How to regulate the Internet (vaguely)

How to fix speech on the Internet? It will take a lot more than this.

Jordan Carter (chief executive, InternetNZ) and Konstantinos Komaitis (senior director, global policy development and strategy, at the Internet Society) give some general ideas on how the Internet might be regulated to try to prevent it from being exploited by terrorists and extremists – How to regulate the internet without shackling its creativity

At its most basic, the internet is a decentralised technology, a “network of networks” that spans the globe, moving vast amounts of data and services. Its infrastructure layer is where protocols and standards determine the flow of data and enable independent networks to inter-operate voluntarily. A healthy infrastructure layer keeps opportunities open for everyone, because it is where unhindered innovation happens; where we build the technologies and the businesses of tomorrow.

The Christchurch terrorist did not put up a server to broadcast the video. Instead, he used the tools offered by the platforms most of us enjoy innocently. In other words, he did not directly use the internet’s infrastructure layer, but applications that run on top of it.

And this is exactly where the disconnect is. Most new rules and government intervention are spurred by illegal content that happen on the top layer of the internet’s infrastructure – the applications layer, where content exists and proliferates. Yet these rules would have sweeping implications for the infrastructure layers as well.

Interfering with the infrastructure layer, even unintentionally, to fix problems at the content layer creates unintended consequences that hurts everyone’s ability to communicate legitimately and use the internet safely and securely. The internet is a general-purpose network, meaning it’s not tailored to specific uses and applications. It is designed to keep networking and content separate. Current regulatory thinking on how to address terrorist, extremist and, in general, illegal content is incompatible with this basic premise.

That’s why we urge all governments working to protect their citizens from future terrorist and extremist content to focus on the layer of the internet where the harm occurs. Seeking expertise is how governments should regulate in the internet, but including only certain companies in the process could be counterproductive. All this does is cement the market power of a few big actors while excluding other, critical stakeholders.

As world and tech industry leaders gather in France for the Christchurch Call, we ask them to focus on interventions that are FIT for purpose:

Fitting – proportionate, not excessive, mindful of and minimising negative and unintended consequences, and preserving the internet’s open, global, end-to-end architecture;

Informed – based on evidence and sound data about the scale and impact of the issues and how and where it is best to tackle them, using ongoing dialogue to deepen understanding and build consensus;

Targeted – aimed at the appropriate layer of the internet and minimising the impact on the infrastructure layer, whose openness and interoperability are the source of the internet’s unbounded creativity and a rich source of future human flourishing.

That’s ok as general advice, but it provides little in the way of specific ideas on how to regulate speech and media without stifling it’s strengths.

The biggest challenge remains – how to very quickly identify and restrict hate speech and use of the Internet by extremists, without impacting on the freedom to exchange information, ideas and artistry.

Even from my own very narrow experience I know that people intent on spreading messages that many people would object to can be very determined and go to some lengths to try to work around any restrictions imposed on them.

Kiwiblog recently put in place much more monitoring and clarified what was deemed unacceptable speech, but those stated restrictions were quickly flouted, so offending comments must be being passed by people now doing the moderating.

It will require either some very smart algorithms that are able to adapt to attempts to work around them,  or a lot of monitoring and occasional intervention that would require many people all with similar levels of good judgment.

Neither approach will be perfect. I have concerns that rushing to restrict bad speech will increase impediments for acceptable speech.


A handful of US tech companies have radicalised the world

There is no doubt that the Internet has dramatically changed how media and politics operate. Over the last few years a few US companies have dominated radically changed how democracy is done, including allowing nefarious interference in election campaigns.

And at the same time there have been a number of political swings to more controversial and extreme leaders and parties.

Broderick (via twitter):

In the last 4 years, I’ve been to 22 countries, 6 continents, and been on the ground for close to a dozen referendums and elections. Three things are now very clear to:

1) A handful of American companies, Facebook and Google more than any other, have altered the fundamental nature of almost every major democracy on Earth. In most of these elections, far-right populism has made huge strides.

2) The misinformation, abuse, and radicalization created by these companies seems to affect poorer people and countries more heavily.

These companies replace local community networks, local media, local political networks and create easily exploitable, unmoderated news ones.

3) It is going to get worse and more connected. It is getting more mobile. It is having more physical real-world effects. Apps like WhatsApp and Instagram are even harder to track than Facebook.

It’s been a decade since I first felt like something was changing about the way we interact with the internet. In 2010, as a young news intern for a now-defunct website called the Awl, one of the first pieces I ever pitched was an explainer about why 4chan trolls were trying to take the also now-defunct website Gawker off the internet via a distributed denial of service (DDOS) attack. It was a world I knew. I was a 19-year-old who spent most of my time doing what we now recognize as “shitposting.” It was the beginning of an era where our old ideas about information, privacy, politics, and culture were beginning to warp.

