Documentary coverage of IGF-USA by the Imagining the Internet Center

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IGF-USA Scenario Discussion: Panelists, participants discuss future that puts Internet governance in hands of governments worldwide

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Facilitators Steve DelBianco, Walda Rosemann and Janice LeChance lead a discussion on a possible global government for the Internet.

Brief description:

IGF participants broke into three different rooms to discuss three different, possible potential-future scenarios for the Internet in 2020. In this session, the description given to the discussants was: Most of us assume that the ICT industry, media companies and NGOs will continue to be the leading players on the Internet stage, with governments playing just a supporting role. This scenario describes an alternate future, where citizens and industry worldwide demand that their governments take center stage to clean up an Internet that has become infected with dangerous content and criminal conduct.

Details of the session:

Panelists and gathered participants in a scenario session at IGF-USA 2010 in Washington, D.C., expressed discouragement about an Internet future that will quickly witness larger international governmental control that would ultimately remove power from the ICT industry, media companies and NGOs, who now continue to be the main controllers of the Internet.

“A scenario is not a prediction,” said panel moderator Steve DelBianco, the executive director of NetChoice Coalition. “It’s designed to be provocative, but plausible. It’s designed to challenge your assumptions.”

Some members of the audience were skeptical that the scenario, as a whole, is plausible, but all agreed that if it became reality, it would be a frightening prospect. (Read the full description of the scenario here:

DelBianco presented three converging forces that serve as drivers for the scenario:

  • Consumers lose trust in online content and e-commerce.
  • Businesses can no longer tolerate losses from fraud and lawsuits.
  • Governments have successfully used electronic monitoring to thwart terrorist attacks.

As a result of those three forces, the scenario proposed the following about the Internet in 2020:

  • Governments cooperate to oversee online content and e-commerce to a greater degree than ever before
  • Government and businesses require biometric ID for online users
  • Online publishers are now liable for user-generated content and conduct
  • You need an “Online License” to use the Internet.

Janice Lachance, the chief executive officer of the Special Libraries Association and an invited panelist for the session, said she is anxious about the scenario’s potential to stem the openness of the Internet.

“I think this scenario gives us all a lot to think about,” Lachance said. “As someone who has an organization that’s concerned with the free flow of information and the access to information, I think that excessive government involvement raises red flags for us. It probably isn’t all bad, but if it’s certainly getting to the point that’s described here, I fear we will have a lot of consequences if you’re trying to do business.”

Walda Roseman, the founder of CompassRose International, said she thinks there’s a “rolling thunder” toward more governmental control because of the increasing security threats facing online users. A member of the audience agreed, saying the scenario is not so unlikely because it’s happening at lower levels already.

“All of these situations are going on, just not at a tipping point,” said the participant. “I don’t think this is necessarily avoidable. I think the focus should be on how to facilitate solutions, rather than to prevent something that currently exists.”

One possible solution, according to Roseman, is to rely on more and better intergovernmental cooperation. She said it’s necessary for countries to find ways to hold more cohesive and inclusive dialogues.

“Can we shape conclusions as a world as opposed to quickly avoid them?” Roseman said. “We’re seeing a lot of collaboration among governments, and the collaboration is not yet 100 percent on the cybersecurity issues, but it’s a different alliance there. We’re wanting intergovernmental organizations to make the policy decisions and a whole lot more than the policy decisions.”

Several audience members said they don’t foresee national governments getting together on the issue of Internet governance in the near future when they can’t even come to concrete conclusions on financial regulation or climate change, for example.

So if “some bizarre world government” isn’t created to handle the issue, as one participant said, then it will fall, most likely, to the local governmental level or the United Nations. Even then, there was some articulated concern that a governmental body simply can’t respond and react in a timely fashion to any problems that may arise.

“I’m concerned about notion of institutional competence,” said an audience member. “Does the government have the competence to run the Internet? I don’t think they have the expertise or the quickness to react.”

Markus Kummer, executive coordinator of the Internet Governance Forum, said that government shouldn’t shoulder all of the blame for ineffective policies.

