2018/11/23: Data breaches at Facebook and Google—and along with Amazon, those firms' online dominance—crest a growing wave of anxiety around the internet's evolving structure and its impact on humanity. Three keys to the decades-long global expansion of the internet and the World Wide Web are breaking down.
The first key is the “procrastination principle,” a propensity to “set it and forget it” without attempting to predict and avert every imaginable problem. The networks' framers established a set of simple and freely available protocols for communicating over the internet, then stepped back to let competitive markets and cooperative pursuits work their magic.
The second key is the networks' layered architecture. For the internet, this meant that people could concern themselves with, say, writing applications to read and send email without having to know anything about what happens “below,” such as how bits find their way from sender to recipient. By the same token, those rolling out physical infrastructure didn't need to know or predict anything about how it would be used by the applications “above.”
The third key flows from the first two: decentralization. The internet and the web were designed not to create new gatekeepers, in part because regulatory bodies had little awareness of these protocols, let alone a hand in structuring them. A website hosted in Romania would still be just a click away for a user in Canada, without authorization by some centralized party.
Today, the principles of layers and decentralization are badly fraying, which risks transforming the principle of procrastination into one of abdication.
First, the issue of centralization. Surfing the web can now mean simply jumping among Amazon Web Services' hosting servers. If such a major network of servers—or one of the top domain name resolution providers—were to stop working, whole swaths of the internet would go down with it.
Second, formerly separate layers of the internet's architecture are blurring. The runaway success of a few startups has created new, proprietized one-stop platforms. Many people are not really using the web at all, but rather flitting among a small handful of totalizing apps like Facebook and Google. And those application-layer providers have dabbled in providing physical-layer internet access. Facebook's Free Basics program has been one of several experiments that use broadband data cap exceptions to promote some sites and services over others.
What to do? Columbia University law professor Tim Wu has called upon regulators to break up giants like Facebook, but more subtle interventions should be tried first. Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee's Contract for the Web offers a set of principles for governments, companies, and individuals, focusing on internet accessibility, user privacy, and a form of “re-decentralization” to revitalize one key to the network's success. On the technical side, he has launched Solid, a “relayerizing” separation of data from application: Users can maintain their own data (whether in a server in their living room or in the hands of a trusted proxy), and application providers would have to negotiate access rather than hoard the data themselves. And as Yale University law professor Jack Balkin and I have argued, those firms that do leverage users' data should be “information fiduciaries,” obliged to use what they learn in ways that reflect a loyalty to users' interests. These interventions represent meaningful action, while procrastinating a bit longer on the stronger medicine of forced corporate breakup.
The internet was designed to be resilient and flexible, without need for drastic intervention. But its trends toward centralization, and exploitation of its users, call for action.
The FCC Net Neutrality decision on Dec. 14th, 2017 has rightly caused a lot of outrage, and concrete reactions, both political (e.g. petitions) and technical (if you have no idea yet of why you too should be worried, please read this first). Several contacts of mine have asked me what I think of those technical reactions. Here's what.
The Ugandan government has implemented a law forcing mobile users to pay taxes to use mobile money and social media apps like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Skype.
Popular internet platforms that currently mediate our everyday communications become more and more efficient in managing vast amounts of information, rendering their users more and more addicted and...
The internet is as much the enemy as it is the hero of contemporary life.
A group of 21 of the internet's most esteemed pioneers have written an open letter to the FCC's Congressional overseers that critiques the agency's foolish, self-serving description of how the net works in eye-watering detail. The signatories including past chairs of ISOC and the IETF, co-inventors of TCP/IP, the inventor of the web, the founder
We must end our reliance226128139 on big telecom monopolies and build decentralized, affordable, locally owned internet infrastructure.
Indian government chooses net neutrality over a Facebook backed scheme that would bring limited free Internet. On Monday, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India shot down Free Basics, a scheme that offers free Internet access [...] Continue reading India Shuts Down Zuckerberg's 'Free Basics'
Alfonso Fuggetta ci spiega perché la Dichiarazione dei diritti in Internet recentemente presentata non convince.
The social media firm's latest big idea - to allow users in developing nations free net access if they use its app - should be resisted, writes John Naughton
Somewhere across the Atlantic, inside a European company that runs a wireless network for smartphones and computer tablets, an executive is trying to drop "the bomb" on Google.
2015/05/18: We, the undersigned, share a common concern about the launch and expansion of Facebook’s Internet.org platform and its implications for the open Internet around the world. On that open Internet, all content, applications and services are treated equally, without any discrimination. We are especially concerned that access for impoverished people is construed as justification for violations of net neutrality.
It is our belief that Facebook is improperly defining net neutrality in public statements and building a walled-garden in which the world’s poorest people will only be able to access a limited set of insecure websites and services. Further, we are deeply concerned that Internet.org has been misleadingly marketed as providing access to the full Internet, when in fact it only provides access to a limited number of Internet-connected services that are approved by Facebook and local ISPs. In its present conception, Internet.org thereby violates the principles of net neutrality, threatening freedom of expression, equality of opportunity, security, privacy and innovation.
Did we really just enact 300 pages of legally questionable, enormously costly, transformative rules just to help Netflix in a trivial commercial spat?
This open internet debate isn't the first time the government has wrestled with the question of how to apportion rights between private media owners and the public.
Compromise is great, but no democratic country should sacrifice the ideal of the global, interoperable Internet - and the speech and innovation it facilitates - in the name of pragmatism. I'm talking
Stefano Rodotà racconta la Carta dei diritti in Internet. "La Costituzione deve parlare della Rete"
We had a glorious vision of a 'sit-up' medium dominated by user-generated content - until a lazy, entertainment-hungry public opted for old habits, writes John Naughton
Defending your rights in the digital world