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article imageOp-Ed: Reinventing the Internet— Regulate, modernize, or both?

By Paul Wallis     Mar 13, 2018 in Internet
Sydney - People are fed up with an internet which is as much a risk as an asset. Nor is online business so great for revenue or risks. Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the guy who invented the internet, wants regulation. That may not be enough.
Berners-Lee, in fact, is one of the strongest, and most consistent, critics of his invention. In a big money environment where self-criticism is rare, to say the least, his voice carries genuine credibility. His open letter, published on the occasion of the internet’s 29th birthday this week on Web, is unambiguous.
He asks two questions. One is how to connect the other half of the world. The other, murderously relevant, question is how many people actually want to be connected to the current web. In the process, he’s outlined the challenges, and the messy state of the internet as it now is.
Please note: This open letter is an excellent description of the many big issues facing the future of the internet. It’s well worth reading in its original form, rather than cherry picking specific comments.
Connecting the rest of the world may or may not be a natural evolutionary process. We’ve seen how some countries limit the internet, and use it as a vehicle for everything from espionage to commercial hacking. This is the environment in which regulation and innovation must work, and they can only work to the point that people and governments are prepared to let it work.
A brief-ish digression
There’s another, much less appealing side to the current chaos. It’s always infuriated me that the greatest form of human communication in history has been abused by mediocrities. The internet can deliver major positives in human life. Most people get on pretty well online. The crime, heat, hate and flak is abnormal and very atypical of most online behaviour that I’ve seen over the years.
If it weren’t for paid trolls, fake news factories, spam, scams, and “genius” hackers who don’t even write their own code, the internet would be truly great. The fact that these useless bastards are enabled by a grotesque global internet security industry which is great at spreading panic but not much else doesn’t help, either.
Another very important point raised by Berners-Lee is the very iffy advertising-based revenue model, which has really lost a few wheels recently. The absurd, untargeted, godawful placement of ads MUST be addressed. Why anyone still thinks that 24/7 sales pitches can possibly work is a mystery, but resistance to advertising is very high, and ad revenue is getting trashed.
Berners-Lee makes the valid point that massive companies are shifting the centre of gravity online, which is true, but also inevitable. A rebalance is also inevitable.
Facebook, Amazon, Alibaba, Apple, Google, etc. will have company in the major leagues soon enough, particularly if AI has anything like the expected impacts on business and operational efficiencies and innovation. I don’t think anyone can really afford to have these big cash cows take major damage, but they need the laws set very clearly at neutron star levels to carry any weight. (Point being that these corporate “misdemeanours” are almost all in legally very grey areas. Even if they try to do the right things, they need some clear legal objectives to work with.)
Regulation and modernization
In terms of regulation, Berners-Lee quite rightly wants a real panorama of entities like governments, business, tech, and other natural participants to get active. They can help with everything from regulating the internet to practical fixes to achieve the goals of a truly accessible, fully functional, safe, environment.
Nothing wrong with that. Cynic that I am, however, I’d like to propose an added fix or so to make the internet a much harder target in the process:
Use of blockchain as a security option: Blockchain isn’t invulnerable, but it is a starting point. If you want to stop hacking, ransomware, etc., turn any hack in to a digital bureaucratic horror story. Blockchain is also the obvious emerging forensic level front line option for many digital operations. Blockchain can be customised for just about any purpose, and built in to the financial aspects of operations with ease. There are many good ideas for business models based on blockchain, too, including White Rabbit, a good, and pretty strong monetization approach.
Global and local jurisdiction management: Thinking and acting both globally and locally can pin down things like botnets, and track troll trails like proxies, etc. This could easily it in to basic law enforcement, anywhere on Earth. An added plus is that trying to get around global and local laws is very difficult, even for lawyers, let alone professional online parasites.
Consistent international cyber laws: The longest-running myth of all time on the internet is that there are no laws. That has NEVER been the case. The mere fact that something is done online doesn’t make it exempt from any law or civil action. Formalizing these laws, and adding things like privacy values to increase the scope of legal reach for hackers, doxing, swatting, etc. would be very useful.
Anti-ransomware built-in fixes and safeguards: This is a very tricky issue costing people a lot of money around the world. Ransomware should be beatable with a single, Fix Everything code which can be accessed from anywhere. Kill the method, and you kill the problem. Operating systems should be able to say “to hell with you, I’m not shutting down”, even the notorious sleepy OS which put themselves in to a coma. The We Don’t Know How to Fix it approach is simply not an acceptable situation.
In short, we have a truly unlimited piece of string to work with. We need to be able to map the string systematically, see where it’s going, see where the knots and tangles are, and make the right moves to avoid the now-traditional train wrecks. This particular piece of string has a bad habit of turning in to a noose, and it needs to be straightened out on an ongoing basis. THAT’s the big challenge.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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