The Power of the Crowd – Part Two: the Tricky Questions

Photo: Emily Morter

What follows is by no means a comprehensive list of tricky questions, but if we are seeking to build a new framework for the internet, we must debate the ones where there are no black and white answers. Though some may be unhappy with the conclusions, reaching consensus is essential. When it comes to something as pervasive as the internet we will have to find a way to reflect the diverse opinions of every section of society and accept that perhaps there will be some uncomfortable compromises.

Here goes with the initial list of questions and I would ask those of you reading this post to add others to build the list out.

Question one: what sort of internet do we actually want?
This is the most obvious, but also the most fundamental question. Since the arrival of the worldwide web many of us (particularly in developed economies) have become accustomed to convenient online services and “free” apps. Yet the same benefits are not available to everyone. Only 3 billion people are online today and access is heavily skewed in favour of people in developed economies. What about the rest? The speed and quality of access varies dramatically, even in the developed world. According to the Office of National Statistics, 11% of UK households have no internet access. Surely we should have resolved universal access to the Internet by now as a basic right in line with the United Nations’ decree?

Question two: how do we police the internet?
The pace of technological change will always leave regulators scrambling to keep up with its impact on the internet and how it affects us as citizens and consumers. Today, though, we appear to be living in a wild west scenario where nation states are using the internet legally to monitor their citizens and conduct cyber-attacks in what could be at best described diplomatically as economic and political espionage. Freedom House has said internet freedom has declined for the sixth consecutive year and two-thirds of internet users live in countries where the authorities use censorship to limit access. And democratic countries are just as guilty of intrusion as supposedly more authoritarian regimes. The Governments of the “free world” have enacted new laws that legalise the mass surveillance that many have been conducting for at least 10 years. If we are to hold nation states to account for their oversight of the internet, then surely we all need to live by the same code of conduct? There has been talk of non-proliferation treaties in the same style as the nuclear disarmament treaty to encourage governments to moderate their behaviour.

However, if the United States officially says it is building an offensive cyber-security capability, then it goes without saying other countries will see that as a green light to follow suit.

Photo: Luca Bravo

Question three: who should be in charge?
We all live in countries with borders. We have passports that say we are British, American, Chinese or South African. And yet the internet has moved rapidly to break down geographic barriers. This has been a good thing in one sense, because it has enabled the sharing of information, such as scientific research for the betterment of everyone. Equally, though, it has allowed hackers to conduct criminal activities from jurisdictions beyond the reach of the law enforcement officials in individual countries. There are also those, who no longer see themselves as represented by their nation state and are using the internet to build new communities. Indeed the dark web and crypto-currencies are creating the potential for individuals to live by alternate social, economic and legal structures. This is of course an extreme alternative, how far do we allow the internet to encroach on traditional national boundaries? And how far do we allow national political agendas to determine the freedoms offered by the internet? What do we do if internet communities no longer want to adhere to the rules of one nation state?

Question four: how do we fix the foundations underpinning the internet?
There are billions of people around the world who are not connected to the internet. Without a physical connection the conversation about the future of the internet is a non-starter. More importantly there are many people around the world, in both developed and emerging economies, who continue to struggle to receive the minimum standards of education to enable them to read and write. Without these basic human rights the internet is pointless for them. Furthermore, there are many individuals without proper documentation. If these people do not exist then how can they participate in the opportunities of access to the internet? Given that cyber threats are so prevalent, if we cannot trust the identities of the people who are using the internet it will create barriers.

Question five: who owns the internet and all the content in it?
The principle of the open web, as outlined in the Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace, was that people on the internet were outside the control of governments. The Cluetrain Manifesto told companies that they could join their conversations, but that they didn’t have any right to control the conversation. Sadly today’s worldwide web is anything but a reflection of this aspiration. It is big business and that means those with a vested interest will resist change with all their might. Today Google and Facebook receive 65% of all advertising revenue through digital channels. And yet all that revenue is reliant on us surrendering personal information in exchange for services. This is not a fair exchange when you look at the profits the internet mega-brands generate from our data. Should we not have more of a say in how our data is used? Should we not have greater ownership of our data? Or should we accept that intellectual property, copyright and ownership are out-dated concepts? Clearly we cannot expect vendors to invest in technology and products without some form of recompense, but we need to agree that the current economic model is not distributing wealth evenly.


  1. Tricky Questions, Simple Answers.

    Question one: what sort of internet do we actually want?

    Answer: We need an Internet, where the access to which, doesn’t have to be bought. So we have to move past ISP – Internet as a Service model. It should rather be something which can be ‘had’, not ‘bought’. I guess MaidSafe is a solution to that problem. This issue can be tacked with Inherent-Internet. Let’s call it Internet 2.0/Intrinsic-Internet! The kind of Internet that you have just because you have a computer. Unlike today’s Internet model, which is like having a pencil, but paying a price to write with it. It would enable the end consumer to be the server, enabling them to contribute computing proportional to what is being consumed.

    Question two: how do we police the internet?

    Answer: Should we? Cos if left un-policed – either the tech would evolve to accommodate security or the user behavior would evolve to accommodate the lack of security.

    Question three: who should be in charge?

    Answer: The end user is in charge, proportionate to the their requirements from of the Intrinsic-Internet. One thing to remember here is that decentralized would also include users from centralized institutions like organizations, enterprises and the governments. Complete decentralization is not possible without being inclusive of Individuals from any segment. Hence the Intrinsic-Internet has to account for providing Limited-Liberty to all users alike. Limitations being set/capped based on their contribution to the system, determined by math. To reiterate – the user is in charge, capped by the math.

    Question four: how do we fix the foundations underpinning the internet?

