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Who Controls the Internet? 113

Graeme Williams writes " Who Controls the Internet? Illusions of a Borderless World is a frustrating book. You'll stumble across something on every second page which will infuriate you, but it's also true that almost every page discusses an important legal case, raises an interesting question, or presents an important problem. By describing recent Internet cases and the international legal environment in which they have been resolved, Goldsmith and Wu have illuminated an area which deserves clear and systematic analysis. But the Internet is not a unitary thing to be controlled, and the authors don't clearly distinguish its various protocols and services." Read the rest of Graeme's review.
Who Controls the Internet? Illusions of a Borderless World
author Jack Goldsmith and Tim Wu
pages xii + 226
publisher Oxford University Press
rating 4
reviewer Graeme Williams
ISBN 0195152662
summary An excellent question with an imperfect answer


Disclaimer: This is a book about the law. I'm not a lawyer, although I am an Australian living in the United States who has sent email from China, all of which are relevant to this book.

Goldsmith and Wu's focus and principal conclusion is (p 180): "What we have seen, time and time again, is that physical coercion by government — the hallmark of a traditional legal system — remains far more important than anyone expected.". The situations and cases in Who Controls the Internet? clearly prove their point. They demonstrate that national laws are important to large companies like Yahoo!, but I don't think they prove their case with respect to individuals on the Internet.

The first part of the book, "The Internet Revolution", does an excellent job summarizing the early development of the Internet, including the extravagant claims of the early Internet and the Internet boom. People said some crazy things. Did John Perry Barlow really write (p 20), "I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind". Ouch!

The authors put a lot of emphasis on the importance of control of the root authority, but I'm not convinced. It's true that the the right to register domain names within a particular top-level domain (like .com or .tv) means that one company rather than another will make a lot of money, and it's certainly important to countries like Burindi how much of the revenue from its .bi domain they keep, but what about this from later in the book (p 168):
For the Net to work — for computers all over the world to be able to communicate with one another — the root authority must reliably correlate IP addresses with domain names and uniquely match up both with a particular computer.
It seems to me that Goldsmith and Wu are confusing the legal authority with the technical mechanism behind the domain name system. Computers all over the world communicate using IP addresses. Domain names are an important convenience, but only a convenience. Also, I'm not sure the authors appreciate the role of local (ISP) DNS resolvers as a cut-out between the user and the root. If the United States government turned off the root server, Comcast has a big financial incentive to make sure that my service isn't interrupted.

As lawyers, Goldsmith and Wu do an excellent job summarizing some important legal cases. On October 20, 2000, Barron's published, on a web site in New Jersey, an article accusing an Australian billionaire, Joseph Gutnick, of tax evasion and money laundering. Gutnick sued Barron's in Australian court and won. Comparing the libel laws of the US and Australia, Goldsmith and Wu say (pp151 - 152):
It reflects deeper disagreements between the United States and Australia about the processes that best secure truth, and about the relative value of robust speech versus reputation and uninhibited debate versus order.
When did uninhibited debate become the polar opposite of "order"? In the US, the libel laws are limited by the First Amendment. In Australia, the libel laws are limited by what the people in power think they can get away with. It's perfectly reasonable to compare the libels laws of the United States with those in Australia, but it doesn't make sense to assume that the differences reflect something intrinsic about the preferences of the people in each country.

On page 158, Goldsmith and Wu summarize their agreement with the outcome of Gutnick:
Since Barron's chose to continue to do business in Australia, its consumers in the United States and Japan cannot legitimately expect to receive news from Barron's that runs afoul of Australian law.
But earlier in the book (p 1!), they discuss a suit in French court against Yahoo's auction site for selling Nazi memorabilia. There they argue that Internet companies should apply the laws of each country only to users in that country, through the magic of geo-coding. So which is it? Can a US web site avoid being subject to Australian courts by tailoring content to Australian subscribers versus others? What if its geocoding algorithm isn't perfect? What if a US subscriber visits Australia? What if an Australian subscriber visits the United States?

