Power on the Internet

Interesting paper: Yochai Benkler, "Degrees of Freedom, Dimensions of Power," Daedelus, winter 2016:

Abstract: The original Internet design combined technical, organizational, and cultural characteristics that decentralized power along diverse dimensions. Decentralized institutional, technical, and market power maximized freedom to operate and innovate at the expense of control. Market developments have introduced new points of control. Mobile and cloud computing, the Internet of Things, fiber transition, big data, surveillance, and behavioral marketing introduce new control points and dimensions of power into the Internet as a social-cultural-economic platform. Unlike in the Internet's first generation, companies and governments are well aware of the significance of design choices, and are jostling to acquire power over, and appropriate value from, networked activity. If we are to preserve the democratic and creative promise of the Internet, we must continuously diagnose control points as they emerge and devise mechanisms of recreating diversity of constraint and degrees of freedom in the network to work around these forms of reconcentrated power.

Posted on March 28, 2016 at 6:46 AM • 28 Comments

Comments

MichaelMarch 28, 2016 7:02 AM

>If we are to preserve the democratic and creative promise of the Internet

been online since '83; did pioneering inet work from '94 and right at the above claim, namely that such a promise exists i lost interest.

i will still follow up on the link, but that boat left, err, was sunk, a long time ago as it ran into the panopticon.

DroneMarch 28, 2016 8:40 AM

Hah, I hopped on the 'Net when it was just a baby. One of my first thoughts was, "Man oh man, Big Gubbment is gonna love regulating this thing to death."

And here I sit today in Jakarta Indonesia of all places, on the eve of Taxi Union Goons and a Bloated Government lining up to strangle the likes of Uber and GrabTaxi.

Also, here in Indonesia I find zillions of useful and benign sites blocked because some Government official says they are "immoral". Peer-to-peer protocols are blocked or throttled to uselessness. And you better be careful what you say online.

Here anyway, unbridled corrupt power seems to be winning-out over so called "Degrees of Freedom".

JeroenMarch 28, 2016 8:51 AM

I often said, "The Internet of the 90s is the LSD of the 60s. Enjoy it while it lasts."

I no longer consider the "Enjoy it while it lasts." a necessary part of the quote. My new quote is: "Enjoy Tor while it lasts, and stay offline as much as you can."

SnapMarch 28, 2016 9:34 AM

Interesting. Particularly since recent studies show conformity by the masses in environments deemed to be hostile e.g. the Borg-like surveillance network known as the modern Internet.

You could change any of the tables in the study to reflect this new reality e.g. Table 2 becomes:

Power
Surveillance campaigns are designed to shape the target Ps to lead to behavior desired by the government entity implementing the panopticon. If we know the baseline practices that are the subject of for behavioral change, and if we can measure the pre- and post-campaign behavior, we can assign a value, measured in dollars spent, or in hours of the desired practice, and so forth, of the power exerted by the campaign.

Susceptibility
Public citizens apparently respond to surveillance with behavioral changes in the direction desired by the government—at least enough so as to sustain continued investment in gestapo tactics. PRISM’s chilling campaign made the public shudder and recoil, creating a desire for conformity in the masses.

Freedom
A facility that allows a user to get at desired content without being exposed to surveillance provides a degree of freedom and affordance to be free of this particular modality of power.

No-power
Where users can get at content without passing through a dystopian system that requires that permanent ID tags be paired with content—say, a Tor Web browser run in combination with a VPN & Qubes-Whonix rather than Google, Chrome and MIcrosoft 10 feeding Homeland data centers—the Feds have limited to no-power, corresponding to the users’ freedom from influence and later targeting for 're-education'

Clive RobinsonMarch 28, 2016 9:35 AM

We humans appear bad at many things.

Thus the ease of password / passphrase guessing / brut-forcing.

Another is our inability to take responsibility as it involves thought, insight empathy etc. So we delegate that to others, and do as they say for an easier life. But fail to realise, or act on the realisation that in the process the inevitable result is a hierarchy not just of expertise but in turn the knowledge gives power.

