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Who Should Own the Internet?

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This image is a tracing of all the Internet traffic circa late 2006. It is licensed under a Creative Commons License (by-nc-sa/1.0) and created by http://opte.org/

The genesis for this article came from reading this interesting piece by @novaspivack about his honored invitation to participate in the e-G8 Forum—a gathering of global Internet leaders to be held right before this year’s G8 Summit in Paris. Nova asked his readers what they thought were the key issues to communicate.

As I began to compose a response to Nova’s query, it soon became clear that I had too much to say for a blog comment and decided that it was more fitting to write an article for my own site and then simply point Nova to it.

The Rights of the Internet and of its Users

If I were to attend the e-G8 Forum, what is the one big question that I think needs to be answered? Simple. Who owns the Internet?

If I were to attend the e-G8 Forum, what big issues would I push? Simple. I would stress two things: Global Internet democracy and Internet user rights.

What do I mean by global Internet democracy?

I’m not talking about a political movement to ensure that all peoples of the world are granted freedoms that those of use who are fortunate to live in real democracies experience—although that is of course vital to our survival as a species. Instead, I’m talking about the Internet being granted its own rights and freedoms—freedoms to grow, to prosper, to evolve unencumbered by corporate or governmental red tape as if it were its own emerging metaphysical entity.

The Internet has become our global data ecosystem. It is an evolutionary force in the speciation of humanities’ communication and computation infrastructure. As a result of the ease with which data of all types flows around the global, and with the increasing connections made to this data on a daily basis, our species is on the verge of seismic and profound changes.

In just a few decades, the Internet has grown like a developing nervous system, transcending national boundaries, shrinking geographic distances, dissolving geopolitical barriers, and binding many of us together into a single, global network. If allowed to continue its course unshackled by shortsighted power players, then it may become humankind’s most powerful, liberating, unifying, and transformational force.

What do I mean by Internet user rights?

With the recent net neutrality setbacks, discussions of the United States creating its own Internet kill switch, and the Commerce Department’s National ID initiative, informed netizens are right to be concerned about the future of their Internet freedoms.

In a free society, we should strive toward letting individuals, not governments or corporations, be in control of their personal data—an issue made painfully clear by the lack of real data portability among the Web-2.0-styled closed social nightclubs. We should advocate for the Internet rights of user-centric identity control, data ownership, and net equality for our data packets. These should be considered sacrosanct rights for all the Earth’s netizens.

There are a few promising projects in the works that address these issues. For example, the Freedom Box Project is working to create small, cheap, open-sourced personal servers that will return “power to the users over their networks and machines, returning the Internet to its intended peer-to-peer architecture”; the Diaspora Project offers users a distributed version of a Facebook-like social network; and the WebID protocol is creating an open distributed identity standard. These projects, and others in this space, need to be nurtured and given the liberty to proceed without regulation.

Collective and Connective Intelligence versus Myopic Dissonance

In my article, The HyperWeb: it’s All About Connections, I make an important point about the dangerous possibility that the Internet’s full potential might be purposely curtailed as a result of the myopic desires of a few power players:

Just like natural speciation, the continued evolution of the HyperWeb is not guaranteed. As with all evolutionary processes, advancements (innovations) may stop at a certain point.

The Web is a democratizing force that can help redistribute wealth and power. That is antithetical to most large companies interests—and a number of countries as well. Apple, Twitter, Facebook–and of course the phone and cable companies–want as much control as possible. They are fighting for control of the Web, not for the health of the Web.

It’s possible that for political, societal, or economic reasons–or some combination thereof–that the HyperWeb’s evolution may be curtailed. For instance, due to myopic business leaders, scared political leaders, or an uneducated, apathetic citizenry, humanity’s journey on the HyperWeb may not progress past Web 2.0 or Web 3.0.

The emergence of a truly Social Web will require not only policies that guarantee and protect the Internet’s freedom to grow, but also an informed netizenry that fights for its rights and freedoms. To date, neither of these prerequisites have been met.

The key message to communicate to the G8 leaders is that the world is struggling to become a global community and that a healthy, unfettered Internet may be our best insurance policy toward bringing that vision to fruition.

It is crucial that governments and corporations establish programs and invest in infrastructure that enable and ensure distributed services from identity, to micropayments, to unfettered mesh networks. It is critical that governments propose policies and enact laws that ensure user-centric ownership and control of personally-created and contributed data.

Let the people’s voices and data be freely heard and transmitted across the Internet. Let no one nation or corporation put up barriers to the Internet’s evolution no matter what the consequences may be to outdated notions of sovereignty.

Who should own the Internet? No corporation, no government, no organization, no individual. Instead, like the Earth, it should own itself.

My Related Articles

  1. How the Death of Net Neutrality Effects You
  2. Goodbye Google Old Friend: It’s time for the Open-Source Internet
  3. Thinking Outside the Privacy Box
  4. Regaining Control of Privacy and Identity: It’s up to Each Individual

Article Comments

  1. The idea of the Internet as a free medium, naturally developing without interference from governmental and regulatory bodies is falsely seductive.

    Sure, if we were all good citizens and treated each other with honesty and respect, there would be little need for governance and regulation. If we could live without imposing our views and values on others, if we could amiably resolve our disagreements, then perhaps we could afford to have a free and organically developing international forum.

    The reality is that we live in the world where any medium, any environment that has no rules, regulations, laws and law enforcement is quickly overrun by the dark side of the human nature.

    The freedom of the Internet does not lie in the lack of governance and regulation, but as within any democratic environment, it lies in the balance of conservative and liberal forces that shape its growth and development.

    The problem is that whilst the governments of the world play the conservative role, trying to bridle, regulate and control, there is no counter force that would keep them in check, challenge them, confront them and balance them out.

    This is why we’re working on the creation of an independent international organization that could provide such balance and I call on the author of this article and everyone who reads this comment to support this initiative at http://www.webolution.me

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