Back at the hotel, tired. The conference was thought-provoking and very interesting. I hope my panel was interesting. Sifting through the twitter feeds I find many smart comments, re-tweets and a heartening number of people referring to me as alternative “Google geek” and “Google guy”. I have become a standing figure in a drama, like a figure in Noh or Commedia dell’Arte, I guess. I will refrain from guessing who I am. But fair enough.
So, in my panel I ended up trying to make the argument for government transparency reporting. This time I tried to set it up in three different stages.
Firstly, we need to get the numbers right. We know from the ONI, and the transparency report that we seem to be moving towards a Moore’s law of internet control – requests for user data doubling every 18 months. We also know that over time the number of users under some kind of Internet control has exploded to 900+ million. Why can these numbers grow so quickly? One reason is that there is no transparent reporting from our governments around how they exercise the power they have to control the Internet. So we need to engage on that.
Secondly, we need to start small and escalate. List the restrictions on communication and content, the rules that they flow from, how does rules can change. Set up a quarterly reporting schedule. Figure out the thing as you go along. No-one will ever complain that you are trying instead of remaining silent on this subject. That will give us numbers, statistics, facts, data that we can use to build a common frame of reference for our discussions. That will be great.
Thirdly, use the common frame of reference. Set it out in agreements, international reviews, trade and everywhere else you can imagine. There are many indices out there that are already used by governments for IP-protection and labor laws and sustainable environment factors. If the Internet is indeed, as I think foreign minister Bildt put it, “the next frontier for freedom” we should double down on this and get it done.
What did I miss, then, from the conference? One thing that struck me as odd was the absence of a discussion around information quality. We face attacks that are as much about flooding the Internet with information as well as attacks that are about restricting the Internet. These different problems seem to require somewhat different approaches. I think it would make sense to discuss internet freedom and information quality at some stage, but I did not see too much of that. I.e. tools of freedom can easily be turned to tools for propaganda. And that is a hard problem. Just imagine trying to build a propagande detection algorithm. What would it look for, how would you determine that a piece of text is propagande et cetera.
The other thing that struck me was that we need to remember that the Internet is awesome, even as we really try to solve these problems. It is imperative that we do not give up and just see the problems. Today we were in problem spotting mode, and that is fine, but we also need to have discussions about order of magnitude solutions and models for the future.
Finally, on a lighter note, I discovered to my great surprise that FB policy director Richard Allan and I both wear Dr Martens. The new industry standard for shoes, we decided. Here is proof:
Who would have thought? Ok, time to sleep now. Probably mangled some of the thoughts here, but wanted to put them on paper for future reference.