Who Controls the Internet?

Things I’ve read lately on the Internet that have piqued my interest include an article on The Atlantic by Bruce Schneier called The Battle for Power on the Internet.  Scheier argues that institutional power wielded by government and corporations have caught up with hackers and formerly (relatively) powerless advocacy groups when it comes to use and control of the Internet.  It’s an interesting read in that he leans to institutional control as the likely winner in the long run.  Corporations and government work together in a public/private partnership to track Internet usage.  One uses the information for marketing and the other for surveillance.  This is, in contrast, to the early days of the network when anonymity ruled.

We’ve seen the Internet destroy re-fashion certain industries such as news delivery, music and media, and Schneier touches on these to the extent that industry and government work with each other to minimize piracy in intellectual property, enforce trade restrictions, and track activities.  That last one gets prominent attention, although Schneier doesn’t take a stand on whether this is good or bad.  One of his examples shows how the rebels in Syria use Facebook to organize resistance.  The Syrian government uses Facebook activity to identify individuals for arrest.  In the end, those with technical proficiency will be in the best position to endure changes.

It’s always been my opinion that the more convenience technology offers, the more we are likely we are to be tracked and monitored.  I’m not paranoid about this.  It’s almost impossible to use an electronic device or service without creating a transactional record.  I think we are well past the point of limited archives that evaporate after a short time.

My solution would be to have a clear understanding of what information is collected, for how long, how it’s used, and who has access to it.  I don’t mean to support vague and wordy privacy policies either.  There should be a clear law or policy that requires that this information be spelled out.  Schneier suggests that neither a police state nor an Internet utopia is likely.  As he puts it, “figuring out a stable middle ground is hard.”  He states these kinds of issues are primarily political questions and will be sorted out that way, no matter how technology develops.

Mark

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