Another theme of the book is that governments are not just necessary and effective, but also legitimate (p 153):
Even acknowledging that in places that in places like China the laws will often not reflect the wishes of people who live there, differences among laws in the many democratic governments in the world ... are presumptively legitimate.
Arguably, there are more "places like China" than there are "many democratic governments". And it's common for laws not to reflect the wishes of the majority. But the biggest problem is with the presumption that laws can achieve legitimacy through democratic government. I prefer the presumption that individuals have rights, and that the legitimacy of the law flows from those rights

Goldsmith and Wu convincingly lose the argument about legitimacy when they discuss music copyright (pp 105ff). My issue with their point of view is that copyright is (or should be) a balance between the rights of the user and the copyright owner. If I buy a music CD, I believe I own it, and I should be able to transfer it to my PC or my iPod without the interference of a legally arbitrary DRM mechanism. Goldsmith and Wu mention only one side of this equation, the rights of the copyright holder. Whatever the legal analysis, Goldsmith and Wu are surely wrong about the popularity of pirated music (p 123): "A minority, the Slashdotters, with all the time and expertise in the world, have disappeared into darknets, and won't pay for music."

So why bother with this book it all (and why give it a four and not a zero)? Lawrence Lessig, who knows a smidgen more than I do about Internet Law, says this:
It is time that America learn an important lesson about the Internet — that however cyber the space is, it is also real, and subject to real space governments. This is the very best work to make this fundamental point. Goldsmith and Wu have made understandable and accessible an argument political culture should have realized a decade ago.
The book describes an important period, and arguably an important phase change, in Internet history. It raises important questions. I just don't necessarily like the answers.


You can purchase Who Controls the Internet? Illusions of a Borderless World from bn.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.
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Who Controls the Internet?

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  • It could be worse (Score:5, Interesting)

    by IntelliAdmin ( 941633 ) * on Wednesday May 31, 2006 @02:58PM (#15438435) Homepage
    It is amazing to me that we have gotten this far without *more* control over the Internet. It is human nature to want to control or stop things you do not agree with. Look at the lengths the Chinese government will go to keep people from speaking their mind. Still, after all of these years, outside of these totalitarian countries I can speak my mind, be heard and not worry that I will see men in black that will carry me away.

    Windows Admin Tools [intelliadmin.com]
    • . . . not worry that I will see men in black that will carry me away.

      They're invisible.

      KFG
    • I would like to think that we have made it this far largely because of people's nature to control things they do not agree with. If your statement is accurate this means that there are lots of people in the world who disagree with censorship and have stopped it (as something they don't agree with).

      It's an interesting catch-22.

      • If your statement is accurate this means that there are lots of people in the world who disagree with censorship and have stopped it (as something they don't agree with).

        But most people *do* agree with censorship. They don't want to hear things they disagree with, so they don't mind if their "enemies" don't have free expression. You mistakenly believe that people don't like censorship. Sure, they don't like it if you ask, "do you like censorhsip?" But ask them if they think it would be OK for a compan
        • There is a difference between firing people from a job for what they say (that is the employers right) and suppressing speech. Of course a teacher should be fired for writing such a book, but they should not be arrested.
          • Of course a teacher should be fired for writing such a book, but they should not be arrested.

            So, the government (presuming a public school teacher) should take actions to punish people that say unpopular things. That is pro-censorship. Period. I just had to ask it the right way, which was my point. So I don't see your complaint. You agree with my statements. People want to punish those that they disagree with. I'm not saying that's wrong, I'm saying that's natural. And that's why the GP post assum
        • Firing a person for things they write may be a tactic to pressure them into being quiet in the future, but it is not blatant censorship. Censorship would involve pulling all of those books from shelves, burning them, preventing the publisher from printing any more, and monitoring that persons writings to make sure nothing else they produced with that viewpoint ever gets published again.

