Prior to the 21st century society greatest inventions were the automobile, the telephone, the airplane as a means of communication and transportation. Now individuals are blessed with the Internet. It is commonly regarded that the Internet is a manifesto of technology that allows human beings to interact with one another using networking services. The Internet has broken down the barriers and means of traditional communication. In cyberspace, people can talk with each other regardless of location.
It can be defined as a “unique medium” with no geographical location but available to anyone (p. 21). It is not only used for communication but information searching, listings of products and services, advertising of large/small businesses, and much more. In essence, the Internet can be regarded as a separate entity from our own physical world – a digital utopia. The question being raised is, with the large scale of the internet, how is it maintained or even controlled? Jack Goldsmith and Tim Wu’s book Who Controls the Internet?
Illusions of a Borderless World gives a perfect example of how the Internet is being directly (and indirectly) controlled by territorial government. As each section of the book is uncovered, it is clearly pointed out that national governments through control of local and global intermediaries and coercion exercise dominate control over the digital empire. The book is subdivided into three large sections. In the first section Wu and Goldsmith marks the impression to the readers that the Internet is in fact a “libertarian state” where users can freely express themselves.
The authors argue at the commencement of the Internet there are no actual “rulers” or “governors” of the Internet rather it was the upheaval of a Digital American Revolution, that’s built on “language and reason and our fail in each other” (p. 22). The authors later indicate that it was open because it was willing to “accept almost any kind of computer or network”. Thus it is a society that is ruled by the humanity that resides within the Internet. “Humanity united might do better than our lousy systems of government, throw away the constructs of the nation-state, and live in some different but better way” (p. 7).
Section two establishes that users from different geographical regions want their information presented in their local language. As the author pointed that language is one of the most important aspects on the internet. It gives the example that people in Brazil, Korea and France do not want English versions of Microsoft products but rather want a version they can fully understand (p. 50). As the next section unravels we start to notice how digital humanity needs rulers and starts to get involved how national governments are governing the borders of the internet.
It proves that government uses coercion and local intermediaries to restrict and even block content that is on the internet. An example would be Nazi merchandise and hate sites appearing on French networks and even an incident in China where a 15 year old girl Liu Di was punished by the Chinese government when she was making an argument comparing the Chinese government and a prostitute. It also points out how controlling Governments can be a beneficial factor in regulating illegal activities such as file sharing and copyrighting.
The final section of the book shows how the government aims to make the borders of the Internet a haven that protects its citizens from harm. This section explores the aspect of globalization and competing countries in controlling the Internet. Europe, U. S. and China all wishes to have a centralized power over the Internet. If two out of three countries that are in favour of online gambling while the one third is not, how can a borderless digital society solve this problem? The sections encourages decentralized governments to work together to adapt to people’s needs and respond in a more positive manner (p. 53).
For the struggle of ultimate control lies within national governments – and a problem of clashing government interests and priorities can be a serious concern for the future of the Internet (p. 171). Wu and Goldsmith both agreed that this is the “beginning of a technological version of the cold war, with each side pushing its own vision of the Internet’s future” (p. 184). In order for the book to draw readers closer into fully understanding the Internet the authors must not only make a compelling argument but the style and construction of the book is also important.
This essay will discuss four areas in which the book was successful or non-successful into helping readers understand the importance of national governments and their role on the Internet. The notable points in creating a compelling argument lie within the thesis, the method(s) of research, the evidence that supports the thesis and the overall evaluation/recommendation. The first point that’s important in this book is the thesis. The thesis is the main point the authors are trying to make throughout the entire book.
In the book Who Controls the Internet Wu and Goldsmith stated their thesis in the conclusion rather than the introduction. Instead they decided to allure readers by telling a short story in the introduction to foreshadow readers into the overall point of the book. In my opinion the thesis of the book can found on page 180 where it reads “Beneath of fog of modern technology, we have seen the effects of coercive governmental force on local persons, firms and equipment” (p. 180). Ironically, this is not the thesis that users anticipated on hearing when they decide to read the book.
