Archive for January, 2008

The Politics of Internet Control

January 31, 2008

Government and the Web


A common assumption amongst companies and society in general is that governments cannot control what goes on beyond their borders and as a result cannot control Net communications from abroad. A good example of where national governments have asserted control abroad is over the local effects of offshore Internet communications.
The government has done this by targeting entities within their borders through coercion instead of computer sources abroad.

This has proved effective, as the Internet requires a source, an intermediary and a target. When a destination offshore, sometimes referred to as a ‘haven’, provides a source of Internet outside of the government’s physical limits to control, the government still has either the intermediary or target within its borders. This provides a key insight, which is that effective control over any of these elements of transaction provides the government with control within its borders.

Another common assumption is that with the Internet there are no intermediaries, as you don’t need an actual bookstore for example to buy a book online. However, all that has happened is that the Internet has changed these intermediaries to Internet Service Providers (ISPs), search engines and the physical network itself. This is a common mistake as most of the time these intermediaries are invisible as the Net is home to many of them in order for the whole virtual experience to function as it should.

This therefore makes local intermediaries an aspect of the Internet that cannot be eliminated. As ISP’s are deemed the most obvious and important gatekeepers to the Internet these are usually the first target for governments looking to form a strategy of intermediary control. A control that China has maintained from the very beginning over every element of the Internet.

The Politics of Internet Control

January 31, 2008

Photo by matthewjetthall at
www.flickr.com/photos/matthewjetthall/1484609462/
Original at www.opte.org/maps/

The Politics of Internet Control

January 30, 2008

Why Geography & Borders Matter?


Borders may allow for a separation of nation-state networks as highlighted by China, however, borders do play a positive role within the Internet as it permits people of different ideologies and values to coexist globally. In International law it is fundamental to have borders in place with local laws for global companies such as Google, Yahoo, eBay and AOL to comply with when doing business.

Countries can go after large multinational corporations when these companies assist in violations of local laws, but can’t control or do anything directly to Internet users outside of the geographical border. This situation for large multinationals having to abide by many overlapping and contradictory laws is nothing new. McDonalds comply with many different health regulations all over the world wherever it does business, Microsoft complies with many different consumer protection laws relevant to where it sells its software. This leads to the question, why should the Internet be any different?

The accepted answer for this is that Internet giants such as Google, Yahoo, eBay, Amazon and AOL, are all different from real-space multinational companies. This is because of the Internet’s architecture, which stops them from knowing where in the world their information content goes making it impossible to abide by all the local laws in place. It is at this point that Web giants and governments have been known to clash.

The Politics of Internet Control

January 17, 2008

Why Geography & Borders Matter?


The most fundamental difference when dealing with different geographical locations and borders, is language. When the topic of language was first raised in relation to the Net, it was believed English would become the dominant universal language that would consume the Net just as the Net would consume borders, similar to how TCP/IP had become a universal protocol making Internet communications possible. However, by 2005 it was estimated that nearly two-thirds of Internet users were not English (Goldsmith & Wu 2006), causing many Web giants to confront the issue of having more than one language available for users. Yahoo was one of these, who in the end decided to build sophisticated portals that were designed to meet local needs, allowing them to compete with other local portals that were written in local languages.

Language is not the only difference reflected by borders, culture, currency and climate to name but a few all translate into many different preferences amongst Net users in different geographical locations. The links containing the ‘choose a country’ are a very raw way of trying to map real world borders into the realms of cyberspace in an attempt to better serve Internet users in different locations.
Another significant reason for the importance of real-space geography in terms of the Internet is highlighted with Amazon.com, whose business started out with no physical presence outside of Seattle whatsoever. This soon caused problems with inefficiency and so Amazon built giant warehouses that ended up scattered all over the world close to its customers, therefore placing a heavy investment in real-space distribution.

The consequences of these geographical borders is that the Internet is soon becoming a collection of nation-state networks that are separate from each other for a number of reasons, but still linked by the Internet protocol. This separation of networks is down to the differences in language spoken, culture and geography of different nations. China is a good example of an Internet that is governed by borders and what happens when governments choose to isolate themselves. China has proved very effective at placing a virtual firewall around their country using a number of sophisticated methods that in turn have created closed national networks, reinforced by bandwidth distribution, another reflection of an evolving Internet that is soon becoming a network of national and regional connections.