Monday, March 10, 2014

Neelie Kroes: The New Spokesperson for European Cluelessness

According to a report that appeared this morning on the BBC News Web site, Neelie Kroes, Vice-President of the European Commission, gave a speech at Cebit in Hannover at which she declared that billions of people around the world do not trust the Internet. There is something chilling and disconcerting about the fact that there are people in high positions of power who take this to be a significant insight. It is a sure sign that those who see themselves as world leaders are just as clueless about history as those who mindlessly evangelize Internet technology.

To the extent that computer networks were originally designed with little thought of oversight and regulation at the network level, the Internet is fundamentally anarchic. When access was limited to institutions with funding connections to the Advance Research Projects Agency at the Department of Defense, there was a top level of oversight to the extent that those who attempted to abuse the network risked being disconnected from it. (On the other hand some of them were hired for their expertise in finding cracks in the walls of security and became pioneers with a technology that, by all rights, should now be much further developed than it actually is.) However, as those who used to haunt Usenet recall full well, with the first opening of a more public access to what is now the Internet came (almost instantaneously) the first effort to use the network as a medium for advertising. This, in turn, led to the development of a major technology that is less concerned with broadcasting the same message over the entire Internet through spam techniques and more interested in harvesting and analyzing data about individual users for the sake of more "targeted" advertising.

From that point of view, while I sympathize with Angela Merkel's indignation at having been hacked by the National Security Agency (NSA), I wish that she had been more aware that NSA was not doing anything to her that Google was not already capable of doing (and probably was doing as part of their advertising business).

The bottom line is that there was never anything built into the Internet that warranted trust, nor has anything particularly effective been retrofitted. In the early days of this site, I liked to compare the Internet to the frontier town of Deadwood, which, at the time, was the focus of a fascinating series on HBO. The Internet is still Deadwood. All that has changed is that the city limits encompass an even larger area.

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