“We need to avoid having a black-and-white picture of all government is bad and all the other institutions are good,” Kummer said. “I think it’s a little more complex than that. How do we find a fruitful cooperation among all the actors?”

No matter who might claim Internet governance, panelists and participants expressed concerns about the future of anonymity, security, openness and freedom of information on the Internet. They said it’s up to the people who work together through IGF to continue having conversations that could lead to a positive future. “Citizens and business have lost patience, and they need solutions,” DelBianco said. “If we don’t deliver, entities that discuss may be seen as not fast enough to solve problems. We need to show progress. Lots of organizations will have to start delivering results so we don’t get the result we don’t want. We need to avoid having the Exxon Valdez of Internet security.”

Two U.S. government employees who were part of the audience for the scenario said the United States needs to look carefully and closely at how it views and values the Internet to figure out what it truly wants and needs. “This is moving so much faster than we expected,” said a U.S. State Department participant. “Are we going to lose by maybe trying to be idealistic and assuming that everyone else is going to take on our same model? Maybe we need to get together as U.S. citizens and ask, ‘What do we absolutely want for our Internet, what do we want as a country?’ and get really clear on that so that when we start making foreign policy decisions we’re not compromising our values.”

-Colin Donohue,


IGF-USA young people’s panel: GenNext’s Online Future

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This 2009 IGF-USA session description: “Young Internet users, entrepreneurs and advocates are the expert respondents in this session which is aimed at illuminating current and future issues. Discussion points will include the positives and negatives of hyperconnectivity, online security/safety, copyright, the future of the media and information, and the future of identity and privacy.”

Nathaniel James, executive director for OneWebDay was the panel moderator. Participants on the panel included Sebastian Bernal, a student in the School of International Service at American University; Aaron Eilbott, a sophomore at Yorktown High School in Arlington, Va.; Randy Gyllenhaal, and Alex Trice, both from Elon University’s School of Communications; and Kim Ngyuyen, consumer privacy fellow at the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC).

How they use the Internet

The panelists started out by describing their personal use of the Internet and online tools. Aaron Eilbott, age 14, noted he has more than 300 Facebook friends and at any moment at least 100 of them are online. Randy Gyllenhaal spoke with enthusiasm about his Blackberry. “There’s a reason they call them Crackberries,” he said as he noted that he is checking it all the time.

Moderator Nathan James, director of OneWebDay, asked the young panelists to share stories about how they work online. Eilbott said he keeps Facebook on when he does homework every day. “One day last week it went completely offline and I felt deserted,” he said. “I had to do my homework by myself. I didn’t realize I was kind of addicted to it until I didn’t have it.”

Kim Ngyuyen, a consumer privacy fellow for EPIC in her mid-20s said that she disagrees with older adults that the Internet is a distraction for young people.

It is actually more distracting when the Internet is down because you keep clicking on it and checking and checking when it’s gone. You are trying to do everything you can to get that Internet back. It’s a security blanket. You always need to feel connected. – Kim Ngyuyen

She also spoke about being online while in class at her university. “It’s not a distraction there. When you are called on in classes, friends might ‘chat’ you answers to help you if you have trouble answering a professor’s question,” she said, adding with a smile, “I’m not saying all of the conversations are academic, you know.” The room filled with laughter.

Being hyperconnected, now and in the future

Discussant Stephen Balkam, director of the Family Online Safety Institute, brought up a current BBC report titled “Tech Addiction Harms Learning.” It noted that 63 percent of the students surveyed indicated that they are addicted to Internet. “Obviously this was written by adults with a different point of view,” he told the panelists, noting that it might be a slanted perspective. “The world you guys are going to inherit is an interconnected world… Whether we like it or not we are going to a world where there is this constant need and desire to be connected.”

Panelist Alex Trice, 19, agreed. “I had to do an assignment for class where I had to go through a whole day without being connected to media, and I was constantly thinking about it… For our generation, being connected is important.”

Sebastian Bernal, a freshman from American University, noted that the hyperconnectedness we have now is “just foreshadowing what we will have in the future.”

