What’s happening to the world wide web 0

We stand on the opposite side of the Great Political Divide (freedom v socialism) from Britain’s Guardian newspaper. But it covers the news better, and provides more useful information, than most of its competitors.

We quote from an extract it has taken from a book titled, The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business by Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen.

The story of yesterday’s post was about the US government controlling our uses of the internet. Today’s story is about international controls on this last zone of freedom; and how a country could build a virtual wall round itself to cut itself off from the global internet  – and then enforce extreme censorship within its own “walled garden”.

Each state will attempt to regulate the internet, and shape it in its own image. The majority of the world’s internet users encounter some form of censorship – also known by the euphemism “filtering” – but what that actually looks like depends on a country’s policies and its technological infrastructure. …

In some countries, there are several entry points for internet connectivity, and a handful of private telecommunications companies control them (with some regulation). In others, there is only one entry point, a nationalised internet service provider (ISP), through which all traffic flows. Filtering is relatively easy in the latter case, and more difficult in the former.

When technologists began to notice states regulating and projecting influence online, some warned against a “Balkanisation of the internet”, whereby national filtering and other restrictions would transform what was once the global internet into a connected series of nation-state networks. The web would fracture and fragment, and soon there would be a “Russian internet” and an “American internet” and so on, all coexisting and sometimes overlapping but, in important ways, separate. Information would largely flow within countries but not across them, due to filtering, language or even just user preference. The process would at first be barely perceptible to users, but it would fossilise over time and ultimately remake the internet.

It’s very likely that some version of the above scenario will occur, but the degree to which it does will greatly be determined by what happens in the next decade with newly connected states – which path they choose, whom they emulate and work together with.

The first stage of the process, aggressive and distinctive filtering, is under way. China is the world’s most active and enthusiastic filterer of information. Entire platforms that are hugely popular elsewhere in the world – Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter – are blocked by the Chinese government.

On the Chinese internet, you would be unable to find information about politically sensitive topics such as the Tiananmen Square protests, embarrassing information about the Chinese political leadership, the Tibetan rights movement and the Dalai Lama, or content related to human rights, political reform or sovereignty issues. …

China’s leadership doesn’t hesitate to defend its policies. In a white paper released in 2010, the government calls the internet “a crystallisation of human wisdom” but states that China’s “laws and regulations clearly prohibit the spread of information that contains contents subverting state power, undermining national unity or infringing upon national honour and interests.”

The next stage for many states will be collective editing, states forming communities of interest to edit the web together, based on shared values or geopolitics.

For “edit” read “censor”. States’ governments will decide what values it shares with other states’ governments.

For larger states, collaborations will legitimise their filtering efforts and deflect some unwanted attention (the “look, others are doing it too” excuse). For smaller states, alliances along these lines will be a low-cost way to curry favour with bigger players and gain technical skills that they might lack at home.

Collective editing may start with basic cultural agreements and shared antipathies among states, such as what religious minorities they dislike, how they view other parts of the world or what their cultural perspective is  …

Larger states are less likely to band together than smaller ones – they already have the technical capabilities – so it will be a fleet of smaller states, pooling their resources, that will find this method useful. If some member countries in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), an association of former Soviet states, became fed up with Moscow’s insistence on standardising the Russian language across the region, they could join together to censor all Russian-language content from their national internets and thus limit their citizens’ exposure to Russia.

Ideology and religious morals are likely to be the strongest drivers of these collaborations. Imagine if a group of deeply conservative Sunni-majority countries – say, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Algeria and Mauritania – formed an online alliance and decided to build a “Sunni web”. While technically this Sunni web would still be part of the larger internet, it would become the main source of information, news, history and activity for citizens living in these countries.

For years, the development and spread of the internet was highly determined by its English-only language standard, but the continued implementation of internationalised domain names (IDN), which allow people to use and access domain names written in non-Roman alphabet characters, is changing this. The creation of a Sunni web – indeed, all nationalised internets – becomes more likely if its users can access a version of the internet in their own language and script.

Within the Sunni web, the internet could be sharia-complicit: e-commerce and e-banking would look different, since no one would be allowed to charge interest; religious police might monitor online speech, working together with domestic law enforcement to report violations; websites with gay or lesbian content would be uniformly blocked; women’s movements online might somehow be curtailed; and ethnic and religious minority groups might find themselves closely monitored, restricted or even excluded. …

There will be some instances where autocratic and democratic nations edit the web together. Such a collaboration will typically happen when a weaker democracy is in a neighbourhood of stronger autocratic states that coerce it to make the same geopolitical compromises online that it makes in the physical world.

For example, Mongolia is a young democracy with an open internet, sandwiched between Russia and China – two large countries with their own unique and restrictive internet policies. … Seeking to please its neighbours [and so] preserve its own physical and virtual sovereignty, Mongolia might find it necessary to abide by a Chinese or Russian mandate and filter internet content associated with hot-button issues.

What started as the world wide web will begin to look more like the world itself, full of internal divisions and divergent interests.