Thus we all most all ways end up with a hierarchical solution with power concentrated in the very few at the top.

Idealists tend to believe that if you give everybody a fair share of power somehow magically freedom from tyranny must result. History tells us the more power most peoplr have the more quickly they are likely to divest themselves of it to avoid the responsibility for their actions real freedom brings.

So all that power rises to the top quickly, and then ensnares and emasculates even those prepared to take their share of responsibility.

It would appear that the only way to limit this is to some how make the use of power exponentially expensive, thus creating a cap on how much power any individual can use.

However the likes of "proof of work" to limit spam messages etc has not taken off as an idea, thus we can expect no more success with power.

Icke AntbreezeMarch 28, 2016 11:33 AM

Clive Robinson: how do those who are prepared deal with such responsibility?

Donald S.March 28, 2016 12:28 PM

Clive Robinson said, "It would appear that the only way to limit this is to some how make the use of power exponentially expensive, thus creating a cap on how much power any individual can use."

This appears to be one of the things 'blockchain technology' got somewhat right. As we all know, theoretically, the reward structure of a blockchain-based incentive system is set up in such a way that it is more rewarding to compute for the blockchain than it is to compute against or manipulate the chain. Thus, the system creators assert by way of incentives the best course of action will be taken by participants, which is to act in its favor thus entrenched in its interests.

It just occurred to me how people from 50 years back see things so clearly of our modern times. The big picture becomes so much more lucid when you take a few steps back or roll back a few years.

"It is the thesis of this book that society can only be understood through a study of the messages and the communication facilities which belong to it; and that in the future development of these messages and communication facilities, messages between man and machines, between machines and man, and between machine and machine, are destined to play an ever-increasing part." Wiener

Paul M. BayMarch 28, 2016 12:28 PM

Open forum question:
Can we discuss methods to protect the free world, and at the same time prevent police state abuses from organized stalking and Cointelpro-like systems? Assume all elements have been in play for a long time, but the free world needs protection. And we must minimize killing our own citizens, scientists, and special ops, yet maintain the freedoms we value so highly. Assume all Intel and military desire to protect their citizens fully, yet cannot reveal how they do it. It is complicated, messy, and requires vast insight and compromise, as well as sacrifice and Wartime propaganda and deception. It is a vast subject, with possible political targeting. Discussion please.
Former computer expert and security specialist, with military insight.
Paul M. Bay

WaelMarch 28, 2016 1:05 PM

@Paul M. Bay,

Open forum question: Can we discuss methods to protect the free world, and at the same time prevent police state abuses...

That's a practical disposition, come up or suggest and discuss methods rather than just complain! It won't be a purely technical discussion, though!

Blank RegMarch 28, 2016 2:53 PM

In other words: "The Net sees censorship as damage and routes around it."

Marcos El MaloMarch 28, 2016 4:02 PM

It's certainly within our power to create platforms in which the users take the "control points".

An easy example is Wikipedia, which is supported by public donation and more or less administered transparently, with user input. Content is user created.

Non-profit user-centric alternatives to Facebook and Twitter have so far not succeeded in "capturing" a substantial or sustaining audience. That doesn't mean we shouldn't stop trying. I do think it's going to take a major sponsoring organization - or a coalition of them - to get the platform developed and a sufficient user base.

tyrMarch 28, 2016 4:35 PM


The simple answer is everyone has the need to know
everything. Complete transparency means whar needs
to be fixed will be exposed to those who can fix
whatever it is.

Now given the human tendency to hoarding and secrets
that will require a change in basic morality to the
survival basis instead of basing it on fantasies
formed around a goat turd fire in the bronze age.

Without the transparency you get the panopticon run
by people you would not allow to be alone with your
chickens while they run us over the edge to a major
extinction event. That solution assumes that people
want a solution to the looming problems and are going
to do something themselves about it. Depending on a
bankrupt system that thinks a static society is the
right response to a dynamic and changing world is
called suicide and mother nature has a nice niche in
the shale for suicidal species.

