Twitter are the latest in a line of surrenders to authority in the last few years. The web started off nicely and grew in importance and everyone talked of how governments couldn’t censor it, and it would always bypass them. It was the new land of the free. But underneath, we all knew that wouldn’t last forever and governments would use their real world power to force web companies into submission. Actually, the surrenders seem rather spineless to me, and were unnecessary, but I guess the web has become a standard ordinary everyday business platform and the companies behave just like any other business now. The brave explorers pushing out in pursuit of the frontiers have gone, replaced by MBAs.
Napster was the first biggy, forced to stop music sharing on the free and to become a proper commercial front end for the music industry. Then Google surrendered its ‘Do no evil’ principle to commercialism, first in China, now globally. It has since become a Big Brother in its own right, collecting deep data not only for its own megalomania but also for any government department that can make ‘a valid legal claim’ (extracted from their new rules on privacy). I have no real choice but to carry on using their mail and search, and I still like Google in spite of their abuses - no one’s perfect – though I am extremely wary of using Google+ seriously. I barely access my account, just like Facebook, and for the same reasons. Facebook and Apple also both became Big Brothers, collecting far more date than most people realised, wanting their own high-walled garden dictatorships. They have them now, but I keep my distance and only visit them as much as I need to. After a few years of ongoing high-profile collapses and surrenders of principle, now Twitter has surrendered too. So now the web is under government control, pretty much everywhere, and worse still, with a layer of big corporate control underneath. Companies on the web have to do as they are told, follow the rules. But they also impose their own too. It is the worst nightmare for those of us who used to debate whether big companies or governments would end up controlling us, which would have the power? We ended up with the worst of both worlds.
Many would argue that that is what should be. Why should the web have different rules? All companies should obey the law. I’d agree to a point, but I’d agree a whole lot more if we lived in a world with good leaders of properly democratic governments taking us forwards to a life of freedom and health and prosperity for all. What I see instead is a global flock of very poor leaders, a sad combination of the greedy, the corrupt and the stupid, with increasing oppression, increasing polarisation, grabbing what they can for themselves in a less fair world, and more attempts to control our thoughts.
So I tend to lean towards wanting a new kind of web, one that governments can’t control so easily, where freedom of speech and freedom of thought can be maintained. If a full surveillance world prevents us from speaking, then we need to make another platform on which we can speak freely.
I’ve written a number of times about jewellery nets and sponge nets. These could do the trick. With very short-range communication directly between tiny devices that each of us wears just like jewellery, a sponge network can be built that provides zillions of paths from A to B, hopping from device to device till it gets there.
A sponge net doesn’t need any ISPs. (In fact, I’ve never really understood why the web needs them either, it is perfectly possible to build a web without them). Each device is autonomous. Each shares data with its immediate neighbours, and route dynamically according to a range of algorithms available to them. They can route data from A to B so that every packet goes by a different route of need be. Even without any encryption, only A and B can see the full message. The various databases that the web uses to tell packets where their destination is can be distributed. There is a performance price, but so what? You could even route geographically. Knowing the precise geographic location of your recipient, packets can simply use a map or GPS to get there. I’m not aware of any GPS based nets yet, but you could easily build one. I quite like the idea personally.
Self organisation is an easy way of linking processing and storage and sensory capability into massively capable platforms. This is useful in its own right but also enables better file sharing or free speech with reasonable performance. It would be easy to bypass any monitoring if it is detected. Even if it is only suspected, the massively divergent routing that sponges enable would make monitoring extremely hard to do.
The capability to make these kinds of devices is almost here. Given the world that we live in, governments might try hard to prevent them from existing. But there are so many benign reasons to do so that it might be hard for them to resist the pressure. Almost all of the spirit of the early web was aimed at making the world a better place. Sure a few criminals and terrorists got in on the act, but the balance was for good. We lost it, and are worse off for it. Letting it happen again would be good for everyone. Sponge nets can do that. If some government officials don’t like it, well, so what? Right now, I don’t have a lot of respect for government.