I’ve followed that dark evolution of internet culture ever since. I’ve had the privilege — or deeply strange curse — to chase the growth of global political warfare around the world. In the last four years, I’ve been to 22 countries, six continents, and been on the ground for close to a dozen referendums and elections. I was in London for UK’s nervous breakdown over Brexit, in Barcelona for Catalonia’s failed attempts at a secession from Spain, in Sweden as neo-Nazis tried to march on the country’s largest book fair. And now, I’m in Brazil. But this era of being surprised at what the internet can and will do to us is ending. The damage is done. I’m trying to come to terms with the fact that I’ll probably spend the rest of my career covering the consequences.

There are certainly signs of major consequences internationally.

In New Zealand we have had political change, but after a nine year National government it wasn’t a big deal, especially as Labour (and NZ First) are not dramatically different to National in most significant policies. It was more of a tweak than upheaval here, probably.

But we can’t help but be affected by what happens in the rest of the increasingly radicalised world.

To be sure, populism, nationalism, and information warfare existed long before the internet. The arc of history doesn’t always bend toward what I think of as progress. Societies regress. The difference now is that all of this is being hosted almost entirely by a handful of corporations.

Why is an American company like Facebook placing ads in newspapers in countries like IndiaItalyMexico, and Brazil, explaining to local internet users how to look out for abuse and misinformation? Because our lives, societies, and governments have been tied to invisible feedback loops, online and off. And there’s no clear way to untangle ourselves.

The worst part of all of this is that, in retrospect, there’s no real big secret about how we got here.

The social media Fordlândias happening all over the world right now probably won’t last. The damage they cause probably will. The democracies they destabilize, the people they radicalize, and the violence they inspire will most likely have a long tail. Hopefully, though, it won’t take us a hundred years to try to actually rebuild functioning societies after the corporations have moved on.

Perhaps. It is very difficult to know where social media, democracy and the world will go to from here.

Ecuador cuts Assange’s election interference

The Ecuador government has said they have cut Julian Assange’s internet in their embassy so they won’t be helping him interfere in the US election.


WikiLeaks had earlier said a “state party” had “intentionally severed” Assange’s internet access.

I think it is wise of Ecuador not to have anything to do with ongoing foreign interference in a country’s election.


The left wins the Internet but the right wins the polls

A comment posted at Dim Post.

The Left wins the internet. But the Right wins the polls.

First on “the Right wins the polls”. That’s bollocks.

ACT struggles under 1% in the polls so that is hardly a winning position for them.

National has consistently polled the best for years, but they are hardly “the right”, and they are further left than Labour on some things. Voters are not clearly delineated between left and right, with most closer to somewhere in the middle.

And in the polls currently show the centre right’s hold on power is precarious, which is probably more to do with “the left” – Labour – losing rather than the right winning.

The Left wins the internet

How the hell can anyone claim that? Perhaps some of ‘the Left’ think that they are winning the Internet but they are fighting amongst themselves as much as anything, with the occasional swipe outside their bubble.

Actually it’s common to see people from the left baffled as to why they keep losing, considering how superior they seem to think they and their ideologies are.

How exposed is NZ Internet?

A National Exposure Report – Inferring Internet Security Posture by Country Through Port Scanning – says that most exposed nations on the internet today include countries with the largest GDPs, such as the United States, China, France, and Russia.

So that means New Zealand may be relatively unexposed – or is a relatively small and unimportant target. You have to register to read the whole report and I haven’t done that.

The report description and key findings:

This Rapid7 report offers an extensive and technical exploration of data derived from Project Sonar, our security research project that gains insights into global exposure to common vulnerabilities through internet-wide surveys across different services and protocols.  

Given the increased reliance we all have on the internet – for everything from ecommerce, to monitoring the power grid, to adjusting our thermostats – we wanted to leverage the reach of Project Sonar to understand overall internet threat exposure at both a general level and at a country/region level.

  • Millions of systems on the internet offer services that should not be exposed to the public network. Our survey uncovered 15 million nodes appearing to offer telnet, 11.2 million appearing to offer direct access to relational databases, and 4.5 million apparent printer services.
  • 4.7 million systems expose one of the most commonly attacked ports used by Microsoft systems, 445/TCP.
  • SSH (secure shell) adoption over telnet (cleartext shell) is gaining ground over telnet, with over 50% of regions offering more ssh servers than telnet servers.
  • Non-web-based access to email (via cleartext POP or IMAP protocols) is still the norm versus the exception in virtually every country.
  • There is a correlation between the GDP of a nation, overall internet “presence” in terms of services offered, and the exposure of insecure, cleartext services.
  • The most exposed nations on the internet today include countries with the largest GDPs, such as the United States, China, France, and Russia.

