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

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IGF-USA 2012 Workshop: Next Challenge – How to Handle Big Data in the Cloud

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Brief session description:

Thursday, July 26, 2012 – The dramatic reduction in the cost of computing and storage made possible by cloud computing services, the spread of easy-to-use, open-source analytic tools, and the growing availability of massive data services from governments and the private sector (e.g. Google Maps) have enabled thousands of start-ups, hackers and others to create exciting new tools for business, entertainment, government and other sectors. Government policies can help or hinder development of new databases and Big Data apps. Issues covered in this session included: 1) open government data policy; 2) Intellectual Property Rights protection; 3) IT research; 4) technology test beds; 5) education; 6) law enforcement access; and 7) privacy regulations.

Details of the session:

The moderator for the session was Mike Nelson, a professor at Georgetown University and research associate at CSC Leading Edge Forum. Panelists included:

  • Jeff Brueggeman, vice president of public policy for AT&T
  • Paul Mitchell, senior director and general manager, Microsoft TV Division
  • Lillie Coney, associate director, Electronic Privacy Information Center
  • Jules Polonetsky, director and co-chair, Future of Privacy Forum
  • John Morris, director of Internet policy, NTIA/US Department of Commerce
  • Katherine Race Brin, attorney, bureau of consumer protection, Federal Trade Commission

Mike Nelson, an Internet policy expert from Georgetown University, shared some reassuring remarks as he introduced a panel session that concentrated upon the complexities of managing what has become known as “Big Data.”

“These issues are not new,” he said. “We’ve been dealing with them for 20 or 30 years, but they are a lot more important now.”

Nelson explained in a workshop at IGF-USA Thursday at Georgetown Law Center that it’s not just about data that are big. It’s about data that are changing so quickly and need innovative tools of management.

He introduced the following questions:

Polonetsky and Brueggeman exchange stories a workshop about the Clould at IGF-USA in Washington, D.C. on July 26, 2012.

  • How will privacy concerns impact the development of large databases (or will they have any significant impact)?
  • What are the liability issues of Big Data in the cloud?
  • How do we deal with the shortage of data experts?
  • How do we handle issues concerning control and access to data?

Jeff Brueggeman, a global public policy executive with AT&T and a longtime participant in Internet governance discussion in many fora, began the conversation by addressing a few of these issues.

First, he noted the importance of working with businesses as well as policymakers to come up with tools to manage the data. He also addressed the significance of maintaining security in cloud data.

“The more data that’s being collected and retained, the more that data could be used as a target,” Brueggeman said.

Brueggeman introduced some issues for the other panelists to contest, inquiring about best practices for dealing with data sets, types of controls over what users should expect, what uses of data are legitimate without that control and international components.

Jules Polonetsky of the Future of Privacy Forum followed with a look at the long-term perspective, offering some insight about the impacts of cloud technology.

“I’ve always had a hard time getting my head around clouds,” Polonetsky said. “But the best we can do is make sure we’re a bit of a gatekeeper.”

He argued that a formalized procedure should be established for the release of private information to law enforcement officials and others seeking information. But he also elaborated on the risks of such technology, which he illustrated by telling a story about his friend, a rabbi, who watched a racy video, unaware that Facebook would automatically share the link on his Facebook page, proving how easy it is to inadvertently share online activity with the greater digital community.

Polonetsky champions the benefits of data use, but he also urges people to consider the implications of such sharing and storing of data. He said he believes there should be a debate in which people weigh the risks and benefits.

Katherine Race Brin speaks about the Clould at IGF-USA in Washington, D.C. on July 26, 2012.

Katherine Race Brin continued the conversation, citing some of her experiences dealing with these issues in her job with the Federal Trade Commission.

She said the FTC has studied the implications of cloud computing for a number of years and has also considered how, or if, a cloud is different than any other uses of data transfer in regard to privacy.

She said her work at the FTC has led her to believe that the companies that are storing data in the cloud are often in the best position to assess the risks of that data sharing.

“We’ve always said, in relation to personal data, the businesses remain accountable for the personal data of their customers,” Brin said.

She said that while the FTC holds businesses responsible, it also provides a framework to ensure consumer privacy.