On the back cover of the book it reads “a book about the fate of one idea – that the Internet might liberate us forever from government, borders and even our physical selves”. (Wu and Goldsmith) Wu and Goldsmith prompted readers with a general idea then throughout the book used examples and heated evidence to prove that idea wrong. It gives readers the perception that the Internet is in fact a challenge to governmental rule rather than the idealistic entity of freedom and liberty.
The thesis was not always stated at the end of the book rather the author hinted their thesis throughout chapters to reinforce their main point along the way. For instance in chapter 5, Wu and Goldsmith talk about how local intermediaries are present and how government uses coercion to control these intermediaries, thus “ruling the internet” (p. 65). The authors stated that it would be extremely easy for individuals to “overlook how often governments control behavior not individually, but collectively, through intermediaries” (p. 68).
The authors use the example of HavenCo to reinforce their thesis. In the book HavenCo was described as “the first place on earth where people are free to conduct business without someone looking over their shoulder” (p. 65). Shortly after, HavenCo became the object of negativity where porn and other offensive content were being hosted. Due to their business model they would not seek out cooperative intermediaries. However falling into a downward spiral, HavenCo became desperate so they looked towards national governments for assistance.
However the government would not oblige since it was hosting offensive content and demanded that HavenCo remove the material. Of course, without this aspect “HavenCo was nothing”. And now without the support of powerful government officials and intermediaries HavenCo is now a “jumbled pile of network equipment, rotting and obsolete” (p. p. 84-85). The authors presents the readers with a clear and indirect thesis in each chapter, and as each chapter passes they are vividly trying to reinforce their thesis by providing real life evidence that happens in the midst of the digital society.
Other notable examples that are highlighted in the book that supports the thesis would be the Chinese government sometimes with help from Yahoo, seize political dissidents and put them in prison (p. 181). Next, the government that are threatening Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and search engines and credit card companies with fines so that they can filter out offensive net communications. And, it is clear that Jon Postel and the Internet’s founders give up control over their creation under implied threats of governmental force.
And finally, under the aspect of file sharing (where it was debated it would be hardest to control) governments have executed hidden but important ways to fuel coercion on the economy of file-sharing and “tilts the playing field to favour law-abiding companies like Apple” (p. 181). The authors have a very climatic way to communicate their thesis to the reader, By presenting support evidence and a strong conclusion they are in fact proving to readers that the government does control the internet. The next section uncovers the methodology that the authors used to present their topic.
In order to prove their thesis they need an abundant amount of information. Not only does this information provide historical insight in the topic but it grants validity in the matter. In the book the authors have presented much needed evidence that governments control the internet, as each chapter is unraveled the readers are engulfed with powerful side stories of the lives of specific individuals that resided in the digital age. The book uses a combination of statistical information and encoded facts, personal biographies and appealing stories.
If we direct our attention to the sources at the end of the book we notice that the authors use a hefty number of secondary sources. The only notable errors that are present in their methodology were that the sources they used were a little out of date. Old sources will lead to skewed results and that might cause a misinterpretation of the research. The book was written and published in 2006 but the majority of sources they used were within the 1998-2001 timeframe. Although they did use several sources that were recent (2005) it still does not change the fact that the Internet and technology are always changing in real time.
With this change it’s rather hard to keep up and readers can be misinformed of with irrelevant information rather than significant information. Although with these slight flaws in the book, the methods were applied correctly in the sense that it is very easy to understand. They have broken the entire book into three parts; each part builds up information for that peak ending (or thesis). The methods were appropriate in the sense that the authors had a balance of evidence to support their claim.
For example, the information gathered was not all focused on the government’s point of view but rather an equal split between government, organizations and individuals. It would be naive to think that a proper thesis can be proved without the support of evidence. Methodically the authors predominately still influence the readers with horror stories and statistics of government coercion on digital societies to prove their thesis. For example, the chapter on China outlines President Bill Clinton’s visit to the foreign land.
