Law in the Internet Society

Democratizing the Internet

-- By NuriCemAlbayrak - 25 Oct 2021

As we learn to adapt to the internet society that captures almost all parts of our existence, the fair distribution of power and control in this new age remains strikingly imbalanced. A handful of mega corporations primarily located in the United States monopolize this new continuum of our existence. Trillions of dollars concentrated in a few companies are spent to solidify the perception that the “internet” itself is Google, Facebook, Twitter, and a few others. People are kept in the dark by these companies and are prohibited from learning about the alternatives. Their data is continuously harvested for various reasons. As such, the most vital question that needs to be resolved as we are further connected to each other by the minute is how we are to democratize the internet.

What I mean by democratizing the internet is that I believe each individual who uses any of these services should be informed on the basic principles of how the internet operates and what the implications of his or her interactions with online services are. After taking this class with you, I realized that I have been a passive, unquestioning user of online platforms all my life. Even though it is now obvious to me, I never thought of actually paying for these services by allowing them to gather all sorts of data on me. And more importantly, it did not even quite cross my mind that my thought process, indicated by my online behavior by the things that I read and interact with on the internet, can be analyzed and perhaps used against me by entities unknown to me.

The question whether I can truly be a free individual while being so intimately monitored deeply unsettled me, and since taking the class I have taken some measures to become less trackable. But how about my law school friends who have not taken the course with you? Or my friends from undergrad? Or the many millions who are not educated at the best institutions in the world?

I understand that an exproprietory revolution eliminating property rights is not plausible and imminent. I have come to despise these mega corporations after taking this class and I would very much prefer such a revolution to stop them from further monopolizing the internet society we are living in. However, I also realize that it is currently unlikely as I was completely unbothered by what I had not been thinking about before taking this class along with billions of other internet users.

What can be achieved, however, is using the government to promote the safest possible use of the internet. By using the government, I mean that the government can mandate a safety protocol every time an electronic device with the capacity to connect to the internet is sold to a real person. Alternatively, I thought about whether the government could demand a license to connect to the internet, like a driver’s license, but that sounds like too much of an Orwellian measure.

However, I do not see a problem with enforcing a compulsory, educational and informational safety protocol to be communicated to an individual upon the sale of an electronic device. If what we learned in this class is true, and they are in fact true, our legislative bodies can demand sellers to inform consumers of the safety issues associated with products with internet connectivity. In formulating this thought, I am inspired by the product warning labels that we see on virtually every product we purchase. While such product labels are exclusively concerned with physical safety issues, it is not set in stone that the Congress cannot demand such warnings based on concerns such as privacy.

One issue that needs to be resolved in democratizing the internet is the monopolies such as Facebook in existence. Will they simply wither away if people know that they can use safer alternatives, such as owning our own servers like the Freedom Box? This may be the case for a small number of people that are willing to access more information upon encountering such information. However, merely letting people know that Facebook is a monopoly-like entity may not be enough. This is why I believe the government should mandate each person to at least read and sign a safety protocol at the time of purchase.

Once a legislative body agrees that devices with internet connectivity must be sold along with a safety protocol, it has to decide what needs to be included in it. This point is hard for me to grapple with, as I will likely miss several technical points that would make such a warning effective. I do believe, however, what we learned in this class is quite sensible and can be communicated to consumers in plain language. It will be then up to the consumer, the individual, to decide what to do with the knowledge that they acquire. For one, I believe such a safety protocol should describe, as plainly as possible, how the internet works. When I took this class with you, I realized that I had absolutely no idea how these systems work. I believe a plain, simple safety protocol can have diagrams explaining the basic structure of the internet. And the it should also describe how platforms such as Facebook operate on the internet, and what the alternatives are for the individual. The government can also provide a free service in helping individuals determine their options.

I realize that this may not be a revolutionary step. After all, I am not suggesting a highly sophisticated system that can liberate people’s minds and allow for a decentralized web that would allow individuals to explore ideas and express themselves without being intimately monitored by monopoly-like companies and consequently the government intelligence services by extension. However, I also fully realize that suggesting extensive government control may also have its downsides. I believe that the suggestion I am making may be a mild but effective first step.


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r3 - 07 Jan 2022 - 08:07:53 - NuriCemAlbayrak
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