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The Internet

Jonathan Zittrain On the Future of the Internet 216

uctpjac writes "Jonathan Zittrain, Professor of Internet Governance and Regulation at Oxford and renowned cyberlaw scholar, gave a lecture explaining that the Internet has to be taken out of the hands of the anarchists, the libertarians, and the State, and handed back to self-policing communities of experts. If we don't do this, he believes the Internet will suffer 'self-closure' — the open system will seal itself off when the inability to put its own house in order leads to a take-over by government and business. The article summarizes Zittrain's points and notes, "Forces of organized interests that do not play by the rules, like malware peddlers, identity thieves and spammers are allowing another army of interests — corporate protectionists, often — to demand centralized, authoritarian solutions. This is the future of the Net unless we stop it.'"
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Jonathan Zittrain On the Future of the Internet

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  • Why is that so bad? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by suso ( 153703 ) * on Sunday March 09, 2008 @01:12PM (#22693164) Homepage Journal
    I've been on the Internet longer than most people (since 1991). I know the concepts and the goals of a lot of people who have used it and created it. Heck, I've downloaded music and movies, etc. too. But honestly, if now what we have is a bunch of people who think that stealing is ok because that is what the Internet was designed to allow us to do (see replies to this thread [], then were we really so right to choose an open Internet?

    If anything, I think its time for the Internet to get back in touch with reality.
  • Imaginary Property (Score:2, Interesting)

    by biscon ( 942763 ) on Sunday March 09, 2008 @01:21PM (#22693226)
    I think intellectual property (or at least the current laws governing it) will be responsible for the death of the internet as we know it today.
    We will still have something called the internet, but it will be some proprietary closed crap. Unlike today everyone and their dog won't be able to just put up a page in a days work.

    I would love to be wrong though.
  • Re:Experts in what? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Jeff DeMaagd ( 2015 ) on Sunday March 09, 2008 @01:33PM (#22693310) Homepage Journal
    But I think that proves the point, a rule by experts isn't necessarily any better.
  • Re:No No No (Score:4, Interesting)

    by westlake ( 615356 ) on Sunday March 09, 2008 @01:35PM (#22693320)
    you want to develop more technology, just let porn do the job.

    porn exploits new technologies. it invests in nothing.

  • Yuck. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Penguinisto ( 415985 ) on Sunday March 09, 2008 @01:46PM (#22693396) Journal
    Err, sorry, but the clique of 'experts' would be just as (if not more) dangerous than the corporation or state.

    Personally, and IMHO, as long as everyone is forced to keep to open standards, and as long as there are cheap and easy ways to access a network based on them, nobody can close anything off.

    The Internet is (still) beyond the power of the individual or small group to control it. Put up a firewall? TOR springs up. Implement network throttling on certain types of traffic? That type of traffic will suddenly mimic other types. ISP locks you out due to political discomfort? You get another one who is willing to sell service at the same or lower price. Mandate locks and controls at the telco level? WiFi and NoCat springs up to build a mesh. Even Cuba, which has the tightest controls of any networked country, has one hell of a Sneakernet going on with geek sticks and covert data transfers... slow, but workable.

    North Korea is about it for the ultimate Internet control, but only because they literally don't have an infrastructure installed, at least not outside of a few elite homes, palaces, and offices.

    The closest anyone has come to a corporate-built 'walled garden' style of network was AOL (which had an "Internet" button to leave that network and get online). AOL's garden (in case no one noticed) is dead, and the corp is a mere shell of its former self.

    To top all that off, corporations live and die by their customer base - the more locks they place on it, the less access they have to it.

    Nope - I just don't see it happening anytime soon.


  • Re:Experts in what? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by rs79 ( 71822 ) <> on Sunday March 09, 2008 @03:02PM (#22693792) Homepage
    "Why on earth should he think that "experts" are any better at self regulation than any other random group of people?"

    Because they're "experts" and not a random group of people.

    Jono's quite right: frame it in this context - who would you put in charge of managaing, say, the Linux kernel? A bunch of guys that knew it best or a governmnet committee of people qualified to do something else?

    TFA is wrong though when it says "this almost happened with domain names". Substitute "DNS" for "Linux" in the above and you have ICANN.

    Jono was there as well, to watch this all come up. In fact Lessig and Zittrain were involved in the process that led up to ICANN and were as surprised as anybody else when the government stepped in and said "We know you've been working on this for a year all over the world, but here's the baord and here's the organization. Thanks, but you can go home now".
  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Sunday March 09, 2008 @03:05PM (#22693808) Homepage

    It's worth realizing that we've solved most of the problems with hostile sites on the Internet other than ones that involve Windows zombies. Nobody is spamming from an identifiable source any more; that gets spammers turned off fast, or arrested. Spamming is now done using Windows zombies.

    Hosting of scams tends to involve Windows zombies or server break-ins. We track this on our "Major domains being exploited by active phishing scams" [] list. Notice that almost all the sites with multiple exploits listed are services that provide DSL connectivity. The single-exploit sites are usually break-ins. Most of the open redirectors have been fixed, so that hole has mostly been closed.

