The Internet is in danger and if 1.0 was its dawning, 2.0 was the creation of apps, 3.0 may go down in history as the rise of the gatekeepers. What has made the Internet so amazingly innovative is its opportunity for all. Anyone, yours truly included, can create a presence, draw attention and find journalistic and/or financial success. A level playing field made followers into entrepreneurs and created more new Internet billionaires in a shorter time than any other source of economic wealth. Just today, Twitter went public and created several more billionaires in one day.
But that equality that caused a burst of unprecedented innovation is in danger. In a very interesting read, Bruce Schneier writes in The Battle for Power on the Internet (a post you have to read):
In many cases, the interests of corporate and government powers are aligning. Both corporations and governments benefit from ubiquitous surveillance, and the NSA is using Google, Facebook, Verizon, and others to get access to data it couldn’t otherwise. The entertainment industry is looking to governments to enforce its antiquated business models. Commercial security equipment from companies like BlueCoat and Sophos is being used by oppressive governments to surveil and censor their citizens. The same facial recognition technology that Disney uses in its theme parks can also identify protesters in China and Occupy Wall Street activists in New York. Think of it as a public/private surveillance partnership.
Schneier’s warnings aren’t the only signs. We saw the rising power of gatekeepers, whether governmental or corporate, just yesterday In two stories. The first was GigaOM’s Jeff John Roberts reporting that a French court ordered Google, a third party that just indexes images on the Internet, to take down a wealthy racing executives sexual photos. Roberts wrote:
As we’ve argued before, the case is less a triumph for privacy than it is a victory for the rich and powerful of Europe to purge history. While Mosley, whose father was the head of the U.K. Fascist party, understandably wants to scrub an embarrassing episode, he is a public figure whose activities are the subject of legitimate public scrutiny. In the same way that celebrities have no right to order libraries to burn books, it’s unclear why the likes of Mosley should have the right to melt down search results.
Journalism and access to information are hallmarks of an open, just world and when the rich and powerful are able to limit what we can know, we’re moving away from the principles that make the Internet remarkable.
In the second GigaOm story, also by Roberts, he reports on the cable industry’s efforts to pour money into local elections to stop the proliferation of high-speed Internet.
In tiny Longmont, Colorado, for instance, cable companies “spent over half a million dollars trying to prevent four percent of city households from gaining access to municipal fiber on any reasonable timescale.” Longmont finally prevailed in last night’s election, passing a bond initiative to fund a next-generation fiber optic network.
In all three of these articles, the theme of gatekeepers taking over or preventing what should have been an open and equal flow of information is alarming. The attempts to assert gatekeeping control over the Internet aren’t new, but the ubiquity of connectedness and our willingness to trade free services for ‘caretaker’ corporations and government is a bad combination. For many, the Internet isn’t just a part of their lives, but has become instead the focus of their lives. If we let the focus of our lives become aligned with the whims and manipulations of others, we’re in a sad place.