The real danger of transparency is that the spooks
and crooks will have to get a real job instead of
sponging off society by concocting fantasy in the
darkened corridors of their self made disneylands.

Dirk PraetMarch 28, 2016 5:44 PM

@ Clive

It would appear that the only way to limit this is to some how make the use of power exponentially expensive, thus creating a cap on how much power any individual can use.

The Belgium solution to this would be to tax power.

@ Drone

Also, here in Indonesia I find zillions of useful and benign sites blocked because some Government official says they are "immoral". Peer-to-peer protocols are blocked or throttled to uselessness. And you better be careful what you say online.

The entire point of the internet was to spread knowledge and information. That is in general not in the best interest of authoritarian regimes that want to keep the general population as ignorant and dumb as possible so they can preserve their control over them.

panopticonMarch 28, 2016 7:31 PM

@tyr

"The simple answer is everyone has the need to know everything."

Since there should be no more such thing as privacy, please divulge the following about yourself:

real name
address
phone numbers
bank account numbers
credit card numbers
pin numbers
expiration dates
drivers license numbers
social security numbers
all logins/usernames
all passwords

Come on, everyone needs to know everything, complete transparency, that way everything that's wrong with you can be fixed.

Hint: here's the reason this doesn't work: people are NOT basically trustworthy, they are basically untrustworthy! There are a few notable exceptions, but when push comes to shove, they are an extreme minority in the end. The average is to pull us all towards a worldwide horrific totalitarian future, with blood running in every street from leaders with power slaughtering their citizen slaves for not obeying every whim. That is where majority-rule leads. And it's where a-few-elite-rule leads. Both. People are basically evil to the core, not good. This is also why a panopticon only accelerates this downward trend, whereas privacy and secrecy and geopolitcal boundaries among normal people delays it (doesn't stop it, just slows it down and preserves freedom longer).

Augur KytheMarch 29, 2016 2:19 AM

Make a lot of Noise and drown the Signal

CryptoCommunications helps, especially if you encrypt everything, adding tons of encrypted Noise so that the Signal cannot be detected in all that Noise.

LOL :)

fajensenMarch 29, 2016 10:23 AM

@panopticon - "Hint: here's the reason this doesn't work: people are NOT basically trustworthy, they are basically untrustworthy!"

That's a very American perspective* ;-) IMO, the root of many of the worlds current problems is the extreme minority - who are indeed NOT trustworthy at all - getting into the "security / law enforcement business", which they then use as a platform to project their own psychological make-up onto the world at large.

Bit like the way that known flakes (everyone knows at least one) becoming a psychic healer, therapist or a coach. These have less leverage, so, less damage is caused.

Facts are:

We do not run the groceries we buy through a toxicology test. We eat out and we don't look for Polonium in our pizza. We also don't think that teachers are all paedophiles, that all nurses will poison patients given the opportunity, that all teenagers do drugs and needs to be watched 24/7, that all blacks are robbers, indeed, we don't even rip off old ladies even though we would probably get away with it too.

We would have to do *everything* *a lot* different if people were not basically trustworthy. Society, such as it is, would simply stop. Deadlocked by all the "security".

*) My children volunteer with an exchange program. American parents generally do not trust their own kids as far as they can throw them. Which is not very far at all. We don't really see that a lot with other cultures.

EpimortumMarch 29, 2016 12:11 PM

Where to start?

Hi all, it's been some time since I've posted.

Hi Bruce, I doubt you remember me but I asked you a question while you were conferencing in at LISA '13. Which by the way thank you for answering it, it was an honor to be able to converse with you, even if-ever so briefly.

And I pose that question again here, primarily in response to Clive's original statement and Paul M. Bay's "Open forum question:".

Before I begin, let me thank Bruce and all those wonderful math-folks who are far more smarter than me in working diligently in cryptography and related fields to help keep us relatively safe during this very important stop-gap period of human development.

