Gated Online Communities

Inspired in part by concerns raised by the Conficker worm the New York Times posed a question in Sunday’s Week in Review:  Do We Need a New Internet? The issues are not new to anyone who has read Larry Lessig’s Code (either the original or Code 2.0) or Jonathan Zittrain’s The Future of the Internet–And How to Stop it, or anyone who has taken my Internet law course.  The Internet was built to facilate sharing research among scientists, academics, and defense researchers.  It valued openness, decentralization, and ease of use over security.  Then the world discovered this wonderful communications network and brought to it all of the best and all of the worst humans can offer.  John Markoff wrote in the Times that

there is a growing belief among engineers and security experts that Internet security and privacy have become so maddeningly elusive that the only way to fix the problem is to start over.  What a new Internet might look like is still widely debated, but one alternative would, in effect, create a “gated community” where users would give up their anonymity and certain freedoms in return for safety. Today that is already the case for many corporate and government Internet users. As a new and more secure network becomes widely adopted, the current Internet might end up as the bad neighborhood of cyberspace. You would enter at your own risk and keep an eye over your shoulder while you were there.

We just cannot stop ourselves from screwing up a good thing.

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  • JesseR

    A need for a fresh restart or recreation of the Internet is probably overexagerated, but I think so-called “gated communities” will naturally develop (and are doing so already). Peons who insist on venturing into the more trashy neighborhoods of the Internet can still do so, at their own risk and peril. If anonymity is lessened, this risk will be greater if career prospects are hindered by a bad Internet reputation. It is well known that admissions committees and hiring departments routinely Google candidates and track down any other unruly behavior which could damage an academic or corporate image.