          You also missed the point: If the original statement is true then there are enough people in the world who disagree with

          • You also missed the point: If the original statement is true then there are enough people in the world who disagree with censorship to keep it at bay by preventing it. It is not a decision on whether or not the statement is true, only an observation of possible causes of the current level of openness of the internet.

            There are not enough people who disagree with censorship. The vast majority of people on the planet agree with censorship in some form or another. The reason that the Internet is currently s
    • It is amazing to me that we have gotten this far without *more* control over the Internet.
      I think this is a fair assessment but I also feel that it did not have to be the government in control. Someone had to be in control of it or else there would be no coherence. Think of how hard it is to get a simple standard for CDs, DVDs, Blu Ray, HD disks, etc... I am in no way saying the internet follows a single standard but the naming convention is standard.

      Domain names are an important convenience, but only
      • If we didnt have DNS we would all use portals such as google ... Oh, wait... Sites could just go for a hotword or w/e making DNS effectively useless, Don't get me wrong, it is great but if it wasn't there another system would pop up.
      • spokesperson had to say visit us at 169.42.86.47 during a commercial.

        I completely disagree. Before the Interent TV commercials often had phone numbers in them that poeple could call for more information. Some commercials, mostly of the infomercial type, still do. And a telephone number is longer than an IP address.

        DNS certainly makes things easier, but it's not requirement - TV advertisers did just fine bofore the internet.
        • TV commercials often had phone numbers in them that people could call for more information
          Yes there were phone #s that people could call, and those companies picked a # that could be translated into words like 1-800-CALL-ATT. They didn't call it DNS but it was the same principle. Words are easier to remember than numbers.
          a telephone number is longer than an IP address.
          IP addresses have 12 #s at most, telephone #s(non-international) have 11 at most. Me thinks you might be dialing too many digits when you
          • Yes there were phone #s that people could call, and those companies picked a # that could be translated into words like 1-800-CALL-ATT.

            I would be willing to bet that if DNS wasn't used that we would have used a phone dialing type interface to navigate directly to websites. This is completely conjecture, and moot, as we would have to go back in time and alter history to see if my theory is right.

            IP addresses have 12 #s at most

            The instant I hit submit one of my systems guys called me out for being a moron. Th
    • It is human nature to want to control or stop things you do not agree with.

      Likewise with things you don't understand. Unfortunately, the internet falls into both categories where many of the world's politicians are concerned. :-(
    • "Look at the lengths the Chinese government will go to keep people from speaking their mind." The actions of the chinese government (I feel) have far more to do with the will to power than anything as innocent as the rejection of the other's opinnion. Those in power within China have a legitimate fear of free expression - their subjects are not happy, they are not free, they are subject to arrest and torture, and their government expresses a horrifying disinterest in their wellbeing. What you describe make
    • The first thing that popped into my head was "Spammers control the Internet". Really it's not that far from the truth, given their recent attacks on Blue Security. That's how far we've gotten when "nobody" controls the internet. Not saying that the internet should be more controlled, but just like in reality uncontrolled things eventually fall into the hands of the underworld, the people who are ruthless enough to grab it.
    • ...not worry that I will see men in black that will carry me away.
      that's cause they're watching you.
  • by MrSquirrel ( 976630 ) on Wednesday May 31, 2006 @02:59PM (#15438442)
    Skynet controls the internet... haven't they seen the documentary "Terminator 3"?
  • by utdpenguin ( 413984 ) <john&kendrick,com> on Wednesday May 31, 2006 @03:04PM (#15438484) Homepage
    The Internet is owned by Henry Van Staten.
  • It is time that America learn an important lesson about the Internet -- that however cyber the space is, it is also real, and subject to real space governments. This is the very best work to make this fundamental point. Goldsmith and Wu have made understandable and accessible an argument political culture should have realized a decade ago.