Brin explained the three key aspects of this framework:

  • Privacy by design – Companies should build in privacy protection at every stage from the product development to the product implementation phases. This includes reasonable security for consumer data, limited collection and retention of such data and resonable procedures to promote data accuracy.
  • Simplified consumer choice – Companies should give consumers the option to decide what information is shared about them and with whom. This should include a “do-not-track” mechanism that would provide a simple, easy way for consumers to control the tracking of their online activities.
  • Transparency – Companies should disclose details about their collection and use of consumers’ information and provide consumers with access to the data collected about them.

Lille Coney, associate director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, offered her insights as an expert on big data. (To see a video posted by The Economist about Big Data that is based on EPIC-supplied information, click here.)

“Governance is not easy,” Coney said. “But we do learn mechanisms for creating accountability, transparency and oversight.”

She noted that the difficulty lies in creating guidelines that have currency and legitimacy. In regard to cloud computing, Coney suggests that people are not only consumers; they themselves – or at least the sets of the private information they share – are actually products.

“Our online activity alone generates revenue, and many consumers don’t understand that,” Coney said.

She said she strongly believes in the importance of the public’s engagement in the conversation. With all these privacy concerns, Coney said the consumer cannot afford to leave it up to businesses or government.

Lille Coney speaks about the Clould at IGF-USA in Washington, D.C. on July 26, 2012.

Microsoft executive Paul Mitchell, added some perspective to the conversation in terms of how to go about tackling the issue of how to manage Big Data. “I think the big challenge here is figuring out whats’ first when we’re talking about big data,” Mitchell said, noting the overwhelming amount of data being created and databased. “What we have here is not a new problem. What we have here is a problem of scale.”

Mitchell said we can look at the separate desires of people, businesses and society, and consider a philosophy based on each group’s needs. He explained that the people-first philosophy would ensure that data that could be harmful isn’t allowed to be. The business-first philosophy would be about maximizing the potential economic return for the use of data. The society-first philosophy would optimize the value for society as a whole based on what can be done with the data.

“From an operating perspective, the challenges we face involve how to govern against these three axises,” said Mitchell. “The policymakers’ choice is how to balance the three appropriately.”

Nelson then asked a question directed at the panelists about the future of the cloud and whether there would be one cloud in an interconnected world or a world of separate clouds run by different companies.

Session moderator Nelson then asked the panelists about the future of the cloud -whether there will be one cloud in an interconnectedworld or a world of separate clouds run by different companies.

Mitchell argued that there are circumstances that will require a private set of services.

Coney expressed concern over that model. “Consumer’s control over their data in a cloud-driven environment will require the ability to move their data from Cloud A to Cloud B. Making that a reality in this environment is going to be the challenge,” she said.

Polonetsky had a slightly different viewpoint. He considered the business-platforms perspective, questioning how easy it should be to move consumers’ data.

“Yes, it is your data, but did the platform add some value to it by organizing it in a certain way?” he asked, adding that the platforms may make a legitimate contribution by organizing consumers’ data. For example, your Facebook friends belong to you, but Facebook created a platform in which you interact with and share information, photographs and other things with them.

To conclude, Nelson took a few questions from the audience and asked each panelist for a recommendation regarding the future management of Big Data. Brueggeman suggested there should be a set of commonly accepted practices for managing Big Data. Polonetsky added there should be more navigable digital data. Brin supported the strong need for transparency. Coney proposed that cloud providers and Big Data companies must show their respect for a diverse group of stakeholders. Mitchell recommended that we should all work toward greater harmony between business, personal and societal values.

— Audrey Horwitz

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IGF-USA 2012 Scenario Story: Two Possible Futures for Copyright – Anarchy or Totalitarianism

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Brief session description:

Thursday, July 26, 2012 – The laws of copyright were introduced before the Internet, before file-sharing and before the advances in digital tools now used to create sampling, mash-ups and remixes. One example of the complex copyright conflicts faced today is “The Grey Album,” produced by DJ Danger Mouse. It gained notoriety as it challenged the intellectual property structure in place, mashing two legally protected albums in a violation of copyright law. Danger Mouse created the album strictly as a limited-edition promotional item (only 3,000 copies), but it immediately went viral and caught the ear of many people in the music industry and all over the US, making any legal cease-and-desist request technically meaningless. This example illuminates the incredibly complex and nuanced existence of copyright law in America today. This scenario exercise was aimed at exploring two divergent sides of America’s copyright future, one where regulations surrounding copyright law are lax to the point of anarchy, and the other where the regulations increase at an exponential rate, creating a totalitarian atmosphere.

