Adam Ross's Reviews > The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It

The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It by Jonathan L. Zittrain
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May 31, 11

bookshelves: culture, intellectual-property
Read from May 04 to 31, 2011

Do you recall the end of The Dark Knight? Batman locates the Joker through tapping into every cell phone in Gotham city, turning them into one gigantic triangulation machine. The Future of the Internet, though written before the movie, is about exactly that. It deals with the issue of tethered devices - iPads, iPods, e-book readers, webcams, flip-cams and the rest of the growing technological wonders of Web 2.0. It is commonly believed that the Internet is the harbinger of freedom and privatization.

Instead, we find a growing ability to control content and the free flow of information. Databases and newspapers copyright content so that others cannot use the statistics and content to benefit mankind. Apple, Microsoft and video game designers more and more rely upon DRM (Digital Restrictions Management) to control copying of film, music and video technology; they are attempting to assert their copyrights through technological locks that curtail fair use laws and encroach upon the public domain. Video games on the new consoles can only be installed on one console, and then only four times. Thus, gamers cannot install their games on multiple consoles - to play peer to peer, both gamers must pay the $80+ to get the game. This is the withdraw of private ownership and the dawn of an age of "use." We do not own the music and movies and games we buy online, we are paying for the privilege of using them for a certain time.

Further, it is illegal by U.S. law to "hack" the system to bypass these controls. Even if you simply want to know how these devices work if you crack their encryptions you are liable to the corporations and can be brought up on felony charges. If you are caught tampering with such technological encryption, the corporations also have the right to "brick" your console, iPad, Nook or computer, essentially killing the machine. They have the power to do this remotely, from any place on earth. Amazon has the ability to reach into every Kindle on earth and delete any content they wish - a power they have already utilized.

Police and military are already able to access your webcams and cell phones to spy on citizens. If the device is plugged in, they can be used to eavesdrop on any conversion within the microphone or camera they have. iPhones track your every movement, linked up to the google maps network, and increasingly police can confiscate these phones and download this tracking information without a warrant. In a world where devices are permanently linked to the internet, serious privacy issues and violations are already here. The newly debuted "cloud computers," which have no hard drive, but hold all their applications and content on the internet cloud, draw questions about privacy, control, and ownership. If I store documents on a cloud owned by a corporation, does this count as a "work-for-hire," in which case the corporation possesses the copyright of my work?

But, Zittrain is quick to say, this recent development within internet programming was not inevitable, nor is it going to last forever. The strong resurgence of anti-DRM, anti-"bricking," movements and the growth of "freeware" and open source programming on the internet is a positive step towards freeing the internet from the control of the powerful and allowing for the true burgeoning of culture, creativity and technology. We must fight and assert our rights - the right to fair use, the right to "mash-up," the right to freedom of information, the right to keep the government and the corporations out of our computers, e-readers, iPods and game consoles. The personal computer flourished because it allowed for user calibration; anyone could write programs to use the machines for anything. We must assert this right with our e-readers, and the rest of our technology.

This was a really important book. At first I thought the issues revolving around copyright was a marginal issue. Now I'm beginning to see it is almost entirely central to the explosive growth of corporate power in our country, and actually allows them to copyright ideas, information, statistics, and all later use with tight regulation and technological blocks. This is nothing less than turning "culture" into "commodity," to the point where these multinationals can literally own and control the use of culture itself.
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