It is not surprising that the largest countries are the most exposed.

I’ll just keep an up to date OS and up to date security software (I use Norton) and be careful which emails I open (I’ve had a lot of job offers lately, including from myself) and hope that my ISP and the GCSB do the rest.

Internet – let’s be careful out there

Tech blogger Juha Saarinen writes in the Herald: A safer internet? Not going to happen

Yesterday was the Safer Internet Day 2016, an annual worldwide awareness campaign that promotes online security. It’s a laudable effort, with NetSafe coordinating the New Zealand effort:

There are plenty of good tips and advice to look at on the NetSafe SID 2016 site, so please visit and have a read.

One of the questions NetSafe sought to answer was if 2015 was better or worse year for internet security than 2014; the organisation noted that there’s not enough accurate information to answer that accurately – which is fair enough; having covered IT security extensively for the past few years, my answer would unfortunately be “it depends”.

Some things are better: your personal computer should be relatively safe this year.

Provided you keep the software on it up to date that is, avoid installing too many things and especially stay clear of launching files emailed to you or from websites you don’t know.

But there’s a number of things to be wary about, as Saarinen details.

The biggest danger on the Internet is not the Internet, it’s people with bad intent, who have a far greater reach than in the real world.

Online blues – let’s be careful out there.



Berners-Lee on staggering hate on the web

Tim Berners-Lee played a major role in establishing the Internet as we now know it. He has expressed dismay at how hateful some people are in their use of the world wide web. I feel a bit the same way.

The Guardian reports in Tim Berners-Lee: hateful people on the web are ‘staggering’:

Speaking to BBC News, Berners-Lee said that it was “staggering” that people “who clearly must have been brought up like anybody else will suddenly become very polarised in their opinions, will suddenly become very hateful rather than very loving.”

I don’t expect people to be “loving” on political blogs but the degree of apparent hate and open nastiness does stagger me.

The Internet seems to bring out the worst of some people, and this is sadly prevalent in politics in social media.

Nastiness is all to common at blogger level and commenter level. At times it is flaunted.

Two of New Zealand’s most prominent blogs promote their nastiness, with Cameron Slater (Whale Oil) and Lyn Prentice (The Standard) often boasting about and promoting their nastiness.

That’s a very sad look for the New Zealand political blogosphere and it sets a very poor example which is followed by others.

Our political leaders should set good examples. We would be far better served by or political social media if they led by good example and cut the hatefulness.

There will always be political polarisation (most pronounced amongst a small minority of activists) but it serves us very poorly.

Mandatory Parental Control

In a 3 News interview  Colin Craig said  he wants to “make parental control mandatory in terms of internet access” – Key lines up deal with Colin Craig. He didn’t give details or say how that might be possible, but it seems to be an odd aim.

I don’t know if Craig understands how the Internet operates and how difficult controls are. Making parental mandatory? Whether via software or supervision that is not just impractical, it’s virtually impossible.

Is Craig naive? Or is he trying to attract naive voters? He has been targeting the NZ First demographic, many pensioners may not be very net aware so he might convince some he can close a barn door after the horses bolted a decade ago.


An anonymous threat typifies the problem

On a forum where rules insist I must be anonymous so I won’t link (but my identityis widely known there anyway) politically motivate threats are quite common – if someone doesn’t like a topic or comment they will hint that they will get the site moderators to remove it – and possibly remove your right to use the forum.

This morning when discussing this topic of gagging voices due to political disagreement or control I have had such a threat. First there was a warning:

Forgotten you already did this “self promoting” propaganda piece last week?

Then (accompanied by a devils head icon):

Anyone who cannot see this propaganda for what it is, is as bat guano thick as the person who erroneously used it against someone much cleverer than himself.

And those who cast stones should be aware that their behaviour will come back to haunt them should they ever run for political office again ;D

First a repeat attempt to discredit the message by attacking the messenger – a common form of political attack.

Then a threat of future repercussions. The person obviously knows my background and they imply they could affect any political bid I might make in the future. It raises a suspicion that they could come from the same city as I do, which happens to be the same city as the MP who is under the spotlight.

Now this doesn’t bother me in the slightest, I stand by anything I’ve said on this topic as honest opinion.

But that wee threat is typical of the some of the politically motivated internet attacks that so many people are speaking strongly against.