Details of the session:

Moderators for the session were Ariel Leath and Kalyah Ford, graduate students at Georgetown University. Panelists included:

  • Thomas Sydnor II, senior fellow for intellectual property at the Association of Competitive Technology
  • Matthew Schruers, vice president for law and policy at the Computer & Communications Industry Association
  • Brandon Butler, director of public policy initiatives for the Association of Research Libraries

Thomas Sydnor II speaks in a workshop about the future of copyright at IGF-USA in Washington, D.C. on July 26, 2012.

This scenario exercise at IGF-USA 2012 featured a consideration of what might happen if one or the other of two extreme situations – totalitarianism or anarchy – evolved in the future. Students from Georgetown University proposed two possible futures for panelists to discuss.

Scenarios: In an anarchist 2020 scenario, panelists discussed what might happen if a high school student turned in work incorporating aspects of Ernest Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises.” Would a teacher be expected to treat it as an original work? In a totalitarian 2020 scenario, panelists discussed a situation in which the phrase “good morning” is owned by McDonald’s, and any online use of it would instantly set off an alarm automatically requiring that the violator of the copyright pay a $500 fine.

These two scenarios tied to copyright, according to panelists at IGF-USA Thursday at Georgetown Law Center, are highly unlikely, but they are still interesting to ponder. They discussed the potential ramifications of both extremes.

“As far as totalitarianism, if (the United States) were to fall into totalitarianism, we’d have done it a long time ago,” said Thomas Sydnor II, a research fellow at the Association for Competitive Technology. “When I take my walk with my dogs, my dogs trespass on my neighbors’ lawns, and I go and I trespass on my neighbors’ lawns to clean up what they left on my neighbors’ lawns. And yet, I do this every day and there is not the slightest chance that I will ever be sued for it, much less arrested because we all realize that, to a certain extent, part of rights is exercising a little restraint in enforcement.”

Snydor also stressed the importance of thinking about where the Internet and its users are going in the long run in terms of copyright law enforcement. “We don’t need to have perfect enforcement, but we do need better than we have now,” he said.

Thomas and Matthew share laughs during a workshop about the future of copyright at IGF-USA in Washington, D.C. on July 26, 2012.

“Whether we like it or not, it’s a much more complex copyright environment today,” said Pablo Molina, information systems technology professor at Georgetown University Law Center.

“I consider it as similar to considering the tax laws. Tax laws are so complicated, there are so many tax laws passed every term, that you need really expert tax lawyers and CPAs and other people just to figure out how to corporate or individual taxes when things get complicated, and I would argue that it is the same thing with copyright law.” He said we are likely to be moving toward more and more legislation and more and more enforcement.

Panelist Matthew Schruers of the Computer & Communications Industry Association argued that while law regulates the Internet, the impact of other vital factors must figure into decisions about the Internet as well, including markets, architecture and social norms.

Schruers predicted that even if copyright law goes in the direction of anarchy, human norms will most likely still prevent people from entirely disregarding the idea of copyright law.

He said if he were asked to predict which direction Internet regulation of intellectual property is most likely to go in the future, it will be more anarchic than it is today.

“In a low-protectionist anarchy environment, you’re likely to see more noncommercial and derivative work that is based largely on noncommercial creation,” Schruers said. “Control needs to be effective in order to produce [a totalitarian environment].”

Given the same choice regarding which direction on the totalitarian-anarchist spectrum society is most likely to go in the future, Molina said he believes society is moving in the direction of totalitarianism. Even so, he said he believes a full tilt to this extreme is unlikely. “There are always ways for people to circumvent the system,” Molina explained. “Both scenarios are possible. Whether they are likely is a different story.”

In terms of other factors important to the copyright law discussion, Molina and Schruers both said economic growth is an extremely good measure to assess when seeking balance between the extremes.

“In terms of progress, economic progress is the best metric we have,” Schruers said.