It is apparent (to me at least) that everything, especially Info-Sec is a consistent cat and mouse game that can never be "won" as it is merely an expression of existence; that constant recycling of resources in order to maintain one's X (privacy, autonomy, security, authenticity, life, financial status, ego, whatever, ...).

Total information sharing, is not in-and-of-itself a bad thing, imagine all the MANY MANY phenomenal possibilities that become open that could improve the quality of existence for all beings.

Things become hairy when our primarily reptilian conditioned-behaviors (primarily fear) rule our actions. These behaviors have served us well in the past and are integral to survival and to satisfy that selfish gene but I wonder is there not a better way?

What can be done to remove fear and thus objectification of other beings? To increase empathy and solidarity throughout.

What (if any) is the next human evolutionary progress? Shall we destroy ourselves in the name of trying to save ourselves; shall we continue on a linear progression toward something with no significant shift in special development; or shall we move toward a Cosmic AC type of development?

So, In short what I'm saying is, is there a need to or should we even try to "hack" the human is such a way that things like poverty, hatred, objectification, over-population, rampant pollution (all of which can be viewed as expressions of fear in one guise of another) all go away or are significantly reduced by means of focusing on true long-term security where /for the most part/ the need to engage in and defend against such actions are nullified because we were able (as a species) move beyond our deeply-conditioned reptilian behavior-patterns.

I would call this generally as true security, or as close to it as can be expected (at least in my finite, still reptilian-controlled brain) :). But again, thank you everyone who does so much to help us get-by. Now, back to my day job, of in-house info-sec, doing vulnerability assessments, pen-tests, and patches, and policies.

albertMarch 29, 2016 3:08 PM

@Clive,
"...We humans appear bad at many things..."

Kudos for a succinct summation of nearly everything discussed here :)

@Paul M. Bay, @etc.,
Most industrialized cultures have devolved to a point where the social, political, and economic structures are highly integrated. Any changes, if they can be made, reverberate through the entire system. Radical change would destroy the system, much like a brain transplant would destroy the animal.

The buck stops at the human being: "We have met the enemy, and he is us." - Pogo. Robert Sapolsky, of Stanford, asked the question[paraphrased]: 'will we someday find in our brain chemistry, the cause for murderous behavior, as we have for epilepsy?'

Problems to consider in effecting social change:
1. The substitution of prisons and cardboard boxes for mental hospitals.
2. The marginalization of the poor, the minorities, and critics of the social order.
3. The failure of our educational institutions to produce well-rounded curricula and well-rounded students.
4. The failure of society to utilize a large unskilled labor force.
5. The failure of religious institutions to teach rational morality and humanistic values.

The problems are vast; the solutions half-vast.

They are no technical solutions for social problems. The abuse of technology is a social problem.

"Cassius:
"The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings." Julius Caesar (I, ii, 140-141)
. .. . .. --- ....

wumpusMarch 29, 2016 4:09 PM

Wasn't this all over by around 2000? Once the big media giants (and anybody else looking to make a ton of money) heard about the media, the first thing was to try to gather everybody up and control what they would see. The first attempt (that I remember) was trying to get everybody to use "portals". This made little sense to anybody outside of AOL, but they were enough to really drive the "portal" movement. Lots of other means were tried, but as far as I can tell the following really nailed down the modern net.

Google pretty much took over everything, especially monopolizing "no brainer advertizing".
The DMCA pretty much gave sites "freedom of the press", iff they had a full-time employee to handle takedowns. It also pretty much gave anyone permission to shut down any other site, unless they were willing to put up a legal fight (which is admittedly true for any other right in the US).
Asymmetric lines became standard/ISP agreements don't allow servers. This pretty much was the nail in the coffin for p2p, and pretty much most of the whole concept of the internet in the 1980s and early 90s. Fios sells symmetric internet (at much higher cost) and is less picky about servers, but I'm sure they aren't officially allowed. Maybe the internet still exists outside the US.

panopticonMarch 29, 2016 6:34 PM

@fajensen

Since people are basically trustworthy, why aren't people rushing to fill out my little questionnaire here? Even people who think privacy should be eliminated refuse to fill it out!!! why???