    An issue that can never be controlled, contained, adjusted, curtailed, etc., has to do with liberties. Take China for example; China has the most strict "filtering" (fo
  • Who controls the interweb?
  • That's easy (Score:1, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    The Stonecutters. (We do! We do!)
  • it's dan quayle... obviously if he coined the term "internet" then he owns it...
  • by Sigg3.net ( 886486 ) on Wednesday May 31, 2006 @03:12PM (#15438565) Homepage
    although I am an Australian living in the United States who has sent email from China

    That's a rather awkward chain of communication. He's a One Man Onion Router.
  • by theonlyholle ( 720311 ) on Wednesday May 31, 2006 @03:12PM (#15438574) Homepage
    You wrote
    It seems to me that Goldsmith and Wu are confusing the legal authority with the technical mechanism behind the domain name system. Computers all over the world communicate using IP addresses. Domain names are an important convenience, but only a convenience.
    But it's true that to reliably communicate, we need to be sure that the DNS works the way it's supposed to work. We don't send our emails to IP addresses anymore. We don't browse to websites by IP address, in fact if we did, we'd miss a whole lot of smaller sites that make use of HTTP/1.1 name based virtual hosts. So domain names are much more than just a convenience.
    • We don't browse to websites by IP address, in fact if we did, we'd miss a whole lot of smaller sites that make use of HTTP/1.1 name based virtual hosts.
      http://127.0.0.1/
      http://127.0.0.1:81/
      http://12 7.0.0.1:82/
      http://127.0.0.1:83/
      http://127.0.0. 1:84/
      http://127.0.0.1:85/
      ...
      • Yeah, that's great. I will just tell my mother that when she wants to "google something", that she just needs to type http://64.233.187.99/ [64.233.187.99] into her address bar. I'm sure she will remember it. In fact, tomorrow I expect her to call me and proudly proclaim that she "64 dot 233 dot 187 dot 99'd something".

        The point the post was trying to make is that we rely on DNS and name resolution, and that expecting everyone to use URLs (and as you suggest, different port numbers), is an absolute nightmare.
        • Err.... that should read "expecting everyone to use IPs". And before anyone goes off on a rant, I did use the preview button.
        • The point the post was trying to make is that we rely on DNS and name resolution

          I'm replying exactly to the part of the post I quoted. That point was wrong.

          And yes, I do agree that DNS-less Internet would suck. In a pinch, however, we could do without it - if your mother can handle typing 42-60-404-420 to call you she could probably also handle 64.233.187.99 for Google. In any case the IP would probably be just another link on her start page, sorta like a cellphone phone book. And lots of different
          • You're probably right. This would probably work over FTP, too. This would probably be a file with an IP then whitespace, then the name. It would probably be called a 'hosts' file. On *nix, it would probably live at /etc/hosts, while on XP it'd be at c:\windows\system32\drivers\etc\hosts instead.

            In fact, this was how things worked before DNS. Those are the actual locations and names used for those files, and take a look at the format...

            Also, we wouldn't need different port numbers. The way HTTP/1.1 works is
    • Sure, but there are many ways to do name resolution besides DNS.

      DNS might be more robust than LDAP at the moment, but I heard LDAP performs better and with enough global cooperation one day we might be able to replace DNS with something more efficient. Anyway, I think the main problems with DNS are security (not so bad, mostly spoofing), enhancibility and ICANN.
  • by Izrun ( 677155 ) on Wednesday May 31, 2006 @03:18PM (#15438618) Homepage
    Are Belong to Us?
  • by j1m+5n0w ( 749199 ) on Wednesday May 31, 2006 @03:23PM (#15438673) Homepage Journal
    • No matter how hard may wish for it, the /. polls move at their own pace (speed has previously been clocked between glacial and tectonic, but there is a lot of randomness to it). It's useless to try and make them move any faster.

      Though, to be quite honest, "breasts" might be a somewhat appropriate poll choice, assuming that it is (they are?) as stand in for the porn industry.
  • by thunderpaws ( 199100 ) on Wednesday May 31, 2006 @03:27PM (#15438718)
    I bought the Internet for $29.99 after rebates.
  • just because we forgot to say it already...