— Mary Kate Brogan

Internet Governance Forum-USA, 2011 Review: Implications of Internet 2025 Scenarios

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Brief description:

Earlier in the day at IGF-USA, participants divided into three groups to discuss potential-future scenarios for the Internet in 2020. At this session, moderators briefed the plenary crowd on the discussions and they and other IGF-USA participants in the audience weighed in with their observations.

Details of the session:

Building upon an experiment that had succeeded at the previous year’s meeting, the Internet Governance Forum-USA presented a set of hypothetical situations, ranging between idyllic or dystopic depending on the preferences of those in attendance. Splitting off into three groups, panelists and members of the audience discussed the pros and cons of the end results of an imagined timeline, then moved on to figure out how best either to ensure or prevent said timeline.

As a part of the concluding ceremony of the IGF-USA, the lead moderators of every respective group presented their scenario to those caught unaware by a possible destiny and pointed out what the Internet community, along with governmental and business leaders, can do to in response to the potential future.

The first, Regionalization of the Internet, revolved around a prospective world in which individuals are either in or out on the Web, blocked off from those deemed to be outside of their own government’s sphere of influence. (You can find details from the earlier session that fed into this session here: http://www.elon.edu/e-web/predictions/igf_usa/igf_usa_2011_scenario_Internet_islands.xhtml.)

Andrew Mack, of AMGlobal Consulting and the session’s lead moderator, described it as, “interesting, but a bit depressing. We took the Angel of Death view on this.”

The idea of the Internet as an open highway, in this world, is replaced by one replete with tolls, as cross-regional access is limited, or in the worst cases, cut off entirely. Because of national security concerns, economic weakness, pressure from climate change and the massive new adoption rates of the “next billion” Internet users found in emerging markets, the Internet becomes a series of castles.

Some in the session actually thought the scenario fit the present more than an illusory future, and the more dire of descriptions could become the status quo within five years. To prevent it, governments were urged to be flexible and practice their own advice, industries were urged to increase their focus on the next billion users, who as of yet have no champion to advance their causes, and IGF was urged to resist the advance of ITU, the United Nation’s mass communications arm.

The second session, lead by Pablo Molina of the Georgetown Law Center, presented a more positive picture. “Youth Rising and Reigning” (You can find details from the earlier session that fed into this session here: http://www.elon.edu/e-web/predictions/igf_usa/igf_usa_2011_scenario_youth_rise.xhtml.)projected a world with the youth-led revolutions in the Middle East spreading to Europe and other disaffected masses taking up the call to utilize new Internet-based technologies to assert their own independence in light of continued economic and civil strife. And though many agreed that there’s a strong plausibility of “Youth Rising …” a key distinction that strikes at its heart was made.

“The defining factor is digital literacy and mastery, not age,” Molina told the audience, bringing to earth the notion that everyone younger than 30 is an Internet messiah, and bringing to light the fact that with the right competencies and skill, even the most elderly can have an influence on the Web. And despite the positive outlook of the scenario, an important distinction was made: Bad actors will always find ways to capitalize on new advances, and inadvertently, some innocents will be inconvenienced or, at worst, suffer as a result of those ill intentions.

JULY 18, 2011 - During an afternoon session of the Internet Governance Forum USA 2011, Steve DelBianco, executive director of NetChoice, shares what was discussed during the morning "Government Prevails" scenario.

To encourage, if not the revolutionary subtext of the hypothetical situation, the political and societal awareness of the youth, all means to promote participation in political discourse were advocated, be they through industry continuing its innovative advances, governments empowering instead of reigning in their citizens, or IGF supporting the participation of more and more stakeholders to ensure all voices are accounted for. And, of course, education, coming in the form of digital literacy, is a must for the youth to have the tools to, at most, incite a just revolution, and at the least, fight for their own causes in an effective way once the Internet further integrates itself within society.

The talkback that was perhaps the most pessimistic and grimly reminiscent of the most bleak of science fiction was “Government Prevails,” led by Steven DelBianco of NetChoice. (You can find details from the earlier session that fed into this session here: http://www.elon.edu/e-web/predictions/igf_usa/igf_usa_2011_scenario_government_prev.xhtml.)It depicts not victorious and noble governments deservedly beloved by its populace, but ones that, through a series of calamities, find themselves with the responsibility and power over maintaining surveillance over their entire citizenry.