Clinton observed that users required national ID cards before logging on. Regulated cafes also featured cameras pointed directly at the computer screen and police officers would occasionally monitor users right behind their back (p. 97). In China the Internet is far from being a liberating force but rather it is the major attraction for government surveillance. As previously mentioned Liu Di was arrested on personally insulting the government over the Internet, shortly after Liu Di’s story was printed in the press as a warming to all other civilians using the Internet.
Throughout the book we see many stories that mimic the true horrors of the Internet, presented in a non-fictitious way to leaves readers shunned into believing the overall message of the book. Other factual occurrences that are displayed in Wu and Goldsmith’s methodology are the Kazaa/Napster case where digital piracy was at its initial state. Napster, a company located in the United States was battling with court officials to stay alive. With no luck, a simple U. S. ourt order was easily enforced and that led “to a total system collapse” (p. 108). Another factor that stands out with the evidence was that it’s very diverse in the geographical sense. The authors not only present their ideas from the American standpoint but tackles on other regions of the world. In the introduction the authors commences a deep discussion on global borders of the internet, the evidence and support was from a simply disgruntled individual that didn’t like seeing Nazi merchandise on the French site of Yahoo (p. p. 1-10).
By using this intrinsic method of communicating the thesis they are successful in the sense of drawing readers. This chapter rather than supporting the thesis, they argue against it saying that the Internet “cannot be regulated”. Using factual data, they are offering both sides of the story in a very objective manner. This helps readers understand the thesis a little better and perhaps even raise serious questions on a political, global and technological standpoint. Who Controls the Internet is a very accurate portrayal of the digital society.
It tells readers the important message that originally the Internet was designed to liberate individuals and it was designed to escape government and borders, but without the government mingling in affairs the Internet as we know it today wouldn’t flourish. One of the few appealing factors of this book is that it speaks out in a very clear and engaging style. Within each chapter the author conveniently uses sub-headings to divide important topics and that each chapter features several compelling stories.
The two authors, who are both lawyers does an excellent job of communicating the legal issues to the readers without heavy use of legal jargon. Despite the many praises the book gets, it still has some flaws. In my opinion the flaws are contained within the unnecessary pictures and images that are included. Many (if not all) of the pictures are unneeded. For instance on page 4 it shows a rather large photo of the Palais de Justice, where the Yahoo case was litigated and similarly on page 66 shows a picture of Sealand where HavenCo was initiated. Although visualizations are nice they have no purpose in proving the thesis.
How can a picture of Jon Postel who is described as “a rambling, ragged look, living in sandals, and a large, unkempt beard” help readers understand the dominate government forces on the Internet. In another part of the book Wu and Goldsmith dedicated half a page to Steve Jobs and as a background; shows a skull and sword insignia and was labeled “Piracy”. In retrospect the authors should have gotten rid of filler photography and replaced it with diagrams, which brings up the next flaw, the limited use of diagrams within the book. A diagram can help readers understand the point the author is trying to prove in either a passage or chapter.
Back to the Steve Jobs example, if the authors showed using a diagram how Apple and national governments were combating internet piracy it would strengthen their thesis in proving that government controls most sides of the Internet. Or even a timeline that showed how government intervened with such programs such as Napster, Kazaa and then taking on Apple. This book appeals to a large audience of graduate, undergraduate students and professors teaching either politics or information technology. The benefits include that readers of this book can raise important questions and use these questions as the foundation for political debates.
The content is not the only contributing factor in a well rounded book, Wu and Goldsmith does an excellent job in constructing the book that’s easily presentable to the reader. Even an individual with very little prior knowledge of the Internet can understand the book. Each term is defined when it is firstly introduced. Next, at the end on page 187 the authors implemented a “frequency used abbreviations” section and the definition in case the reader is having a hard time following due to the technological jargon. In conclusion, there are four areas that were used to critically analyze the book.
They are the thesis, the methodology, the evidence used to construct the book and the personal evaluation. This book presents many important topics that relate to past, presents and futures of the technological era. It is telling a story where digital democracies suffer at the ends of coercive governments. It is not just powerful nations have the power to reshape the Internet’s architecture, more specifically it is the United States, China and Europe using their dominate power to reestablish their own version of the Internet.
Courtney from Study Moose
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