The open Internet’s five deadliest enemies


The open Internet is under attack. Every day, a myriad of groups, governments, and organizations flex their muscles in ways that challenge the integrity of the open Web and Internet. It is important for Web users to know who these entities are, and keep a watchful eye on their actions. Here, a comprehensive rundown of the Internet’s five most nefarious enemies.

1. Big Entertainment

As anyone who followed the debates over the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) already knows, the entertainment industry does not approve of the way the Internet currently works. It is too open, too free — a veritable Wild West, where thieves and sneaks can do whatever they please. It must be wrangled and brought back down to Earth, where it can be controlled (and used to make a profit)!

In addition to SOPA and PIPA, we’ve seen the emergence of the Anti-Counterfeit Trade Agreement (ACTA), the Intellectual Property Rights Enforcement Directive (IPED), and the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP), all of which are fully backed by Hollywood and its ilk. Like SOPA and PIPA, these treaties threaten to change the way information flows online, in the name of protecting intellectual property rights.

Perhaps more troubling, however, is the recent takedown of Megaupload. The demise of this file-sharing site have Hollywood’s fingerprints all over it. And the case is a perfect example of how much power the entertainment industry has in affecting the kinds of sites and services we Web users can access.

Finally, we have the upcoming “six strikes” system, an agreement between the MPAA, RIAA and the nation’s largest Internet service providers. Under “six strikes,” anyone who is accused of downloading copyrighted content illegally could potentially have their Internet access severely limited — or even cut off entirely, if the ISP so chooses. (Incidentally, the cut-off part is actually a stipulation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, which was also the brainchild of the entertainment industry and its supporters in Congress.)

In short, no other single industry is actively trying to change the fundamental nature of the Internet more drastically than Big Entertainment. They are not to be trusted.

2. Governments

You may have noticed that all of the ways the entertainment industry forces its will upon the Web are done so with the help of the strong arm of the U.S. federal government. Because of this, it is necessary to implicate one with the other.

Of course, the particular bills and treaties mentioned above are far from the only ways the US government tries to tamper with the Web. Right now, a number of cybersecurity bills have been introduced that could take their own toll, not only on the Internet, but on our civil liberties. Furthermore, the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement department (ICE) recently declared that any website URL that ends in .com, .net, or .org can be seized at anytime due because the sole company allowed to dole out these top-level domains, Verisign, is a US-based company.  

It would be unfair, however, to label the US government as the most serious threat in this category. After all, neither SOPA nor PIPA became law, and proposing any similar laws have become politically toxic on Capitol Hill. So while Congress may get things wrong, it can also get things right — from time to time.

Where we find the most egregious threats are in countries that value freedom of speech and access to information (two areas where the Internet shines brightest) far less than the United States. On their own recently-published “enemies of the Internet” list, Reporters Without Borders declares the following governments as the world’s most threatening: Burma, China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam. While the other entries on my list may be justifiably criticized as overblown or hyperbolic, the governments of these countries are true enemies of the Internet and the civil liberties many of us take for granted.

3. Illegal file sharers

I realize this is not going to be a popular opinion, but I fear it must be said: the illegal distribution of copyrighted content does more harm than good for the Internet. The prevalence of piracy is the reason the entertainment industry freaks out and spends millions pushing dangerous legislation. Without online piracy, Hollywood and the Internet would be much friendlier bedfellows.

Moreover, those who argue for the right to pirate take away from the legitimate concerns of those who want to stop bills like SOPA and PIPA due to the perils they pose for things like the freedom of speech and technological innovation. Pirates are the loud drunk kids at the high school party who cause the neighbors to call the cops.

Yes, there is a strong argument in favor of file sharing, and even illegal file sharing, as companies like Napster helped push forward many of the Internet’s greatest features, and ushered in the all-digital realm. But at this point, the negatives outweigh the positives.

If I am to single out illegal file sharers, I must also add to the list child pornographers, who do their fare share to screw things up for the rest of us. These hideous little creeps are equally responsible for bad pieces of legislation that threaten the Web. That said, I am not in any way equating these two groups in any moral way, just that their actions have unintended consequences for the rest of us.

4. Cybercriminals

As long as the World Wide Web has been in existence, there have been people out there using it to exploit others. And unlike the other members of this list, cybercriminals themselves make the Web a more dangerous place to be, just as muggers, murderers, and rapists make a city a worse place to live.

According to Norton’s Cyber Crime Report for 2011, more than 431 million people worldwide fell victim to cyber crime of one sort or another. The increasing prevalence of inexpensive malware only makes matters worse. Not to mention the fact that, like illegal file sharers, cybercriminals are responsible for a slew of bad legislation that can hamper our online freedoms while doing nothing to make us more safe.

Now, you might wonder whether I would include “hacktivists” like Anonymous on this list. And my obnoxious answer is: sometimes. While reports show that hacktivists are now responsible for more data breaches than other types of hackers, these groups often have the welfare of the Internet in mind. They take direct action against the aforementioned governments that impose their draconian censorship on their people, and are largely responsible for spreading the message against SOPA and PIPA.

These hacktivists stray from this noble position when they expose the personal details of innocent individuals. When that happens, they degrade themselves — though it is impossible to say whether the same individuals who carry out DDoS attacks against the websites of Yemen’s government are the same people who post credit card details online. On balance, however, I personally see the existence of Anonymous and similar groups as an overall good for the Internet, and society at large. The US government, of course, disagrees.

5. Internet Service Providers (ISPs)

Finally, we have the Internet and wireless service providers. In addition to their collusion with the entertainment industry, ISPs are one of the strongest opponents of Net neutrality, a principal that requires ISPs to treat all content flowing across their networks as equal.

Without Net neutrality, the Web as we know it disappears. Rather than the free and open Internet that we in the United States currently enjoy (at least mostly), the Web would become the property of the Internet service providers, gatekeepers who could favor the content they own over that of competitors, and reduce or increase the speed of Internet connections as they see fit.

Fortunately, the Federal Communications Commission enacted a set of “Open Internet” rules that forbid such drastic action by ISPs. However, these rules are nearly nonexistent in the wireless realm — the forefront of the Web. In the next several weeks, the shareholders of companies like AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon will vote on whether to apply Net neutrality rules to their wireless services. Not surprisingly, these companies are pushing for nefarious practices like “paid prioritization” of network traffic, which flow strongly in the opposite direction of the open Web.

You don’t get a much stronger enemy than that.

[Image via Marko Bradic/Shutterstock]

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