Natural disasters of unimaginable magnitude and hacking sprees running rampant across the globe, in this scenario, coupled with rapid advancements in mobile and surveillance technologies, give the world’s governments both the mandates (since its presumed that they win the public trust after being the only entities capable of responding to such horrendous occurrences) and means to fulfill a vision reminiscent, albeit not quite as menacing, as that of George Orwell’s “1984.”

“I woke up this morning feeling fine, and now I’m afraid,” one member of the session said after hearing about the timeline.

Each of the elements of the prevailing government could be, as separate entities, taken as positives. Many responded warmly to the possibility of a more advanced version of London’s CCTV, scanning entire cities in the hopes of preventing crime, or smartphones that were not only mandated to keep tabs on your location at all times, but which could be used to turn in violators of strict anti-pollution legislation. But at the end of the day, it’s still a world in which the government is given the sole proprietorship of its people, with a seemingly omniscient awareness of their every little move.

To keep it from happening, the workshop decided, industries should obey the laws to avoid losing public trust, and they work together with the government to avoid the current philosophy of “government vs. private business interests.” Governments, obviously, shouldn’t grab the chance at such power and instead opt for a more open and decentralized Internet.

As for IGF? It should stick to its current duties and engage with all stakeholders, though such a future, while seemingly horrendous to Western minds, DelBianco mused, could be equally as appealing to those in countries such as Iran and China. This, in the end, illustrated one of the most evocative elements of the hypothetical exercise. Just as one man’s trash can be another man’s treasure, one man’s dystopia can be another man’s utopia.

– Morgan Little

Internet Governance Forum-USA, 2011 Workshop: A Plethora of Policy Principles

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Brief description:

This session delved into recently announced policy statements with future implications including those made by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, the U.S. International Strategy on Cyberspace, the G8 and Others – Are principles a feasible approach to underpin Internet governance? If so, which ones? Should principles be applied by codification in law, MOU, or treaty? The workshop consisted of a mini analysis of currently proposed sets of principles. Because the Internet and online services are global, the perspective of the workshop was a global view.

Details of the session:

This is a placeholder for a lead sentence that encapsulates a key point that is the lead according to panelists in a workshop on Internet principles at the IGF-USA conference July 18 in Washington, D.C.

The co-moderators for the session were Fiona Alexander of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and Shane Tews of Verisign. They hosted a session in which the following people first presented briefings on recently announced sets of principles.

Heather Shaw, vice president for ICT policy for the United States Council for International Business (USCIB), shared details of the OECD Communique on Principles for Internet Policy-Making: http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/40/21/48289796.pdf.<

Chris Hemmerlein, a telecommunications policy analyst for NTIA, spoke about the sections of the May 2011 G8 Declaration that focus on the Internet: http://www.g20-g8.com/g8-g20/g8/english/live/news/renewed-commitment-for-freedom-and-democracy.1314.html.

Sheila Flynn, of the cyber policy office of the U.S. State Department, briefed participants on the U.S. International Strategy on Cyberspace: http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/rss_viewer/internationalstrategy_cyberspace.pdf.

Leslie Martinkovics, director of international public policy and regulatory affairs for Verizon, introduced the concepts of the Brazilian Principles for the Internet: http://einclusion.hu/2010-04-17/internet-principles-in-brazil/.

Sarah Labowitz, U.S. State Department, shared details of the Council of Europe’s Internet Governance Principles: http://www.coe.int/t/dghl/standardsetting/media-dataprotection/conf-internet-freedom/Internet%20Governance%20Principles.pdf.