    In Soviet Russia, the internet controls you.

  • In the ninth doctor episode 'Dalek' we learned that Henry van Statten controlled the internet.
  • At /. the internet controls you.
  • Opps. Sorry, that's Barter-Town.
  • by moracity ( 925736 ) on Wednesday May 31, 2006 @03:40PM (#15438829)
    I don't see why people have such a hard time understanding the internet. It's similar to the global transporation system. There are many methods of transportation around the world: air, rail, water, roadways, and various combinations therewith. There is no singular authority controlling them, however, there are independent authorities that must work together to make transporation possible. Generally, like in the U.S, government is only a regulatory authority. In some countries, transporation mechanisms are actually state-owned.

    In the U.S, roadways are "owned" by the state. The Eisenhower Interstate Highway System is subsidized by the federal government to promote interstate transporation. As a result, the federal government regulates interstate roadway travel. They routinely hold funding of this system hostage to strong-arm states into submission regarding various issues.

    The various rail systems are owned by the private companies that built them. This is probably a clearer illustration of how the internet works. My guess is that you would have to pay to build a depot or stop somewhere along that rail. You would then have to pay another fee to run your own train on a given route. You may have to pay multiple companies if you need to travel on a section of railway owned by another company. In addition, you may have to pay additional charges based on the number of cars you pull AND the contents. All the while, nearly every aspect is regulated by local, state, and federal governments. Fun times.

    I realize this is an oversimplification, but I don't see why people get so uppity about regulation and corporate control of the internet. Frankly, I'm surprised it's taken this long for the idea of a tiered system to come up. Now that the net has become ubiquitous in most of the free world, it was only a matter of time. I'm not saying it's good or bad; it doesn't really matter. Whether you like it or not, the current internet/web is a result of private enterprise and no one should expect to get it for free or unregulated.

    Sometimes, I wish the whole thing would just die. If the net is tiered and Google has to pay a surcharge on traffic, you can bet your bottom dollar that Google will start charging you for searches. They will come up with some way to offset the cost. We all know who loses in the end.
    • "There are many methods of transportation around the world: air, rail, water, roadways, and various combinations therewith." And where do they keep these flying trains that can also go underwater?
    • You miss the point that it isn't like that.
      The internet is basically a network of networks, and no one owns anything other than their connection to it. Sure, that means they could limit what goes across it, but by nature that'd be a Bad Thing (tm) because that'd lead to policing.

      An ISPs job is just to provide internet connectivity to downstream individuals/companies. Not to dictate a certain governments symantecs.
    • this would be fine and dandy if all we had was nationa TLD's. but sorry to say, there isnt. therefor the comparison, while technicaly is correct, is politcaly wrong.

      what we now have is a case where a "sign" in any contry can point to a place on any part of the globe. but recent dust-ups have shown that the US goverment can control the wording of said signs.

      it would be so much simpler if there was only the top level TLD's. then one could declare that if a page or similar is under a nations TLD, it have to fo
    • This is part of the problem. Everyone tries to make simple analogies to figure out how the internet, or other technology, works, and in turn how it should be regulated. But those analogies quickly break down.

      Lets take your transportation example. If I'm driving from state to state, I know I'm subject to the laws of every state I drive through. What if I send an email from Virginia to California? Does that make me subject to the laws of many states? Just the destination and start? The states where I c
  • to actually believe that crock of bull "the Internet treats censorship as damage and routes around it." I think a few Chinese and Egyptian bloggers would find something morbidly out of touch with that utopian view of things.
  • So? (Score:2, Funny)

    by Aqua_boy17 ( 962670 )
    "I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind".