And full of tyranny.

Some form of visa requirement will emerge on the internet. … Citizen engagement, international business operations and investigative reporting will all be seriously affected. …

Under conditions like these, the world will see its first Internet asylum seeker. A dissident who can’t live freely under an autocratic Internet and is refused access to other states’ Internets will choose to seek physical asylum in another country to gain virtual freedom on its Internet. … Virtual asylum will not work, however, if the ultimate escalation occurs: the creation of an alternative domain name system (DNS), or even aggressive and ubiquitous tampering with it to advance state interests.

Today, the internet as we know it uses the DNS to match computers and devices to relevant data sources, translating IP addresses (numbers) into readable names, with .edu, .com, .net suffixes, and vice versa. No government has yet achieved an alternative system, but if one succeeded in doing so, it would effectively unplug its population from the global internet and instead offer only a closed, national intranet. In technical terms, this would entail creating a censored gateway between a given country and the rest of the world, so that a human proxy could facilitate external data transmissions when absolutely necessary – for matters involving state resources, for instance.

It’s the most extreme version of what technologists call a walled garden. On the internet, a walled garden refers to a browsing environment that controls a user’s access to information and services online. … For the full effect of disconnection, the government would also instruct the routers to fail to advertise the IP addresses of websites – unlike DNS names, IP addresses are immutably tied to the sites themselves – which would have the effect of putting those websites on a very distant island, utterly unreachable. Whatever content existed on this national network would circulate only internally, trapped like a cluster of bubbles in a computer screen saver, and any attempts to reach users on this network from the outside would meet a hard stop. With the flip of a switch, an entire country would simply disappear from the internet.

This is not as crazy as it sounds. It was first reported in 2011 that the Iranian government’s plan to build a “halal internet” was under way, and the regime’s December 2012 launch of Mehr, its own version of YouTube with “government-approved videos”, demonstrated that it was serious about the project. Details of the plan remained hazy but, according to Iranian government officials, in the first phase the national “clean” internet would exist in tandem with the global internet for Iranians (heavily censored as it is), then it would come to replace the global internet altogether. The government and affiliated institutions would provide the content for the national intranet, either gathering it from the global web and scrubbing it, or creating it manually. All activity on the network would be closely monitored. Iran’s head of economic affairs told the country’s state-run news agency that they hoped their halal internet would come to replace the web in other Muslim countries, too – at least those with Farsi speakers. Pakistan has pledged to build something similar. …

How exactly the state intends to proceed with this project is unclear both technically and politically. How would it avoid enraging the sizable chunk of its population that has access to the internet? Some believe it would be impossible to fully disconnect Iran from the global internet because of its broad economic reliance on external connections. Others speculate that, if it wasn’t able to build an alternative root system, Iran could pioneer a dual-internet model that other repressive states would want to follow. Whichever route Iran chooses, if it is successful in this endeavour, its halal internet would surpass the “great firewall of China” as the single most extreme version of information censorship in history. It would change the internet as we know it.

As the Guardian puts it (not necessarily implying disapproval): the net is closing in.

The nearsighted Mr Magoos of business and industry 2

The Second Industrial Revolution, the computer revolution, occurred because its inventors, entrepreneurs, venture-capitalists, its innovators and risk-takers and visionaries of all sorts were free. They had freedom of action, could use their time and resources as they chose. What they produced has benefited uncountable millions of other people. Their country, their world, and all generations to come, the whole human race, are the beneficiaries of their ideas and labors. They have enriched us all. If ever men have deserved to grow rich themselves, they have.

No government, no social program, no redistribution of wealth, no central planning, no high-tax-high-spend economic system, can do for the general good what they have done for it. They have created wealth. Governments diminish it. And redistributing governments, run by “social justice” liberals, destroy it.

Why can’t the very men who used freedom so well understand this? Why are so many of them helping to destroy that essential freedom of which they took splendid advantage, so that in future others cannot do what they did?

In an article at Front Page on business leaders toadying to Obama, Benjamin Shapiro considers the strange phenomenon of their self-destructive behavior:

On April 5, President Obama kicked off his newly-minted presidential campaign by announcing that he would be conducting a “Facebook town hall” event streaming live via the website and via the White House website on April 20. Just to ensure that the Facebook audience recognizes that this isn’t merely another media appearance but an endorsement of Obama by the Facebook executives, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg quizzed Obama before an audience of over 1,000 Facebook employees and other internet mavens.

The recorded result will be chopped up and distributed via Facebook and the White House website over the coming months. “We’re honored that President Obama will be visiting headquarters later this month and will be using the Facebook platform to communicate with an international audience,” Andrew Noyes, Facebook spokesman, gushed.