The introduction of the principles was followed by a roundtable discussion moderated by Iren Borissova of Verisign. Participants were:

  • Jackie Ruff, vice president for international public policy and regulatory affairs for Verizon Communications
  • Milton Mueller, Syracuse University (participating over the Internet from a remote location)
  • Jeff Brueggeman, vice president for public policy at AT&T
  • Cynthia Wong, director of the Project on Global Internet Freedom at the Center for Democracy & Technology
  • Liesyl Franz, vice president for security and global public policy for TechAmerica
  • Mike Nelson, research associate for CSC Leading Edge Forum and visiting professor at Georgetown University
  • Robert Guerra, director of the Internet Freedom program at Freedom House
  • Susan Morgan, executive director of the Global Network Initiative

For all of the Internet-focused principles laid out by the OECD, G8, U.S. State Department and the Brazilian government, the lists of tenants and guidelines, the debate at the 2011 Internet Governance Forum on “A Plethora of Policy Principles” boiled down to one question: Can the principles be successfully converted into actionable concepts?

Governmental parties, whether they are sanctioned by presidential administrations or are the result of a multistakeholder process, are seeking to list the boundaries in which they wish to act when the next contentious issue hits the web. The problem with these lists, which by themselves could perhaps act effectively within a singular cultural, regional or governmental context, stretch across all boundaries in a way similar to that of the Internet itself.

The policy principles included in the discussion, which in no way represent the entirety of idealized lists, were as follows:

-The OECD Communique on Principles for Internet Policy-Making, which is the most recent set, agreed upon by 34 member states, that seeks to promote the free flow of information, promote the open nature of the Internet, promote investment and the cross-border delivery of services, encourage multistakeholder cooperation and a litany of others, ranging from security concerns to liability issues for an affront to any of the contained principles.

-The G8 Renewed Commitment to Freedom and Democracy, which isn’t solely focused on Internet rights issues, but nonetheless deals heavily with digital issues. The list segments Internet users into three groups: citizens, who seek to use the Internet as a resource and as a means to exercise human rights; businesses, which use it to increase efficiency and reach consumers; and governments seeking to improve their services and better reach their citizens. The G8 list also considers the Internet as the “public forum” of our time, with all of the associated assembly rights applied.

-President Barack Obama’s U.S. International Strategy for Cyberspace focused on the concepts of prosperity, transparency and openness. It represents an effort on the part of the U.S. government to approach Internet issues with a singular vision and seeks to establish an international framework to deal with these issues in the future. Interestingly, it was also the only list of principles discussed during the session that asserts a sort of “digital right to self-defense” in the instance of an attack on the United States’ own digital resources.

-The Brazilian Internet Streering Committee’s Principles for the Governance and Use of the Internet in Brazil differed from the other lists in that it was created after a series of discussions between interested governmental, NGO, private and scientific parties. The committee’s principles also stood for greater universality to the Internet, particularly a breakdown of linguistic barriers and a strict adherence to maintaining diversity in the digital domain. For those questioning why Brazil, given the sheer number of countries with vested interests in Internet issues, Leslie Martinkovics, the director of international public policy and regulatory affairs for Verizon, said, “Brazil is seen as an opinions leader in the Americas. … they would like to take the high ground and lead the discussions going forward.”

-The Council of Europe’s Internet Governance Principles is the product of 47 member states with an expressed focus of “affirming the applicability of existing human rights on the Internet,” according to Sarah Labowitz of the U.S. State Department. In addition to those concerns, the principles call for a clear series of planning, notification and coping mechanisms in place in the event of a cyber disaster.

Once the particulars and intricacies of the various plans had been laid out, the critiques began to fly in. Mike Nelson, research associate for CSC Leading Edge Forum and visiting professor at Georgetown University, played the self-admitted role of the skeptic.

“The first thing you do is hold a meeting, and we’ve been doing that for five years,” Nelson said, describing how meetings lead to research, research leads to a lengthy span of time, during which the public becomes discontented, after which a list of principles emerges to placate the masses.

Nelson did not seek for the topic of discussion to be “do you or do you not stand for freedom,” but instead, a fundamental  debate on so-called “flashpoints,” which are actual, specific points of policy, the results of a debate, which could result in legitimate action, as opposed to simply more principles.

Rebecca MacKinnon soon followed Nelson in critiquing the concept upon which the entire panel was devoted, noticing a trend for the principles and conclusions reached by disenfranchised groups, including those who aren’t in the post-industrial West or in the increasingly powerful emerging economies, to be at best given lip service, and at most outright ignored both by interested parties and IGF itself.

“What’s changed between 2004 and now?” MacKinnon asked. “How do people interpret these principles that have been, less or more, set in some degree of stone for quite some time?”

