Newsweek takes a look (via TechDirt) at a future Internet controlled by corporations and governments through Digital Rights Management, secure chips and micropayments. It’s an interesting article, and makes me ponder some interesting supplementary questions:
Are spammers, for example, the enemy of ordinary Internet folk, or virtual Robin Hoods eluding corporate control of the web? We all hate them now, true, but may we look back on them — at some future point when corporate and governmental control dominates the web — as tolerable evidence of the Internet’s chaotic freedom? By trying to push them off the Internet through legal means, are we just tying our own future in knots?
Another thought: are micropayments the saviour of small business on the Internet, or just a trick by big corporates to tie us into their trickling subscription model? Living in Indonesia — banned by PayPal and many smaller online sellers, which won’t accept any payments from such a lawless country — I know a little of what it feels like to hostage to the bigger e-commerce sites, because they’re the only ones to accept my dollar. In the future, will it only be the big companies who have the risk models and infrastructure to do online business in a world of online IDs, DRMs and micropayments?
I’m confident that the anarchic tendencies of the Internet will undermine many corporate efforts to lock in customers: The online music site that thrives will be the one with the broadest range of file formats and the smallest limitation on how those files are used, stored and copied. Methods to cripple or limit use of software will always be cracked. Indignation will limit the advance of chip-based IDs — in your computer, around your neck, in your handphone.
But I think those of us calling for regulation, standardisation and crackdowns on the Internet to make it safe for the ordinary user need to think harder about other threats to its future, in particular anything that punishes or banishes anonymity, anything that discriminates against the user accessing the web based on his/her point of entry (country, state, neighbourhood) and, in particular, any corporate which tries to set up tollbooths to grab a nickel every time we do something we used to be able to do for free.