Wednesday, 16 December 2015 09:57

Internet wars – who is winning?

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The internet is no longer the province of defence or a few academics – it has outgrown that offering the select few the opportunity to exercise extraordinary political, economic, and military power.

Fergus Hanson, author of the ‘Internet Wars – the struggle for power in the 21 st century’, should know. He is a non-resident fellow in Brookings’ Foreign Policy program. His research focuses on eDiplomacy, Australian foreign ministry reform, and public opinion polling. Hanson previously served as a visiting fellow at Brookings during the winter and spring of 2012. Before joining Brookings, Hanson was program director for polling at the Lowy Institute for International Policy in Sydney, Australia.

His somewhat chilling words reflect what many refuse to acknowledge. Exploitation of this new super-network has helped create the world’s most valuable company, toppled governments, led to the largest wealth transfer in history, and created the most extensive global surveillance system ever known. All of humankind is on track to become linked through this single, universal platform but the full implications for state sovereignty, corporate power and human rights have not yet been grasped.

Here are the winners and the losers for 2015:

Winners

  • Monopoly Interests
  • Extremists
  • Citizen Power

Losers

  • Civil Liberties
  • Intellectual Property
  • Security of Internet Communications

Hanson explains why he asserts this.

2015 was the year that a handful of tech titans consolidated their growing control of key economic chokepoints online, making Monopoly Interests the clear winner in 2015.

“In 2013, two tech titans made it into the Fortune 500 top 10 by market value. In 2015, there were three in the top five and four in the top 10. Apple, the world’s most valuable company, was worth about twice as much as the next two largest companies combined,” he said.

“Companies like Apple, Google, and Facebook are securing control over key economic chokepoints online.  

“This is not to suggest smaller companies will disappear from the Internet, just that to do business, they’ll have to operate through these titans,’ he said.

2015 was also the year extremists ran roughshod over the West online.

“The world’s most powerful militaries, their sophisticated intelligence services and vast financial resources were outmanoeuvred by a relatively tiny number of degenerate fanatics.

Meanwhile, in the US, the Internet Wars of 2015 have seen the shake-up of the Presidential election like never before, shining a light on the aggregating power of the Internet for ordinary citizens. “Republican voters have flocked in droves to outsider candidates Donald Trump and Ben Carson while, in the Democratic campaign, Hillary Clinton has faced surprisingly strong competition from Bernie Sanders,” he said.

Civil liberties, intellectual property and security of Internet communications are all under siege online - with Hanson declaring them all losers in 2015.

The Internet might have extended free speech to many, but in the big picture it has been a double-edged sword.  

“Companies like Facebook, with one fifth of the world as users, has begun to exercise an important role as the new moral guardian. Leaked censorship guidelines from 2012 revealed it forbade terms like breastfeeding but gave the thumbs up to crushed heads,” he said.

So is peace possible online?

 

Hanson said, as a global ‘commons’ the Internet will always be open to abuse by individuals, companies, and governments. “But if broad road rules can be agreed, breaches can become the exception rather than the norm, allowing the most important features of the Internet to be preserved.

“This is not an overnight fix. The first step is recognising the turning point we have reached, the critical importance of what’s at stake, and the need to act,” he said.

“As an advanced economy and open democracy Australia has a critical interest in securing the Internet’s immense promise into the future. Australia should develop a digital foreign policy that identifies our core economic, social and security interests and engage in leading global debates,” he said.

Opinion

I like what he says. I agree that the internet has been ‘hijacked’ by a few key players – can we trust them to take it forward for everyone’s interest or do they have hidden agendas?

World domination in a physical sense may no longer be possible but control of information, commerce and big/granular data is already happening.

Hanson did not comment much on the last loser - Security of Internet Communications. It has become clear - to me - that wars will not need to be fought on the physical battle ground – cyber-space is the next frontier. All those nation state hacks, data breaches, spear phishing, ransomware, money laundering – hey that is what the internet has become. The solution is for the good guys to run faster than the bad guys and to make security a global issue. We have to be several steps ahead.

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Ray Shaw

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Ray Shaw [email protected]  has a passion for IT ever since building his first computer in 1980. He is a qualified journalist, hosted a consumer IT based radio program on ABC radio for 10 years, has developed world leading software for the events industry and is smart enough to no longer own a retail computer store!

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