Consent of the Networked; The Worldwide Struggle for Internet Freedom
© 2012 Rebeca MacKinnon
A couple of weeks ago I read Who Controls the Internet, which covered in part nation-states’ role in reasserting national boundaries in cyberspace. Consent of the Networked examines threats to the open internet, both from states and corporations. The threats are not always overt, like the Chinese state apparatus that keeps the Chinese internet connected to the global net only through a half-dozen filtered gateways, or the common suppression of social networks in times of social unrest, as we witnessed in Tunisia and Egypt during their respective revolutions, and in Iran during the controversial reelection of former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The author also examines more indirect threats to an open internet; the irresponsible privacy policies at Facebook, for instance, which issue updates that change privacy settings without giving appropriate forewarning. In some countries, a policy update that exposes bloggers, tweeters, etc’s real identities can lead to imprisonment or worse. Other threats include the end of Net Neutrality, an end which might channel people into using particular social networks. If those networks are as cavalier about user info as places like Yahoo and Facebook have been, activists and others could be compromised all too easily. MacKinnon also sees overly-aggressive attempts by companies to protect their intellectual property as a threat to free expression.
Intriguingly, MacKannon does not demonize solely the private sector or the public; both have compromised people, and the free democracies have few bragging rights: just recently, the United States and United Kingdom were both named as ‘enemies of the Internet’ for their intensive surveillance. (Sometimes public and private work together, as when Cisco became a partner to China in its firewall enterprise, and Yahoo thoughtlessly handed over user info when requested…again, by China.) MacKinnon isn’t particularly enthusiastic about the United Nations, either, but holds that international agreements are a necessary road forward given the internet’s global nature. While the only surprise here for me was the degree of European governments’ internet surveillance and strictures. Given their constant run-ins with Google over privacy, I’d had the impression they were better about safeguarding private internet security than the U.S.