if:book review 3 - privacy and net neutrality 06.23.2008, 4:50 AM
posted by sebastian mary
My last review post covered the debates around digitization of public domain archives, especially with reference to Google. Key to these debates are questions of access: who gets how much, what to, how is this controlled, and who by? And who benefits? Though Google is mentioned with disturbing frequency any ttime someone worries about privacy and ownership of data, the debate is much wider. So this piece takes a look at some related issues.
If concerns for privacy and freedom of speech usually refer to state interference, net neutrality often points the other way: towards private corporations remaking the Web in their image. Clearly this is frequently (as recent coverage of the ongoing Viacom/Google spat points out) about attempts to ringfence pre-Web approaches to copyright. But space is limited, so I haven't tried to cover DRM and copyright in depth here.
Net neutrality: who owns the pipes?
Ben's November 2005 post about net neutrality was the first if:book article on the topic. It picked up an article by Doc Searls about the dangers of the Web being hijacked by major telcos, and explored some of the parallels between the failure of two-way radio and the potential erosion of a multidirectional Web. A second post on December looked at the possibility that redrafted telco regulations could help the creeping transformation of the Web from a read/write medium towards a broadcast-only model.
Reports of Google's decision to serve a neutered service in China in response to Chinese governmental restrictions prompted a remarkable January 2006 article from Benthat ranged across net neutrality, privacy, censorship, and the utopian ideals of the Web. Very much worth a look. Ray picked up the theme again in February. The same month, we reported on Lessig's gloomy prognostications for the read/write web, drawing out the relationship between net neutrality and copyright. And in May, a handful of people protested against the net neutrality bill; in June, Congress passed the amended telcos bill, roundly condemned by this blog. But net neutrality seems these days to be of more concern to telcos than to individuals: a recent IPDemocracy post gives an indication of the extent to which the issue is a hot topic to carriers (which have an economic interest) and states (which have a political one), but of little interest to everyday internet users.
Privacy: who owns your (meta)data?
The first looks at the privacy implications of technologies that track your clickstreams across digitized archives such as Google and Amazon.
The second discusses Google's acquisition of Writely: would web-based word processing extend Google's domain of searchable private material even beyond email inboxes to individuals' private documents? (I have to say, from the vantage point of 2008 it is not clear that adoption of web-based office tools has been as overwhelming as some anticipated in those heady years of web2.0 fever. The view from here is a little more measured; Google Docs, as Writely is now called, is one tool among many but has none of the uncontested dominance of the search engine. But the post marks a key moment in the imperial expansion of the Google machine into ever new territories.)
The third is a wide-ranging essay that covers net neutrality, copyright, software licensing and Google issues. One paragraph is worth quoting in full, as it's remained central to many of the Institute's concerns:
Though print will always offer inimitable pleasures, the social life of media is moving to the network. That's why we here at if:book care so much about issues, tangential as they may seem to the future of the book, like network neutrality, copyright and privacy. These issues are of great concern because they make up the environment for the future of reading and writing. We believe that a free, neutral network, a progressive intellectual property system, and robust safeguards for privacy are essential conditions for an enlightened digital age.
In the runup to these posts, we also covered Yahoo!'s purchase of del.icio.us, the launch of the Open Rights Group, Siva Vaidhyanathan's sobering thoughts on Google, privacy and privatization (still very much worth a read) - and amongst other things a string of digitization deals between Google and public archives (see my previous review post).
The issue of privacy is not just a narrative of one corporation's info-expansionism. The issue of freedom of expression around the world collided with that of Google when it was revealed in January 06 that Google had decided to comply with the Chinese government's insistence on restrictive search terms within China, somewhat dampening the cred Google received for saying no when Cheney requested government access to citizens' Google search records.
In March, Jesse wrote about identity management in the age of search engines. Though the app he mentioned does not seem to have gained much traction, the issues are still relevant. In April, Ben drew together a string of net neutrality and privacy posts for a hefty post about the disturbing confluence of deregulated Web infrastructures and privatised info-accumulation taking place online.
One final theme that deserves a mention is that of Flash and other read-only media. Where the 'View Source' command enables the curious to review the code behind any HTML site, Flash and its kin, while making the Web infinitely richer and in some ways more accessible, has also exacted a price in transparency and interoperability across platforms. This has been discussed periodically, as here in October 2006, and again in March 2008.