Discussant Balkam noted that some people anticipate that brain implants of information devices may be only five years away. “When your kids come to you and ask for a brain implant,” he asked rhetorically, “what are you going to do about that?”

Young people tough on right age for starting on the ‘net

The group of young people began to discuss the appropriate age to begin going online. Trice said she started using the Internet at age 7, researching dinosaurs, fairies and unicorns. “I would say don’t get an e-mail address and Facebook until you are 13,” she said.

Randy Gyllenhaal, a senior at Elon University, said he read a report that 11 is the average age of a child encountering a porn site. “There are certain things in the digital world like pornography that worry me,” he said. “They should be exposed to the Internet, but don’t become addicted to it until you are rational about it like we are.”

Bernal said 13 is the age he would suggest to delineate as the divider before a child goes online. “If a 2-year-old or 4-year-old is online all the time, he won’t be able to develop social skills.” Ngyuyen said she suggests children should not go online before the age of 13. “The risk of stumbling upon pornography or something that is harmful to children is higher every year,” she said. “The Internet poses a specific danger to younger children. It is up to parents to make sure their children are using the Internet the right way.”

Eilbott declined to set a particular age for starting on the Internet. “I wouldn’t want to expose my children to the Internet until they have a reason to use it for educational purposes,” he said.

Privacy as an opt-in choice

The topic of online privacy was introduced by the moderator. “We don’t have to give up our privacy,” Ngyuyen said. “Users have to have control over their information. You should have a choice. EPIC favors an opt-in approach not opt-out. So you should start with no information available about you and then have to opt-in to allowing it to be shared.”

Eilbott said he generally knows the people who are seeing information about him on social networks. “I have met 90 to 95 percent of the people who are my friends on Facebook,” he said.

On Facebook, it’s not about being friends with them as it is with friends in real life. On Facebook, the definition of a friend is anyone you have met in your life for at least two seconds.   – Aaron Eilbott

How young people get their information

The panel began discussing how they get information. “I am probably the only person in my age group who watches network news,” he said, adding that he thinks the “flattening world of media” – in regard to so many unreliable sources getting into the mix, with some being considered to be producing ‘news’ – is dangerous. “I think most people still trust CNN, the Associated Press the New York Times, and I feel the mainstream media has been flattened to include bloggers.

“It is important to have professional and verifiable journalists doing work and Twitter and those tools will help spread that information out to those who are not looking at traditional news.”

Trice noted that she gets news through her social networks. “I find out a lot of news on Facebook and on Twitter rather than watching television, I find it all out on the Internet,” she noted, and she added, “We all know how to use the technology and it gives us more power as individuals. We can share what we see from our perspectives from all over the world. Rather than just the mainstream media you can see news as a person sees it from an eyewitness viewpoint.”

A member of the audience, Derrick Cogburn of American University, asked the panelists what techniques they have developed or adopted “to vet the information that’s coming at you so fast today. How do you know that Michael Jackson died?” Trice told a story about being out with friends one night when she got a text message that Matt Damon had died. She and her friends began texting other people to ask if it was true and didn’t hear any verification. Next, they checked the LA Times. “We didn’t see anything from a source we trusted,” she said, “so we didn’t believe he died.”

Copyright and IP gets audience going

The moderator brought up the topic of intellectual property and copyright. “Think about the people you know and how they are using content,” James said. “Tell us from your perspective in a world where information flows so quickly it is simpler to get it without paying. Where is the intellectual property debate going?”

Eilbott said teens are aware of copyright but they don’t care about it. “We are aware of what can happen if you are caught, but there’s not much fear of any legal consequences,” he said. “The fee if you get caught is so high that it seems almost mythical – $80,000 if you download one song, yeah right. ”

Trice observed that hackers who enable illegal downloaders always seem to find a way around any barriers raised to deter them.