For the Chinese or Iranian dissident, she posited, rouge groups such as Anonymous and Wikileaks do more for their cause than institutional bodies like IGF simply because they rely entirely upon action instead of dialogue, action that is particularly focused on powerful entities.

For all of the critiques piled on the notion of principles and the efficacy of IGF, there was an equal counter of support.

“The role of the IGF is exactly what it was set out to do. There has been discussion, and it has encouraged awareness,” said Heather Shaw, vice president for ICT policy for the United States Council for International Business.

She added that many of the principles outlined in the State Department report published by the Obama administration contains many of the same concepts that were actively discussed at the previous year’s IGF meetings.

“The fact this discussion is happening everywhere points to the success of the Internet Governance Forum,” said Fiona Alexander of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. “IGF is spurring these kinds of conversations.”

But the unanswered question lingering at the end of the session’s discussion was whether those conversations, those discussions and that awareness is enough in this day and age, with the Internet’s rapid advancement now being met with an equally rapid growth in governmental interest in its inner workings.

– Morgan Little

Internet Governance Forum-USA, 2011 Youth Roundtable: Digital Natives? Mythbusting Assumptions

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Brief description:

According to the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project more than 93 percent of teens (ages 12-17) and young adults (18-29) are currently online. Many Internet governance debates are held in the name of youth and many Internet policy decisions are made to guard or guide the young. But what do we really know about how young people use the Internet and what impacts it may have on them? What are the common claims about the influence of the Internet on children and young adults that fuel the Internet governance debate? How do young people really use new communications technologies and what issues do they see as most important? This roundtable explored some of the common myths about young people and the Internet, bringing together a group of college-aged participants from several U.S. universities to engage in a peer-moderated discussion.

Details of the session:

What do you know about how young people use the technology tools available online? Moderators Colin Donohue, a journalism instructor and student media adviser from Elon University, and Ali Hamed, from Cornell University led a guided discussion with a roundtable of panelists and forum attendees about this point and more at IGF-USA at Georgetown University July 18.

The young people who participated in the roundtable were:

  • Ronda Ataalla, 19, rising junior at Elon University
  • Kellye Coleman, 21, rising senior at Elon University
  • William O’Connor, rising senior at Georgetown University
  • Chelsea Rowe, rising sophomore at Cornell University
  • Jeff Stern, 19, rising sophomore at Elon University
  • Kristen Steves, Cornell University student, blogger for End Slavery Now
  • Nick Troiano, rising senior at Georgetown University
  • William Vogt, rising senior at Georgetown University

Their discussion and the title of the workshop stem from a number characteristics often assumed by the public about youth online that have been contradicted by research, including:

– All young people are highly active users of the Internet.
– Young people don’t care about their privacy.
– The Internet is a dangerous, dangerous place.
– All teens are naturally tech-savvy and adept at creating online content – “digital natives.”
– The virtual world of online communications is isolating young people.
– Social media leads kids to be deceptive.
– Social media is addictive to everyone who uses it regularly.
– The Internet is the great equalizer.

The Youth Roundtable discussed privacy, which generated conversations about the youth’s behavior on the Internet, how the youth online define friendships and to what extent privacy issues should be incorporated into education.

The panelists agreed that the youth value privacy, but have different views concerning what content is private or deserving of privacy.

“It’s not about knowing (about privacy),” O’Connor said. “It’s about younger generations’ values about what’s private and what’s public is different.”

JULY 18, 2011 - William O'Connor from Georgetown University (right) discusses the way online choices are affected by personal values during the Digital Natives Panel at the Internet Governance Forum USA 2011.

He discussed how he criticized his younger sibling’s activity online but acknowledged his parents’ similar sentiments about his own use of the Internet.

Vogt, Ataalla and O’Connor agreed that they are aware of, and content with, public access to content that is willingly posted.

“I think privacy is the wrong word for things that are public on Facebook,” O’Connor said.

The students argued against the myth that the youth are not aware of one’s own privacy. Those on the panel explained the benefits of sharing information, and Ataalla said her professors at Elon University encourage students to keep Twitter accounts public in order to attract employers.

Private social media accounts indicate you have something to hide, she said.

