‘The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It’

Cory Doctorow has a great review over on BoingBoing of the new book The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It by Jonathan Zittrain. I haven’t read the book, but it sounds interesting.

Overall, it’s a positive review, but one area where Doctorow disagrees with the author is on the subject of “generativity”, the ability to take an existing technology and use it in ways the creator never intended. Zittrain argues that this generativity allows people with bad intentions (hackers, spyware vendors, etc.) to leverage the Internet for malicious purposes, leading to increased regulation that threaten the good benefits that the Internet offers. Doctorow disagrees with this line of reasoning.

He writes:

Here’s where I started to get a little frustrated. I agree that the legislative backlash is here — it’s impossible to miss — but I disagree that it’s being driven by identity thieves and spyware vendors. I think it’s being driven by the same authoritarian urge that gave rise to all the other spying and control laws that have been passed for centuries.

I completely agree here. The “Draconian laws” (Doctorow’s words) coming down against consumers are not the result of security threats; they’re often the result of lobbying from organizations such as the RIAA, MPAA, telcos, and cable companies. They also tend to coincide with elections (for some odd reason).

Conversely, real security threats tend to be dealt with by the free market (operating system updates, Internet browser updates, antivirus and other security products, etc.). Far from relying on Congress to deal with technological threats through such laughable efforts as the CAN-SPAM Act, hardware and software vendors and service providers are typically the ones who have stepped in to provide real solutions.

Again, I haven’t read the book yet, so I can’t comment it on it directly, but with any book of this nature, it’s always important to take it with a grain of salt.