No matter how many ways they try to make people pay, they are going to find ways to circumvent it and find ways to hack into it and get it free.   – Alex Trice

Susan Anthony from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office was among many audience members with a keen interest and questions tied to this topic. “If it’s my ox you’re goring I care, if it isn’t, I don’t,” she noted. “In the United States we talk about the university age as the ‘lost generation’ in regard to respecting other people’s copyrights. We have an ongoing debate over how early you should start teaching children about copyright. Some say in elementary school, but I don’t know how I think about that.”

Gyllenhaal jumped into the discussion. “I agree with you completely,” he said. “I think it comes down to the moral issue that you are taking someone else’s work. Personally, a song means more to me if I pay for it. It’s the principle of it – you are taking something that’s not yours. From the moral level of it, if more people treated the Internet that way we’d be better off.”

Several of the young people on the panel agreed that they would pay a flat rate to cover all downloads of copyright-protected content, such as $5 per month paid to their ISP.

Anonymity is valued by young people

When asked by an audience member about anonymity, all of the panelists said they have an anonymous e-mail account. “I call it my spam e-mail account,” Gyllenhaal said. “I don’t have a secret life. It is my Yahoo account. I send my Facebook stuff there and anytime I have to register for a site I use it to avoid spam.”

Ngyuyen also said she uses an extra e-mail address for dealing with spam. “I also use it when I want to make comments on blogs and I want to stay anonymous,” she said. “In general, I do think people have the right to be anonymous online. It would create a chilling effect to lose that right.”

Gyllenhaal brought up Juicy Campus, a currently defunct site on which all posts were anonymous and people were being subjected to bullying and hate speech. And online bullying was briefly discussed.

What are adults all wrong about?

A member of the audience asked, “When you hear adults talk about these ‘universal truths’ about young people online, are any of them really true?”

My parents assume that just because I am on the Internet while I’m doing homework I’m not getting anything done. They don’t give us enough credit for the fact that we are able to multitask.  – Alex Trice

Ngyuyen also said her ability to work on other tasks while online was misunderstood. “My parents had the misconception that the Internet is really an entertainment world when in fact I would say having fun on the Internet is maybe 30 percent. I am learning something.”

Eilbott admitted some distraction, noting his parents “do have a point, I will get home from school, start my homework and an hour later not have done anything but talk to 12 friends.”

-Janna Anderson,

Online privacy concerns engage IGF-USA panelists in lively debate

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Panelists shared their philosophical differences about online confidentiality and self-regulation in a discussion about privacy and security implications for Web 2.0 at the Internet Governance Forum-USA conference Oct. 2, 2009, in Washington, D.C.

All panelists agreed that online privacy remains an important issue, and that corporations have an ethical and legal responsibility to ensure that their consumers continue to enjoy some level of anonymity and confidentiality online. But they disagreed about whether self-regulation or government-enforced standards are the best method to achieve that end.

Ginger McCall, EPIC staff counsel, said companies’ privacy policies are often overwrought with technical and legal jargon, making them difficult for users to comprehend. They become too robust that users often click through them without much acknowledgement.

Privacy policies, in my experience, are generally just disclosure policies. They don’t exist to protect users’ privacy. They exist to protect companies from liability.   – Ginger McCall

McCall said an overriding concern is that the policies often allow companies to change their guidelines at any time often with no notice to the users.

A bigger problem, still, is that companies are able to collect information about users without ever providing them with the information they have gathered.

demooy_IGFUSA_09“One creative suggestion that I might make is that businesses just give consumers everything they know about them,” said Michelle Demooy, a senior associate of “If you’re not a bad actor, it can’t hurt you to give consumers everything you know about them. It can only strengthen your brand going forward.”

Both McCall and Demooy specifically expressed growing anxiety about cloud computing, which allows Web hosting services to house the documents and data of users on their corporate servers. (Think of Google Docs and Gmail, for example.) So what used to be on a person’s personal computer is now on a larger server.

“It’s great for information sharing and collaboration, but not for privacy,” McCall said. “But it allows companies or outsiders to create detailed profiles of users. We need to see a stronger security system and we need to see companies are following through. There needs to be a strong regulation of cloud computing. There should be binding legal standards, terms of services have to be revised and privacy policies must be more transparent.”