When youth expect privacy

Hamed asked the panel if there is a different level of thinking regarding something willingly posted on a social network site compared to information protected by a password.

Although the panelists agreed that they value technical privacy, they also agreed that “digital natives” are more likely to trust that corporations will protect their information.

“I guess maybe I’m a little too trusting,” Steves said. “I’m skeptical, but Google, for instance, I would look at the ratings and assume that maybe because everyone uses it I’ll be safe, but that may not necessarily be the case.”

Troiano said he believed it was in the company’s interest to protect the consumers’ information, which makes him assume a successful company is trustworthy.

On the other hand, Stern explained that when FireFox stores a user’s password, anyone that uses that computer has access to that information.

“It’s just something to think about,” he said.

The conversation suggested it is not that the youth do not value privacy, but rather that they distinguish between value-based privacy and technical privacy.

“We don’t understand this idea of privacy, the whole idea of data protection never crosses many of our minds,” Coleman said.

Nevertheless, Troiano said that he was not concerned with information released to advertisement companies because that transaction improves the lives of the users.

JULY 18, 2001 -- Will Vogt participates in "Digital Natives: Myth-busting about Youth in the Online World"

“I don’t think that’s an invasion of our privacy. I think that’s the efficiency of the Web,” Troiano said.

Cautionary relationships on the Web

While those on the panel admitted to trusting seemingly popular companies on the Internet, they expressed more skepticism concerning Facebook friend requests, Twitter followers and other more personal interactions online.

When receiving a request from a Twitter follower, Ataalla referenced Facebook to confirm the individual’s existence and questioned mutual friends to verify the person’s intentions.

Mutual friends and photographs help determine whether it is safe to accept someone’s request, Troiano said.

“We don’t get credit for thinking these things through,” Rowe said.

Although the panelists’ caution regarding relationships online counters the myth that youth are susceptible to dangers on the Internet, O’Connor identified meeting new people as one of the benefits of the Web. Coleman uses social media as a way to contact those interested in similar topics. She uses Twitter to find experts in journalism, her field of study.

“I have learned so much from the people I follow on Twitter, and reading articles and blogs and even having conversations with them,” she said. “It’s an opportunity to kind of learn from, not only experts, but also peers and have discussions with them about different things through those social networks.”

Hamed asked the panelists if social networks invite new connections or solidify the network users already belong to.

“It’s both isolating and opening,” Vogt said.

O’Connor first used social networks to maintain relationships with classmates he met at boarding school, he said. But he also said those same networks can create homogenous lifestyles and choices.

“There can be a discussion abut some of the things that are lost when surrounding yourself with people only like you,” he said.

How to communicate proper online behavior

Hamed asked the panelists if they believe the youth should be educated about proper online behavior.

Although some advocated formal education, others thought the Internet is simply life expressed in a new platform. In other words, the same values you learn that guide you in your everyday life are applicable, in some ways, to how you interact online.

“You can apply the same values you have in life (to the Internet),” O’Connor said.

For example, children are taught not to talk to strangers. Well, that concept is applicable to the Web, too. New social networks continue to enable the Internet to mirror real life.

“Our parents had the luxury of having a life where they could separate friend life and church life and family life, but information we’re putting out all has one shared life,” Troiano said.

Facebook categorized parents and friends in the same network, so all had access to the same content and information. Security controls were buried in the network, causing youth online to hesitate becoming “friends” with their parents.

But now, circles on Google+ divide social groups online similarly to how social groups are divided in real life. These fragmentations also help youth control who sees what content, giving users greater control over privacy.

Who should control Internet security?

Hamed posed another question about who should inherit responsibility of controlling privacy online.

Troiano said he doubted whether the government would have the right answers concerning privacy, but believed that the market would regulate itself.

“There are bad things that happen, but the Internet, in its free form, can counteract those things,” Troiano said.

Filters communicate what is appropriate to access, Stern said, but Rowe argued there should be formal education to teach young people how to search and find credible resources on the Internet.

Nevertheless, education does not need to come from a formal setting. The youth online have the ability to standardize online behavior, Coleman said.

“We have an opportunity, as younger people, to be a part of educating, not only younger people, but our peers about these things,” she said.

– Melissa Kansky