Here it is again, in case you lost it:

real name
address
phone numbers
bank account numbers
credit card numbers
pin numbers
expiration dates
drivers license numbers
social security numbers
all logins/usernames
all passwords

Come on, post them all publicly. People are basically trustworthy.

panopticonMarch 29, 2016 6:40 PM

By the way, don't post all that info publicly. You'll get ripped off and have your identity stolen. Gee I wonder why. Maybe it's the same reason privacy is a basic Human Right and helps improve society. Maybe it's the same reason Government power should be limited, not unlimited.

Marcos El MaloMarch 30, 2016 6:00 AM

@wumpus

I can understand the need to run a server out of one's home (or other secure location) for a variety of reasons, but isn't running a hosted server more cost effective? I think about ten years ago, probably more, I set up an Apache server at home for the heck of it and curiousity, and the electrical costs were more than the cheapest shared hosting.

Granted, I was using old hardware and you can get very low power stuff like Raspberry Pi these days.

ServersMarch 30, 2016 4:36 PM

@Marcos

You can't compare a high performance home server (or a very old used-to-be-considered-high-performance one) with the most terrible, awful remote hosted solution that exists... If you're going to compare a home server with shared hosting, your home server needs to be very slow, very small, and it should randomly stop working for several minutes at a time several times a day every day... The Pi is close in that it is small and somewhat slow, but it doesn't randomly get slow enough, and it stays running too much. Try pointing a monitoring service at your shared hosted site and see what I mean :)

Umm... yeah... ServersMarch 31, 2016 10:31 PM

@wumpus

Asymmetric lines became standard/ISP agreements don't allow servers. This pretty much was the nail in the coffin for p2p, and pretty much most of the whole concept of the internet in the 1980s and early 90s. Fios sells symmetric internet (at much higher cost) and is less picky about servers, but I'm sure they aren't officially allowed. Maybe the internet still exists outside the US.

I wrote the FCC a 53 page letter about this in 2012. It seems yesterday they finally got out of their 'gatekeeper' concoction haze.

DMCApril 1, 2016 3:43 AM

@MEM


I can understand the need to run a server out of one's home (or other secure location) for a variety of reasons, but isn't running a hosted server more cost effective?

The good engineering answer is always "it depends". The more direct answer is "often, of course, always, of course not". The more important answer is "there are secondary effects that you personally will enjoy, if others have that option more readily available to them". I can't speak for @wumpus, but I suspect they would agree that it is an issue of freedom of speech/press/journalism/privacy/etc. All of those things are things that the vast majority of people may not excercise the vast majority of the time. But protecting those rights for all including the vast minority that exercise them the most often, gives vast secondary benefits to all of society.

To put it entirely another way- You remember that thing with Janet Jackson's nipple on broadcast television for a couple seconds a few years ago at halftime of the superbowl? It's about that. The server that you own and control, isn't subject to the terms and conditions and restrictions of any large corporation that is more intererested in maintaining large business relationships with e.g. advertisers and more mainstream product consumers than any remotely interesting artist.

By crippling the internet as a venue with true freedom of speech, we all miss out on what might have been. Of course I'm still pretty peeved at the republicans for seeming to do more than their fair share holding back the year we see the first female POTUS. Some people will imagine it was some kind of divine timeline when it happens. I'll keep a little piece of my brain on the question of what wonders I may have missed out in my lifetime because of jerks retarding progress.

Donkey KingApril 1, 2016 6:52 PM

@PMB

Just a wild thing to try here, but maybe you could start a discussion more along the lines of "I'm not suggesting you assume anything because this is a highly charged and politiical topic, but given A, B, and C, bla bla bla". By asking the discusser to take so many vast assumptions, it engenders a certain level of wariness (at least for my psychology). Seriously, there is a joke somewhere about the word 'assume'.

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