Obama isn’t the first politician to use Facebook as a fundraising platform. But he is the first politician to be granted the privileged insider status of visiting HQ to do so. Facebook has been one of Obama’s most important supporters over the past several years. And Facebook is hardly the only Silicon Valley organization backing Obama. Apple and Google have also become vocal supporters of the administration. Steve Jobs dined with Zuckerberg and Obama in February to discuss job creation; Google CEO Eric Schmidt was one of Obama’s earliest backers for the presidency; Chris Hughes, one of Facebook’s founders, became Obama’s internet czar in 2007. In fact, prior to the election of 2008, Schmidt toured the United States with Obama’s soon-to-be FCC Commissioner Julius Genachowski to stump for Obama’s net neutrality policies.

On the surface, this makes little sense. Obama’s policies have targeted businesses with remorseless cruelty, setting them up as villains in the class conflict Obama wishes to precipitate. Facebook, Apple, and Google are three of the most successful businesses of the 21st century. Yet all three seem to be mobilizing in favor of the Obama Administration.

That’s because all three must dance for their political master.

Because the federal government is so large and so powerful, and because President Obama is obviously willing and able to use government weight to press forward his agenda, major businesses in the United States must look to appease him. Obama has no problem wielding the heavy club of regulation to hurt his political enemies, or to help his political friends. Major businesses like Facebook, Google, and Apple have all felt the sour stings and warm embraces of big government. And all of them prefer the warm embraces.

President Obama has already promoted Facebook and Google openly: in his State of the Union address, for example, Obama stated, “We are the nation that put cars in driveways and computers in offices; the nation of Edison and the Wright brothers; of Google and Facebook.” Obama’s net neutrality policy, which may or may not be backed by Google, would lock Google into place as the leading search engine on the internet – other search engines would not be able to pay internet service providers (ISPs) to make their websites run faster. Obama has promoted Apple publicly too, particularly [Steve] Jobs.

By the same token, Obama has also targeted each and every one of these businesses, making it clear that they had better get in line. Obama’s Justice Department has cracked down on Google Books, covertly threatening antitrust lawsuits. The DOJ has also pledged to shut down Google’s acquisition of ITA, a flight data and software company. Michelle Obama has said that Facebook is no place for children, and President Obama has stated that iPads and iPods threaten the republic, making “information … a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment … it is putting new pressures on our country and on our democracy.”

Facebook’s, Google’s, and Apple’s flirtations with President Obama are just the latest example of how American businesses die. To be sure, Facebook, Google and Apple are a long way from death. But once they begin dancing to the tune of the government flute, it is only a matter of time before they become obsolete.

The growth of government – and the threat of government involvement in industry – has eventually crippled virtually every major industry in America over the past century and a half.  Businesses are started by entrepreneurs; when they grow successful, government intervenes to take its pound of flesh; entrepreneurs respond by parlaying with government, hamstringing their own businesses in an attempt to [appease] government wrath. Those businesses gradually become decrepit, dependent on the whims of the capricious Washington D.C. deities.  Overseas competitors begin to compete, and the now-slow-moving businesses require government subsidies to survive. This is how businesses turn from American assets into American sinkholes. …

James J. Hill, the man who built the Great Northern Railroad, derided government aid, explaining, “The government should not furnish capital to these companies, in addition to their enormous land subsidies, to enable them to conduct their business in competition with enterprises that have received no aid from the public treasury.”  … Hill started off as a grocery clerk, then worked in a variety of industries before pooling his cash with several partners to enter the world of the railroads.  His business model was a paradigm of pure capitalism.  Teddy Roosevelt’s trust-busting converted the railroad industry into a shell of its former self, and converted its “robber baron” leaders into public villains. Now today, President Obama tells us that we must publicly fund rail systems so as to compete with the Chinese.

In the oil industry, the Rockefellers of the early 20th century gave way to the heavily regulated firms of today – and not coincidentally, the foreign oil dependence that now shapes our foreign and domestic politics.

In the automobile industry, Henry Ford entrepreneurialism gave way to government-supported unionization, subsidization, and finally, bankruptcy.

When President Obama praises the fact that we are “the nation that puts cars in driveways and computers in offices,” he neglects to mention that we are also the government that kills the car industry and ships the computer industry overseas; when he lionizes us as “the nation of Edison and the Wright brothers,” he ignores the fact that Edison has given way to government-sponsored GE, a company whose stock fluctuates with each presidential press conference; when he effervesces over Google and Facebook, he blithely overlooks the fact that his own intervention will help make those companies archaic before their time.

This is what liberalism does to industry.  It kills it.

How is it possible for such brilliant achievers to be played for chumps so easily?

The cartoon Mr Magoo never gets personally hurt, though he leaves wreckage behind him. The Magoos of business and industry cannot count on being so lucky. Obama wants to turn America into a socialist state. Socialism is the wrecker of freedom. Socialism is bad not only for the economy as a whole and so for all business and industry, but for every individual –

Except its ruling elite. So, you men of the great start-ups, of great ideas and great ability, maybe for you personally the way of Chris Hughes is the way to go: join the administration and help to wreck America.

And watch the admiration and gratitude of your country and the world, which you have now, change to anger, contempt, and unforgiving blame.