Ramblings & ephemera

Arguments against the Web’s ungovernability

From Technology Review‘s “Taming the Web“:

Nonetheless, the claim that the Internet is ungovernable by its nature is more of a hope than a fact. It rests on three widely accepted beliefs, each of which has become dogma to webheads. First, the Net is said to be too international to oversee: there will always be some place where people can set up a server and distribute whatever they want. Second, the Net is too interconnected to fence in: if a single person has something, he or she can instantly make it available to millions of others. Third, the Net is too full of hackers: any effort at control will invariably be circumvented by the world’s army of amateur tinkerers, who will then spread the workaround everywhere.

Unfortunately, current evidence suggests that two of the three arguments for the Net’s uncontrollability are simply wrong; the third, though likely to be correct, is likely to be irrelevant. In consequence, the world may well be on the path to a more orderly electronic future-one in which the Internet can and will be controlled. If so, the important question is not whether the Net can be regulated and monitored, but how and by whom. …

As Swaptor shows, the Net can be accessed from anywhere in theory, but as a practical matter, most out-of-the-way places don’t have the requisite equipment. And even if people do actually locate their services in a remote land, they can be easily discovered. …

Rather than being composed of an uncontrollable, shapeless mass of individual rebels, Gnutella-type networks have identifiable, centralized targets that can easily be challenged, shut down or sued. Obvious targets are the large backbone machines, which, according to peer-to-peer developers, can be identified by sending out multiple searches and requests. By tracking the answers and the number of hops they take between computers, it is possible not only to identify the Internet addresses of important sites but also to pinpoint their locations within the network.

Once central machines have been identified, companies and governments have a potent legal weapon against them: their Internet service providers. …

In other words, those who claim that the Net cannot be controlled because the world’s hackers will inevitably break any protection scheme are not taking into account that the Internet runs on hardware – and that this hardware is, in large part, the product of marketing decisions, not technological givens.

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