Who knew? It’s already been half a century since the first message was sent across the Arpanet. That moment lead to me being able to post the following diatribe that no one will read. Oh the wonders of modern technology!
Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web (which is different from the Internet itself), over the last year has spearheaded a movement to try to somehow reconfigure the Web to make it more open and free. He didn’t like how the Web was used to create things like Twitter and Facebook (these are walled gardens) and I don’t think he likes how all traffic around the world is basically controlled by Google through search (leveraging a superior search product to sell advertising).
The solution? A “Contract for the Web“. Just by the naming of this you can tell it will never work. The Contract has a set of principles. They are:
- Ensure everyone can connect to the internet
- So that anyone, no matter who they are or where they live, can participate actively online.
- Keep all of the internet available, all of the time
- So that no one is denied their right to full internet access.
- Respect people’s fundamental right to privacy
- So everyone can use the internet freely, safely and without fear.
- Make the internet affordable and accessible to everyone
- So that no one is excluded from using and shaping the web.
- Respect consumers’ privacy and personal data
- So people are in control of their lives online.
- Develop technologies that support the best in humanity and challenge the worst
- So the web really is a public good that puts people first
- Be creators and collaborators on the web
- So the web has rich and relevant content for everyone.
- Build strong communities that respect civil discourse and human dignity
- So that everyone feels safe and welcome online.
- Fight for the web
- So the web remains open and a global public resource for people everywhere, now and in the future.
Why will this Contract fail? Because only the United States has a Constitution that protects natural rights and natural rights are directly tied to the Internet and the Web. The European Union, Russia, China, and other nations have already taken steps to ensure the current Web or its progeny will never be open and unencumbered.
Is Internet access a natural right? No. By the fact of your birth are you entitled to access to a computer network? It’s ridiculous to argue that it is. Being human does not require a computer at all. How will countries that don’t respect natural rights “ensure” that everyone can connect? Does that mean a government subsidized system? I will get taxed so someone else can get online? That’s just stupid.
All the world is moving to limit speech and therefore will not keep all of the Internet available all of the time. In the EU, there is the “right to be forgotten”. It doesn’t matter if it’s on the public record or not but an individual can petition to have things removed online (or at least blocked from view in the EU) to protect people from humiliation. In the United States, the Congress continually grills social media companies for things their users post. The US already passed a law years ago that protects so-called “platforms” such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube from lawsuits from content posted by users. However, the more these social media companies get into censoring posts and takedowns of content the more they are looking like traditional publishers and less like platforms. If they continue to move down that road I can’t see a difference between them and television networks or newspapers. Either leave the speech alone or become responsible for what gets posted. You can’t have it both ways. Congress is largely full of people that aren’t interested in upholding their oath of office and more interested in control of the public. It’s not like they care about social media companies being publishers or platforms. As long as the content is content they agree with they are happy otherwise the posts are fake and illegal.
On the right to privacy, if you are receiving a product for no cash compensation how do you expect the company providing the product to make money? Broadcast TV, at least in the US, is free. How do they make money? Through advertising. They using rating systems to figure out the people who are watching and try to push ads to those demographics. It’s the same for Google, Facebook, and Twitter. They do nothing more than what magazines (when print was big) used to do. I remember when subscribing to PC Magazine, back in the 1980’s, that they would have a little survey of your interests to gauge who their readers are. After completing the survey you would start receiving all kinds of offers in the mail for things surrounding that survey. Was that wrong of them to do? They obviously sold my name, address, and personal preferences and they did this while I paid for a subscription. That’s how print media stayed afloat. How is that different from Google seeing keywords in my e-mail and pushing ads or Facebook seeing posts about food and pushing me ads for restaurants?
The Contract calls for companies to make the Internet affordable and accessible to everyone. It is impossible to define affordable. What is affordable to me may not be affordable to you. And what will define accessible? Say I pay $50 for a connection that gives me 100 mbps down and 12 mbps up. Is that affordable? Does that speed level give me access to everything? I don’t think you can stream 4k at those speeds but I can surely watch streaming video and download any kind of audio and text. Who will decide these things? Some blue ribbon committee?
What is the best in humanity and what is the worst? Are non-profits good and for-profits bad? I think modern non-profits are actually profit generating entities and exist largely to employ people and shape public policy towards some political agenda. Sure there are the non-profit organizations that actually exist to perform altruistic functions and do good for their communities but what about the big boys like the Red Cross, American Heart Association, American Diabetes Association, and the American Cancer Society? I don’t trust that, at the top of the organizations, they are interested in solutions for the purposes for which they were formed. I believe they exist to make money for the executives and the top management layers and nothing else. The people at the middle and bottom, and especially unpaid volunteers, are actually trying to help people but in my mind are mere slaves that prop up corrupt organizations. With for-profit organizations at least you know explicitly what they are about. Profit. Pure and simple. They are there to sell you something in order to make money. In my mind, that helps people more than any non-profit. What has produced more to benefit the world? Microsoft or the American Diabetes Association? How many wealthy people did Microsoft help create? How has that wealth created more wealth through other companies? How has that wealth created more philanthropy? The American Diabetes Association on the other hand doesn’t even acknowledge that a low carbohydrate diet reduces the risk of Type 2 Diabetes. This while people are literally getting off of their insulin by adopting a low or very low carbohydrate diet, essentially curing themselves through diet.
Calling for citizens (of which country?) to be creators and collaborators, build strong communities that respect civil discourse, and fight for the Web. What nonsense is this? Content creation part is easy. I’m doing it now (regardless of whether or not this content is consumed). But what about building strong communities that respect civil discourse and human dignity? This cannot be defined. What if racists want to create their own social network that denounces all other races that are not their own in the belief that the other races are not human? To them those people are not human and don’t deserve dignity. In the United States, this type of community and speech used to be protected under the First Amendment and I would argue that it should be. The First Amendment is under assault by people that don’t want their feelings hurt or for ideas that they may find abhorrent to be spread. While I find the idea of Communism and Socialism abhorrent where others don’t I would not seek to silence those people. Whereas those that find Capitalism abhorrent seek to demonize those that believe in that system and shout them down. How will any Contract for the Web protect that when the U.S. Constitution is having a difficult time with it?
To me, what needs to be protected and spread across the world, is the U.S. Constitution. There is no other document that protects the natural rights of human beings the way it does. If governments across the world adopt this there will be no need for any Contract for the Web.