    Well, I come from /. , the new home of the 'Slacker'!
    (ducks)
  • Or, at least, I decide what part(s) of the internet to show on my screen, what apps to view them with, and in what format they're presented. That's enough "control" for me. Damn bloody shame there are power-mongers in the world who feel the need for more than that.
  • He Man, Master of the Universe controls the Internet!
  • server gnomes control the internet.
  • Did John Perry Barlow really write (p 20), "I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind". Ouch!

    He really did: A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace [eff.org]. The whole thing reads the same as that one snippet. When he wrote about "the global social space we are building", do you think he meant MySpace?

  • Who Controls the Internet?

    The Juggernaut, bitch!
  • I thought it was Dan Quayle
  • by Kyd_A ( 243948 ) on Wednesday May 31, 2006 @04:08PM (#15439120)


    I'm curious whether the book discusses the fact that the Internet, and computers in general, have all been developed almost exclusively at public expense for most of their lifetimes, and by all rights should remain in the public sector.

    "As Andrew L Shapiro, a contributing editor of the Nation, wrote in July, 1995: ``You probably didn't notice, but the Internet was sold a few months ago. Well, sort of. The US Federal Government has been gradually transferring the backbone of the US portion of the global computer network to companies such as IBM and MCI as part of a larger plan to privatize cyberspace. But the crucial step was taken on April 30, 1995, when the National Science Foundation shut down its part of the Internet, which began in the 1970s as a Defence Department communications tool. That left the corporate giants in charge....'' ...

    The telecommunication infrastructure was largely created at Government initiative for about 30 years, including both hardware and software, then handed over to private corporations in 1995. It is true that so-called `private' corporations (meaning, profit is privatized, though cost and risk are largely socialized) were often instrumental in R&D, but typically under Government contract. The basic ideas came from the public sector, as did the funding. That includes the Web, designed at CERN, but in the US the public contribution was overwhelming, as in the case of computers and electronics generally, in fact most of high tech. The system was run by the Pentagon, later the National Science Foundation (NSF). The real question should be the opposite: Why should private corporations be granted a huge gift by the public (which is unaware that it has done so)."

    http://www.hinduonnet.com/businessline/2000/07/25/ [hinduonnet.com] stories/14253975.htm
  • of a scene from american dad. *Stan Smith walks into a sci-fi convention, sees all the geeks* "Good God!...Who's manning the internet?!"
  • pay up.
  • I control Inter-Net, and I always have.
  • by p0 ( 740290 )
    No matter who owns it, only Netcraft can confirm when it dies.
  • Just one word: NOBODY .

    That's precisely the point. In the event of a worldwide, thermonuclear war, the Internet and the citizens in "disconnected" contries would still be able to communicate with each other, to rebuild their lives and their communities.

    Nobody controls the Internet, and yet everybody does. That's the point.

  • Kaiser Soze?
  • The authors put a lot of emphasis on the importance of control of the root authority,

    It's all about root

  • ... who controls the internet. We will just upgrade to Web 2.0. It's so much fancier...
  • Save yourself $4.21! (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Save yourself $3.92 by buying the book here: Who Controls the Internet? [amazon.com]. And if you use the "secret" A9.com Instant Reward discount [amazon.com], you can save an extra 1.57%! That's a total savings of $4.21, or 19.07%!
  • If the net is tiered and Google has to pay a surcharge on traffic, you can bet your bottom dollar that Google will start charging you for searches. They will come up with some way to offset the cost. We all know who loses in the end.
    Money is moved from one persons pocket to another. One of the merits of an efficient market is that costs are allocated to those who benefit.
    [Google|insert name of corporate] makes money - benefits. If they think a faster response earns them more than the cost of being faster,
  • Disclaimer: This is a book about the law. I'm not a lawyer, although I am an Australian living in the United States who has sent email from China...

    I'm not a doctor, but I am hungry, and my shirt has blue stripes.

  • I don't really like this comment "In Soviet Russia you dant have to put up with these crappy jokes". Person who wrote it probably don't even know that there are no more soviet russia. Moreover, there was no internet during soviet russia. I think that america should share internet with the world a little bit. :)

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