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This past week with Professor Zittrain, we explored the topic of Internet governance and jurisdiction since the birth of the web. One of the ideas that stuck with me was that there was an absence of a desire to make money when the Internet was created. Due to this, the Internet did not need a base identity layer. The creators just assumed that everyone online would know everyone in person. Today, this source of anonymity has lead to create an environment where people can feel safe, but has simultaneously created an environment where people can be easily electronically attacked.

Another topic I thought was interesting was that there was no “main menu” created for the Internet. This allowed the Internet to become a source that each individual can tailor to meet their own needs. Today, there is still no main menu to the Internet, but Google (or another search engine if you so desire) seems to have taken the spot of the front of the Internet. This makes sense because a lot of times when we use the Internet, we want to look up a question and find an answer quickly, so having an aggregator as the “main menu” to the Internet fits this need well.

Since the Internet is unowned, and does not have a main page, this has lead to the rise of many groups who claim to work to fix the Internet. Professor Zittrain talked about the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA – which was just Jon Postel at the time), a few other groups, and finally the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). This interested me because people wanted to create order where there was none. The Internet shows the concept of entropy as it continually moves to a state of more disorder with more people wanting to be on the Internet and own their own domain or some other type of service. This disorder was uncomfortable to many people who decided to band together to pinpoint and solve the Internet’s problems.

One source of order that was implemented by Jon Postel was the domain name hierarchy. This elegant hierarchy connected second-level domains to top-level domains to the root which easily allowed sites to be tracked down by their domain. Eventually, Postel sold the right to keep track of the .com domain to the National Science Institute (NSI). The NSI came up with the idea of renting out domain names for $70 for two years. This idea has stuck around through today (my domain name cost me $12 for one year through Amazon Web Services). The ability to rent names also created a cybersquatting problem because domain names are essentially first come first serve. The idea of cybersquatting in itself brings up an interesting area of Internet governance because what happens when someone takes the name of a credible source that should have their name as their website. And how is it dictated that the credible source is more important than the person already at that domain?

The topic of Internet governance is also interesting because there are so many sites today that hold bits of regulation over their users. For example, Google decides how to rank their search results which may be different from Bing or another search engine. Facebook can also exert certain regulation policies. If they wanted, it would be easy to monitor people’s profiles and chats for certain keywords and conversations. This will be interesting to see how regulation develops on the Internet and what sites become highly monitored vs. which sites maintain the anonymity of the Internet.

Anonymity of the Internet

One thought on “Anonymity of the Internet

  • November 10, 2017 at 7:02 pm

    I have a friend who is a long-time participant of the IETF who claims (and I believe him) that the reason the IETF was able to develop the way it did was because no one thought it was important enough to take away from the engineers who were defining it. The end result doesn’t cater to making money, or doing one thing particularly well, but it does work for the general case. Which has allowed it to scale and expand to what we have today.

    I do remember the Internet when it was small enough that there was only a single degree of separation for any two participants (that is, if you didn’t know the other person, you knew someone who did). It was a different kind of community, and there are times that I miss it. But we certainly didn’t think it was going to become what it has become today. And that is probably a good thing…

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