Posted by sebastian mary on June 23, 2008 4:50 AM
Gary Frost on June 26, 2008 9:28 AM:
"Of greater import is the emergence of digital humanists who continue to focus on narrative,
discursive, and essentially qualitative ways of investigating what it means to be human. It is
these scholars, interrogating new forms of discourse, narrative, communication, community
building, and social networking, who will spend most of their time on the open Web and use
wiki and blogging applications, social softwares, and other as-yet-undreamt-of applications." Abbey Smith http://www.clir.org/activities/registration/08FebR21/Smith.pdf
The Smith paper has sub-text of the future of the book in the next five to ten years. While the "social life of information" is fulfilling itself, the continuing interaction of tangible and electronic book media is churning in a layer below the social dynamics of digital humanities. In all the large discussion of the future of academic publishing and digital research, there is need for a small focus on the future of the book, both in hand or on screen. Just what is at work with the surge of interest in "book studies" or the denominations of enthusiasts in scrap-book "cropping" or the destiny of digital printing or the web retailing of tangible books or the "comfortability" of Kindle "long form" reading?
if:book needs a sidebar then:book
William J. Kelleher, Ph.D. on August 4, 2008 3:43 PM:
Here is an excerpt from my recent review of:
Netroots Rising: How a Citizen Army of Bloggers and Online Activists Is Changing American Politics
By Lowell Feld and Nate Wilcox
Another theme of the book is that the Internet is not neutral; it has a progressive bias. At first you might think that the Internet is just a tool, to be used as well by conservatives as progressives. But that's not the way it works out in practice. Because this technology is an instrument for changing, not preserving, the present campaign and election process, it is biased in favor of progressives. Because it connects people equally, it elevates the value of all users. All users are equally empowered, and limited only by their own personal skills, drive, and wit. That is why progressives, like the anti-war pro-reform Deaniacs, were the first to put the Internet into effective political use. Progressive minded people are more energized by the net's possibilities than are conservative minded folks.
The authors see clearly the stronger appeal to progressives. Although not in the book, here are some statistics that tend to validate their vision.
According to Pew surveys taken in 2000, 20% of respondents reported using the Internet to obtain political news. But in early 2008, 74% of Obama supporters reported using the Internet to get political information - more than three times the number eight years prior. In the same 2008 survey, 57% of Clinton supporters reported using the net for news, and 56% of McCain supporters. Clearly, supporters of the candidate for change are way ahead of the competition when it comes to net savvy.
Only 3% reported political donating online in all of 2006. But by early 2008, the number had nearly tripled to 8%; and, 17% of Obama supporters had reported donating online in this survey, taken during the time when Clinton was still in the primary race.
36% of Democrats report having a social network profile. Its only 21% for Republicans and 28% for Independents. 66% of those under 30 have a social network profile. 35% of respondents say they have watched political videos online. That is three times the number for 2004.
These numbers are a measure of momentum. Net use, and sophistication, is growing. Our country is far from having reached its full potential for Internet-based politics. If 80% of those with some college own a computer, as some surveys suggest, and only 20% with a high school diploma own a computer, that means there is room for 20% growth in the first group, and 80% growth in the second group. If a little more than half the computer owners in the US go online for political news, that means that almost half of them have room to grow in their sophistication.
The writers of Netroots Rising are well aware that Internet technology also tilts progressive because it confronts one of the premises of consumer culture. That is, passivity. Corporations require consumers who will respond to advertising, and play the consumer game without questioning it. Thus, most Americans get their political information from watching TV. Listening to the radio, and reading newspapers and magazines, are a distant second. But Internet technology requires its users to ask questions, and to actively seek answers. To use a search engine, for example, someone must first formulate in their mind what it is they want to know about. Then they conduct a search. Active Internet users are a different kind of person than the average TV viewer who simply turns on "the evening news." Also, passive media make no provision for participation. One may shout at a talking head on the Boob Tube, or at a voice coming out of the radio, but those acts are inconsequential. Writing a letter to the local newspaper isn't much more effective. But commenting on a blog can engage others in a discussion, and the dialogue can not only inform, but change minds. The netroots, then, is progressive in that it is acting out of line with the corporate-culture mainstream. As the book suggests, the netroots are the advance guard of changes yet to come.
The entire review can be found at:
William J. Kelleher, Ph.D.