Home > Cloud Computing, Digital Policy, NSA, Privacy > The Future of The Net, and Online Privacy

The Future of The Net, and Online Privacy

I’ve come across a lot of posts recently from the tech news sector and from some very well respected tech analysts that the future of an open internet is at great risk. 

A lot has been happening lately with respect to online privacy with respect to the NSA “leaks”, copyright filters being applied in the UK to try and curb “piracy”, and control content online and also curb the use of porn.  If you look at the here and now, yes the future looks pretty bleak, and the sky “looks” to be falling in on the internet as we know it.  However I have a very much different view on where this is all heading. There’s no doubt that we are in a turning point for the Internet, but to fully understand where we could be heading, one must look at the very fabric of the internet and the evolving technology and innovation surrounding it.

The Internet was built in the 60’s for the specific purpose of making sure the Russians didn’t gain control over US satellites in space, nor US military communications.  They did this by building in a series of protocols to make the network (the Internet) uncontrollable.  The best description of this came from the EFF’s co-founder Mitch Kapor in an interview for the BBC’s Virtual Revolution series (which inspired my Virtual Revolution in Canada podcasts) a few years ago.  Kapor described how these protocols work as compared with a road block on a busy highway.  When a road block or in this case censorship is put into place, traffic can be rerouted to different parts of the city to get around that road block.  The Arab spring brought that very point to light, where Governments tried to shut down Internet communications and block people and protestors from posting what was happening on the ground.  That was unsuccessful, as traffic just rerouted easily through the use of available software to evade these road blocks.

Those with post secondary education in the software engineering and development fields think of things a bit differently than most.  Computer code is inputted by humans.  Humans are not perfect, nor is the code they design, thus currently developed software will always have bugs and back doors, that includes firmware. Until the day when computers can code themselves and the perfect code is developed (still at least a decade to a few decades out) than there will always be ways around the road blocks.  It’s reminiscent of a “cold war” stalemate in the tech sector, and this has been going on since the birth of the net and will continue for sometime.  All Governments do by putting in place those roadblocks is make the routes around them more mainstream especially when implementing block filers for things like porn as the UK has recently done.  Forgive me, but the human race is horny, and the porn industry is on the leading edge of technology and the driving force for change in technology in the media sector.  They are the ones that brought you your old VCRs, home entertainment and HD content.  So setting up road blocks on the porn industry, is probably not the best idea and will most likely defeat any attempt at censorship online in the future since those tools to evade that censorship will be brought into the mainstream big time!

Now on to my favorite topic privacy.  Back at the beginning of the year, if I wrote a blog telling you that the NSA is spying on global communications and that the US security industry has been lobbying hard for the next gen gaming consoles to be used as tools with that respect, I probably would have been viewed by most as some crazed lunatic who has tin foil wrapped around his head.  I don’t think that the lead on privacy issues will be coming from governments, but rather the market place, businesses and consumers.

A few years ago, there was a chill in the global business community on how the whistle-blowing website Wikileaks was treated.  The US government took action on Wikileaks by seizing it’s domain, and use of tools for funding such as Paypal and Visa, Mastercard (which is widely used in e-commerce globally).  This got the attention of a lot of businesses globally looking towards cloud based solutions and a potential for any Government around the world to destroy a business based on the Government of the day’s political beliefs, and problems associated with keeping business secrets secret and their customers data secure from praying eyes.  The NSA leaks recently have solidified those concerns.

As I reported on last week the US economy is projected to lose $21.5 – $35 billion over the next 3 years due to concerns the business community has with storing their data on US servers primary due to the NSA revelations. 36% of US businesses surveyed stated since the NSA disclosures it has made it  more difficult to do business outside of the US.  Basically the US IT sector took a HUGE reputation hit from the NSA leaks.  I found an interesting article on smartdatacollective.com by Mark van Rijmenam who is the founder of the online big data knowledge platform BigData-Startups.com. Rijmenam stated:

“Those organizations that stick to the ethical guidelines will survive, other organizations that will take privacy lighthearted will disappear, as privacy will be self-regulating. The problem will be however with the governments as citizens cannot simply move away from their government. Large public debates about the effects of big data on consumer privacy will be inevitable and together we have to ensure that we do not end-up in Minority Report 2.0 or in a ‘1984-setting’.”

From the looks of last weeks reports, innovation within the business sector seems to be happening starting with the cloud sector of IT.  We know the business to business sector is starting to step up to the plate on privacy issues, what about consumers?  In another blog post Rijmenam explains:

Although big data technology makes it absolutely possible to follow our every move at any time and anywhere, it does not mean that organisations can do whatever they want with that data. We know that generation X and the baby boomers are very careful about their privacy. Generation Y is also very conscious about privacy and “just because they want to be in public, does not mean they want to be public” as mentioned by Dana Boyd in her talk at the TechKnowledge conference.

Couple that with the Canadian experience:

Conclusion: Users (consumers) are still very much in control of the Internets future.  Businesses and government policies will have to innovate in order to follow through market demands around privacy and content distribution in an uncontrollable environment.  I believe that it will be innovation within the private sector that will secure this future.  There is a very real economic cost to putting privacy on the back burner for private interests.  There is no doom and gloom that the internet as we know it will end, just evidence that it’s evolving. It’s still very much a “cold war” tech stalemate, while one “faction” is trying to gain control, the other focuses on tech innovation around the net’s protocols and foundations that make that control impossible, and so the cycle repeats as it has since the birth of the Internet.  We’re just currently in a transition phase to Web 3.0!

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  1. August 15, 2013 at 3:13 PM

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