Kathryn D. Ratte, from the division of Privacy and Internet Protection of the Federal Trade Commission, said the FTC supports self-regulation not government directives. She says allowing technologies to emerge promotes innovation.

“Our policy has been to enforce self-regulation,” Ratte said. “We analyze what’s going on in the market and put forth standards to adhere to. The flexibility allows us in some ways to act more quickly. We can just address these issues as they raise issues for consumers.”

Jeff Brueggeman, vice president of public policy for AT&T, said the FTC has laid down an ample baseline for legal protection on the Internet that certainly needs continual monitoring but not government intervention.

The FTC is taking a proactive but engaged approach. We don’t give consumers enough credit for the value they place on their privacy. More and more privacy is going to be a marketing advantage that companies are going to assert on the Internet. What we want to have is competition to maintain and secure your privacy, as well.  – Jeff Brueggeman

McCall, though, said self-regulation is not a strong enough policy and that legislation with teeth is definitely possible.

“Self-regulation in the Internet context fails because there’s not really enough transparency about what’s going on and what harm is happening,” she said. “A lack of transparency allows companies to act in whatever manner it wants in the short term to make money. It also suffers from the problem in that it only allows for possible remedies after the fact. Having a real comprehensive regulatory system would allow companies to know what’s permissible and not permissible.”

Ratte said consumers do need assurances that their data will be securely protected, but the FTC has not taken a stance on comprehensive privacy policy legislation. Still, they do advocate that companies treat consumers fairly and honestly.

The FTC has come out strongly saying that the rules that apply at time of the collection of data have to continue to apply and if there’s a change. The company should go back to the customer and get opt-in consent.  – Kathryn D. Ratte

But McCall and Demooy both said vigorous legislation is possible, and if companies are acting in good faith and treating consumers with respect and responsibility, then they shouldn’t be worried about governmental regulations.

“Privacy policies have their place, but they aren’t really helping consumers,” Demooy said. “If they’re not working, let’s not bang our hammer against that stone. Let’s try to build something that does.”

-Colin Donohue,

CONCLUSIONS: ‘What We Don’t Know About the Future of the Internet’ Rainie and morning plenary respondents finish the session

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panel plenary IGFUSAThe panelists answered questions about finding ways to satisfy desires of people to share freely but somehow pay an appropriate price for the information they gain. “Most in my generation won’t want to pay for things because they are used to things being free,” Gyllenhaal said. “Young people will pay for things we use. I guarantee young people would pay for Facebook. It has become that important for us.”

Andrew McLaughlin came into this discussion in support of the principles many, including Chris Anderson (author of “Free: The Future of a Radical Price” and originator of the “Long Tail” idea in Internet economics), have brought to the forefront of the discussion of Internet economics. “Free doesn’t really mean ‘free,’” he said. “We have lots of media now that is free to the end-consumer in exchange for attention or something that benefits someone else. There will be things you are asked to pay for and things that third parties are asked to pay for.” He added it is important to find ways to properly “vindicate intellectual property rights” online and also address privacy, anonymity and authentication in the right way. “I find the ‘free’ debate to be kind of dissatisfying,” he said. “Free to the end-user still leaves you a broad way to pay for things.”

Lee McKnight noted that the issue is complicated. “It’s not just an issue of free and for-pay, there are barter arrangements that come into play as Internet governance has been progressing in these historic days,” he said. “Economic and competition policy will come to the fore… This is a ripe area for policy analysis and discussion at IGF in Egypt and over time as we continue to grapple over challenges.”

Rainie was asked about education and the Internet as an audience member noted how far behind education is in implementing the advantages of the Internet. “Participation matters,” he noted, saying it has been shown that students enjoy the ways in which they can be more active participants in their education when they can go online in classrooms.

McLaughlin chimed in. “The federal government is a disaster when it comes to using these new tools,” he said, noting that it blocks employees’ use of social networks.

