GIFs, short texts, and tons of memes to get their point across.

If you want to drive a car you have to have a license to say that you are capable of driving a car, the car has to pass a test to say it is fit to drive and you have to have insurance.

Tech Dirt

The purpose, therefore, of an Internet Driver’s License would be to have a recurring and evolving program that ensures all users are capable of correctly using the Internet. Every 5 years or so, we’d have to renew our license based on the changing landscape.

Being “relevant” on the Internet is not just about getting followers. It’s about understanding what a meme is. It’s about differentiating a phishing pop-up that says you have a virus and your computer saying you have a virus.

It’s not just important for kids to safely browse the web. Adults are just as at risk.

The last few years have really colored the importance of this. One, the 2016 Presidential Election proved that many people don’t browse the Internet’s information with enough skepticism. Two, the entire data privacy narrative spurred by Cambridge Analytica proved that people still don’t understand what personal data encompasses and how they’re giving it to Internet companies.

There are many questions that need to be answered in order for an Internet Driver’s License to exist:

  • Who would create the literacy programs?
  • Who would operate the Licensing division? Governmental or Privatized?
  • How would non-licensed individuals be punished?
  • How would this program be paid for?

The grand proportions of this idea make me understand why a think tank would’ve thought of a similar program. It also makes me pessimistic that anything like this would ever happen. Conversely, time is of the essence. Digital life is only getting more elaborate and complex, which means the average user is getting further and further from understanding the tools they use daily.

Ultimately, if Finland can mobilize their entire country around the mission of AI literacy, why can’t the greater digital ecosystem work on upgrading everyone’s digital skills?

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