Cautious About The Internet Association
I suppose it would be quite naive of me to expect the internet not to get politicised, so I don’t expect that, as much as I would want that to be the case. The internet is, after all, just an extension of humanity, and if humanity itself is so painfully divided by politics then so shall the internet. But that doesn’t mean I should like it.
So 14 internet oriented tech titans formed a lobbying group called The Internet Association, and announced their policy platform. I don’t quite have a high opinion of lobbying groups. To me “lobbying” reads something like “buying laws”, or trying to anyway, or throwing enough wealth and weight around to prevent someone else to buy laws unfavourable to special interests you are lobbying for. This is just one of the symptoms of corporatism, and a distortion of what democracy was supposed to be, even if democracy itself is a flawed concept.
I’ve always, and still to some extent do, seen the internet as resilient to this kind of stuff, as a place of refuge, and a way around the politics of the world at large. So when I see it finally get a lobbying group that seemingly aims to speak in the name of all internet users, I feel twitchy. How in the world can they speak for everyone, even if they count just US-based internet users? How in the world can anyone expect “The Internet Association” to represent the interests of anyone other than its constituents?
I suppose one way a common internet user may benefit is when the interests of the customer of these companies align with the interests of these companies. There has to be, after all, some degree of interdependence between the two. I also understand that there are other lobbying groups which are rather hostile towards what can be done on the internet today, and want to stifle and control it (namely the MPAA and RIAA). I understand that The Internet Association is meant to act as an effective counter-weight to such powers. To that degree, I can applaud the effort, slowly and cautiously.
But it still irks me, the institutionalisation of the internet by the powers whom are typically all too quick to support ideas that not every netizen necessarily agrees with yet which can still significantly affect them. I worry about the way they define this lofty concept of “internet freedom”, in terms of entitlements. Instead of stemming from the core of what freedom is, essentially the lack of restraints, they tend to think of freedom as a multitude of high level abstractions amounting to nothing more than a sacred wish list, even if these wishes come from good intentions.
I’ve explored this issue before, when The Declaration of Internet Freedom came about. It was indeed a wish list that was presented in the name of freedom. It didn’t say the government should stay away. It simply outlined how might a government meddle, and what interests should such meddling support. The unfortunate thing is that the principles outlined are in and off themselves decent ideas, and quite lofty sounding. The only problem is that politics is an ill-advised way of going about promoting these things.
For example, having the government force companies to deal with privacy concerns in a certain way actually restricts these companies’ ability to innovate, and completely ignores the fact that just about everyone whose privacy is supposedly compromised was never forced to reveal that much information about them, not to mention they weren’t forced to use the service to begin with.
That’s just one example of how defining a particular “wish” (like wishing that an internet business does things in this or that particular way) as if it was a freedom, a human right, actually collapses.
Of course, The Internet Association actually includes all of the supposed top violators of our “privacy rights” (Google, Facebook at al.). So I wonder how eager they might be to lobby for that particular “freedom” to be protected by law. Oh the irony.
The bottom line is that The Internet Association, as much as it seems as if it’s supposed to protect everyone on the internet, doesn’t and won’t necessarily do so. The point is that caution is in order before we celebrate this development with too much zeal. And the reason is that the definition of internet freedom is easily a contentious one, and the method of protecting it constitutes the same type of tactics that caused it to be threatened in the first place. Politics is dirty business. Let’s just remember that.