“I hope that people less freaked out by these networks and systems will start running things,” he said, adding that every government employee should have a home page offering information they want to share and affording them the ability to collaborate with others in government. “That would drive a culture change that would be unstoppable,” he said, “and you would get the efficient task-oriented government we are trying to achieve.”

-Janna Anderson,

Response from Andrew McLaughlin, White House, to Lee Rainie’s ‘What We Don’t Know About the Future of the Internet’

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andrew_mclaughlin IGFUSA 09“Let me drill down on one issue,” McLaughlin responded. “I am pleased Lee highlighted these architectural issues because they tend to not get a lot of attention. The Internet we have today started out as a research network that is now being treated – properly so – as critical infrastructure. The basic considerations that led to the construction of the TCP and IP protocols were to solve a set of issues that arise from the kind of shared data from universities. There are a lot of components that were not built in that, as Lee outlined, would potentially be quite useful for some of the activities that we would like to take place on the Internet. We are now confronting some fundamental choices about, for example, authentication on the Internet.”

He noted that if you want to secure routing you want to know the places you do want to get packets from and those from which you don’t want to get packets, “where, for example, malware or virus attacks might be.” Yet in places where authoritarian structures control infrastructure complete authentication of identity behind and origins of information becomes problematic.

One of the great features of the Internet is that is facilitating a profound flourishing of direct citizen-to-citizen speech in places that don’t have much of a tradition of that or have a tradition of centralized control over information. So you would alter that architecture and build in that authentication at great peril.  – Andrew McLaughlin

He noted that one of the best results of the IGF and ICANN processes is the ways in which they illuminate discussions about the architecture, protocols and principles of the Internet to a much wider audience.

“It was not exactly the original intention for ICANN,” he noted, “but it has been the effect. The project of inculcating a way of thinking about problems with the Internet architecture is profoundly important,” he said, noting that you have to know the language of the architecture to operate in today’s political and economic environment. “Without that understanding, you can’t talk intelligently about cybersecurity, how to protect privacy, how to facilitate authenticated business and governmental transactions, and so forth – well, you can talk intelligently about it, but you will be missing something.”

He noted that the efforts of multistakeholder organizations in shaping an understanding and knowledge of information networks and the people building and scaling them is important.

The role of the IGF and the value of the ICANN process extends beyond the agendas that are typically before them.  – McLaughlin

“The reason these issues are conundrums – the security, authentication, privacy, identity issues,” he said, “is that the Internet is a voluntarily interconnected set of networks. There is no central controlling authority; there is no body, no government that can decree what the technical implementations of the network will be. That fact is part of the fundamental strength of the Internet, part of what made it scale so fast, part of what’s made it so powerful, part of what made it facilitate so much speech and free expression in so many surprising ways in every culture around the world.”

He said in this decentralized environment change must now be accomplished “in terms of nudges, in terms of incentives, in terms of persuasion, rather than by decree.” He added that while the Internet architecture at this point may protect the speech of a “dissident in a repressive society or in our own society,” but there are many Internet transactions now threatened by spoofing, DNS attacks and other threats that would not occur if we had a better authentication system.

Understanding how to be precise about those balances and how to get them implemented in a voluntarily interconnected set of networks is a central problem that confronts us over the next few years. From the [Obama] administration’s perspective, the goal of an open Internet that supports free expression, that supports the kind of array, vast wave of human creativity and free expression that we see coursing over the nerves and veins of the Internet every day – maintaining that, accelerating that, enabling that is fundamentally important.  – McLaughlin

He also noted that moving forward in encouraging the principles of open government “will guide the administration’s efforts to make progress on these problems.”

He noted that the Obama administration is working to make more information accessible to everyone.

“We want to be a more open government and free the data,” he said, “to make the government a platform for citizen innovation, citizen activities, new business models, and so forth that ride over the data the government has and the taxpayers pay for. The federal government sits on a staggering amount of data, and it can be incredibly valuable if it’s made public in machine-readable formats and can be remixed and reused and combined with other kinds of data. That’s a fundamental commitment.”

-Janna Anderson,