    The malware problem is, again, an endpoint problem, with programs given all the privileges of the user running them. Again, that's mostly a Windows problem. (Not that Linux is fundamentally better. Installs still typically have to be run as root. Few will run under a restrictive Secure Linux profile.) Of course, when Microsoft tightens things up, as they did minimally in Vista, people scream that their insecure apps won't run. Fixing the problem requires a clean start, like the OLPC []. If the OLPC technology gets some traction at the high school, college, and road warrior level, we might have a way out of the current mess.

    Once we get past outright criminality, we're faced with the "bottom-feeders" - the Made for Adwords sites, the "landing pages", the directory sites, the typosquatting sites, the domain parks, and similar annoying dreck. We're doing our bit to choke that off []. If you're willing to lump the bottom-feeders together with the crooks, it's easier to separate them from the sites with some degree of legitimacy.

    Most of the bottom-feeders get their revenue from Google's advertisers, via Google. Google is starting to do something about this with "landing page quality measurement" []. Their standards are very low, though, judging by what's still showing up in AdWords ads. (We have a free Firefox browser extension [] that rates AdWords advertisers, so we have a way to look at this. Advertiser quality varies drastically by site: advertisers on Bloomberg look legit, LinkedIn, mostly OK, Myspace, mostly bottom-feeders.)

    There's a basic question here - how much of Google's revenue comes from bottom-feeders? Google recently tightened up their landing page standards, and Google's revenue dropped for the first time ever. Can Google still afford "don't be evil"? We'll find out this year.

    All of these things are endpoint problems. Down at the IP level, we're doing OK.

  • Re:No No No (Score:3, Interesting)

    by tomhudson ( 43916 ) <> on Sunday March 09, 2008 @03:16PM (#22693890) Journal

    you want to develop more technology, just let porn do the job.
    porn exploits new technologies. it invests in nothing.

    The porn industry invests heavily. What I think you mean is it doesn't not invest in developing new technologies.

    Companies invest in developing new technologies, in the hope that other businesses (including porn) will purchase products incorporating said technologies.

    So porn does help fund new technologies, by expanding the market for new technologies, thus attracting investors in businesses whose goal is developing new technologies.

    Without the hope of future customers, who would invest in development?.

  • Re:Experts in what? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by psychodelicacy ( 1170611 ) <> on Sunday March 09, 2008 @03:19PM (#22693918)
    I don't think that was his argument - or, at least, not exactly in those terms. If I read the article correctly, what Zittrain is saying is that a communitarian approach to the internet is the best one to take, because communities (like Wikipedia, DNS, or Slashdot, to name but a few) have their own strongly-policed rules, but do not claim a totalising power. So Wikipedia's rules apply to Wikipedia, Slashdot's rules apply to Slashdot, and so on. The "expertise" that Zittrain is talking about isn't necessarily having a PhD from MIT, but the kind of expertise that allows Slashdot to be run so effectively, including the expertise of its users who act as moderators and meta-moderators. He's asking us to stop accepting "top-down" regulation of the internet (from governmental authority, on the whole). Instead, we should build communities which self-regulate and, from there, create a moral internet which can fulfil its true potential whilst resisting the shut-down pressures coming from business, government, and anarchist forces.

    This is my understanding of the article which, in its turn, is someone else's understanding of what Zittrain has said. I'll be interested to read the book and see whether I've got it right!
  • by multisync ( 218450 ) on Sunday March 09, 2008 @03:25PM (#22693968) Journal

    t interests me how the Geek lusts to rip off Steamboat Willie. While the real artist moves on and produces a Ratatouille.

    You speak for yourself.

    This geeks produces his own precious creations, while at the same time wanting a more balanced agreement between those who contribute to art through its production and those who contribute to it through its appreciation. I'm not sure, but I suspect it's really those who simply seek to make a profit off of it that are the threat to the process.

  • by westlake ( 615356 ) on Sunday March 09, 2008 @03:30PM (#22694000)
    It may surprise people to recall that it was Star Trek of all things which, after the Mobile Phone, made a big point to announce that Replicators (seen first here with media, and coming in 20 years with mainstream custom-form solids) would seriously thrash economic theory.

    You want to understand the impact of replicators?

    Ralph Williams' short story from 1958 "Business As Usual, During Alterations" throws buckets of cold water on the whole idea.

    In Williams' world anyone can copy an Eames chair, the Calder mobile, but only one man can design it and only one shop can produce the master. In Williams' world, intellect and creativity remains scarce and valuable.

  • Re:Experts in what? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jmorris42 ( 1458 ) * <`gro.uaeb' `ta' `sirromj'> on Sunday March 09, 2008 @04:33PM (#22694354)
    > Jono's quite right: frame it in this context - who would you put in charge of managaing, say, the Linux kernel?

    The linux kernel and the whole Linux ecosystem around it are interesting. But it is a single incident and it is unwise to attempt drawing too many conclusions from it. At best it is an example of 'getting a good king.' Everyone realizes that a good king is the best form of government possible, the problem with monarchy has always been in the method of selecting a king. For counter examples from the Free Software world one one need look no farther than the GNU Hurd fiasco.

    Linux is an odd system. You have the benevolent dictator for life, but you also have the bluest of blue chip corporations up to their butts in development, working alongside hippies, anarchists and libertarians in peace and relative harmony. Lets wait until the socialogists write a few more PhD dissertations on this whole mess before we try to use it as a basis for a government, ok?

Adapt. Enjoy. Survive.