As governments, even supposedly enlightened ones like the UK, take a draconian view towards problems like Peer to Peer file sharing, – maybe we should ask the wider question:
As national governments find themselves powerless against the global threats like SPAM and file sharing, should we have an additional/ higher layer of governance above the national level?
In some cases, we already do.
There are global laws and trans-national bodies (like the EU). But they don’t seem to work against the new Internet based problems like SPAM since they can never be fast enough
So, what is the solution?
Instead of having collaborations between governments – Do we need a new global collaboration between individuals across governments?
Let’s explore more why this may be necessary
The Internet is creating a global Identity which subsumes many traditional Identities like religion, country etc.
Traditionally, Identity is defined more by what you ‘cannot do’ rather than what you ‘can do’ .. Ex: religion is based on restrictions (don’t eat this, restrictions on sexuality, on women’s rights etc etc).
However, the Global identity fostered by the Internet is NOT based on restrictions – and in that sense the Internet identity differs from the traditional identities like Religion, nationality etc.
Critically, the restrictions on the Internet Identity are voluntary – this has led to the both the phenomenal growth and the problems we witness today.
Some notes on this issue further:
a) The Philosophy of the Internet: While the technologies underlying the Internet are well known to most people(such as the IP protocol) – but less so the philosophy behind the Internet. When I say the ‘philosophy of the Internet’ – I mean examples such as the governance model of IETF which says “We reject: kings, presidents, and voting. We believe in: rough consensus and running code.” The Tao of IETF . The philosophy of the IP protocol which makes the best effort toward routing is also another example.
b) Deployment of the Internet philosophy at higher layers of the stack and creation of a self correction mechanism: The challenge is to deploy this philosophy at the application layers of the stack. This means collaboration based on civic cooperation and rational behaviour. The two possible examples where it has played out are wikipedia and craigslist – both of which rely on certain civic behaviour from the people based on rational collaboration. It is this ethos that needs to be decoupled from the lower level network technology and proliferated at higher layers of the stack. The lack of predictability and security in such systems can lead people to create the ‘safer craigslist’ – but that would be at a very high cost – and would not work – How newspapers can make a better craigslist – safer cragislist . So, while they are based on a loose structure which may be abused(by SPAM etc), they need to have the self correction mechanism built into it(which it currently lacks at the higher levels of the stack)
c) Users not customers: There are other options. Currently we are all users of web services – and not customers. Recently for the first time ever I became a ‘customer of Google’ i.e. I paid Google money when I ran out of space on my gmail account. However, we are all users of the Web. Make everyone a customer – rather than a user(make people pay for everything) – is an option. That also cannot work in the long run(and would have not got us this far in so short a time if we started charging for ‘hotmail accounts’ in the late 1990s). The issues will get more complex as we address emerging economies and mobility.
d) Who monitors and how? The iPhone has illustrated the complexities of policing a system. The recent Google voice example has got a lot of coverage but my favourite is rejection of the Kama Sutra for ‘inappropriate sexual content’ ! Ha ha – . Others could argue that it is a cultural text – and hence discriminatory against a culture! I wont raise that issue with Steve Jobs though since I am not an iPhone customer
e) Cost components: Who pays and how? If we take the question of ‘funding’ for future services – how much should we estimate? Who pays? And why? There are two primary ‘cost components’ – the monitoring cost(spam etc) and the network cost.
f) Client server vs. Peer to Peer? In many ways, we are at the risk of confusing the present web with the future. The current web is built on the Client server paradigm but the original intention of the Web by Tim Berners Lee was based on a peer to peer design : Tim Berners-Lee’s vision for the World Wide Web, as evidenced by his WorldWideWeb editor/browser, was close to a peer-to-peer design in that it assumed each user of the web would be an active editor and contributor creating and linking content to form an interlinked web of links. This contrasts to the broadcasting-like structure of the web as it has developed over the years.
g) The peer to peer paradigm: The peer to peer paradigm makes a lot more sense since it is more natural to the ethos of the web at the lower levels of the stack. Peer to peer allows more efficient utilization of resources and a more granular control of recourses at each node. Thus the node could optimise data(individual’s personal data), network resources(same as we do with Skype) and so on.
h) When we say ‘Peer to Peer’ – it is tempting to view it in negative light .. But peer to peer technology is being used by services like spotify(backed by record labels) and there are many innovative uses of peer to peer for example with Choruss – which also has the backing of record labels
So, what is needed? I think four things could make a difference
a) The creation of a global backchannel of concerned individuals around the world: How can we create a global ‘backchannel’ between concerned individuals all over the world based on meritocracy and co-operation? Or How can we take the ethos of the Internet (ex – IETF model of rough consensus and meritocracy) and globalize that ethos? The nations have(or we hope that they do!) a system to talk to each other to prevent nuclear wars etc. So, why not for individuals?
b) Peer to Peer technologies to manage privacy and also to optimise network investment
c) Currently, devices have increasing generativity i.e. the ability to use them for purposes not intended originally. But this generativity is an after thought. Increasingly, generativity may be implemented from the ground up across all layers of the stack
d) Insurance – i.e. by that I mean a wide spectrum of devices – on one end fully locked down and at the other end – completely open. If the device is ‘open’ – it could be sold with ‘insurance’. This then gives complete choice to customers and an additional option to Open devices
As usual – comments welcome .. A complex issue ..