    Answer: Internet we have today was not a planned endeavor. It evolved to where it is now, catalyzed by capital, for this was a profitable industry. The foundation we seek can only be comprehended out of abstractions. The Internet of today runs on many dependencies – like a need for computing device, users, servers, protocols and best of all electricity. Foundation to a problem that we are trying to solve needs to think past these dependencies.

    Question five: who owns the internet and all the content in it?

    Answer: Should be ‘everyone’ who contributes to keeping the system running. The data about you/me/us was always there. It is just more readable now. The data is only as valuable as the information that can be read from it. This cannot be stopped. There is no such thing as private data. It could be the centralized Internet or a decentralized one. Data almost certainly becomes information eventually.

    “Clearly we cannot expect vendors to invest in technology and products without some form of recompense, but we need to agree that the current economic model is not distributing wealth evenly.” — if we are to expect the vendors, we ought to make peace with the current models. Think as to why the giants in tech and enterprise aren’t able to adopt/adapt/make-peace-with to Bitcoin yet? Simply because the system isn’t gonna budge or flex to accommodate the requirements of legality or orthodoxy, even if it wants to. The range of motion is fixed.

    The new Internet needs that magnitude of inflexibility to be able to thrive, but only after suffering for a decade. Hopefully lesser.

    1. The “Giants”, as You put it, are not using the crypto-currencies because:

      A) The definition of a “start-up” is: A start-up company is a company that IS LOOKING FOR A BUSINESS MODEL.

      B) Giants are NOT start-ups.

      The point B means that, if the business model that a “Giant” uses, stops working, the “Giant” goes bankrupt or fades to some legal nonsense like the IBM has done with its patent-trolling or the Giant lingers around out of inertia for a while like the Microsoft does with its transition from closed source software licensing business model to the hosting provider business model, or the owners of the “Giant” dismantle the “Giant” before the bank account goes to total zero, like was the case with the Sun Microsystems. The future “Giants”, which will grow from some modern start-up, will be using, holding on to, crypto-currencies even after those start to become obsolete. It’s just what “Giants”, the companies that are stuck to a single business model or a few tried-and-tested business models, do. It’s a social process.

  2. Thanks for taking the time to respond, appreciate the feedback. I’ll cherry pick on a couple of points.

    Very much agree re your comments on ISPs. I’m hopeful for the number of satellite based solutions that are being in progress at the moment. Implemented in an inclusive manner, they will not only remove the power of ISPs in the developed world, while opening up access in the developing world.

    Regards Q4. From an infrastructure perspective, I personally think the SAFE Network has the potential to contribute to this, along with connectivity via satellites and or/mesh networks. I think one of the other fundamental issues that need to be addressed are the economic models. Vendors should be compensated, but not unreasonably so as many of the top internet companies are today. They should also be compensated for the specific service they provide, without such a significant focus on advertising. Search companies paid for a number of searches, social networks paid by number of contacts…etc… We should be making sure that content creators (individuals and companies) are financially rewarded for their content, and while content aggregators do provide value, again they should not overly compensated for these services. We wrote about this a while back:

  3. People can’t really have intelligent conversations on these topics unless the scope is well defined. The questions above interweave personal decisions with group decisions, and those are two very different scopes.

    Question five is a perfect example. Big companies ‘own’ the internet because they are in the best position to offer easy-to-use software to the masses, and thereby profit off the data generated by those users. Individuals are free to use whatever software they want.

    We can’t *collectively* dictate what software we should *collectively* use. It will always evolve naturally, and the creators of whatever software is used will have the opportunity to profit from it. It may as well be a natural law.

    Without clearly stating the scope of the discussion (individual or collective), we can’t have a meaningful discussion.

    1. Thanks Chris. I really appreciate the feedback and agree that better definition would aid discussion. Maybe we need to go further still and realise that nuances also exist within the collective, that each stakeholder is driven by a different set of motives. Are you a company, government, or NGO, for example. Should the rules around how you operate change if you are working for pure profit, versus working for the greater good.

      Regards who ‘owns’ the Internet, I think we need to move on from where we are today we need to provide companies and individual developers the tools to create product/applications in ways that they can’t today. Technologies like the SAFE Network and others promise to facilitate decentralised apps that have the potential to offer no cost/low cost infrastructure, with built in revenue streams that won’t be dependent upon advertising. This will enable developers without VC backing, or developers from less privileged parts of the world to be on a level playing field with incumbents and compete with them. In turn, they’ll provide users with more choice.

      I notice that Mozilla released ‘Five issues that will determine the future of Internet Health’ recently. I think they’ve provided some good definition to the challenges we all face.

      1. To further clarify my point above:

        ‘Ownership’ of the internet is a meritocracy. It’s not a dictatorship, and it’s not a democracy.

        I think this is an inherently good thing. I’m sure many people feel, like I do, that the internet is better today than it was in the 90s. It’s better, but is it as good as it *could* be? No, certainly not. Along the way, compromises and choices were made. Things like surveillance and data harvesting and advertising.

        These are issues that the MaidSafe platform seeks to address. Let’s assume the network makes it past the infancy stages to wild success and supplants the internet. It would be ‘better’ because of it’s merit. Would it be as good as it *could* be? Probably not. But right now ‘better’ is a great thing.

      2. Thanks for the clarification, Chris. We are certainly are working hard to make sure the SAFE Network becomes ubiquitous. and recent test nets are providing plenty of cause for optimism.

  4. Firstly I think Nick has captured perfectly the philosophical importance of this discussion by including the photo by Emily Morter. That is, if it is intended as a portrayal of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. My take on it is that we’re all the prisoners described by Plato in the foreground out of sight in Emily’s photo; we’re chained looking away from the cave entrance denoted with a large ? into the dark. The figures and scenes on the walls are shadows created by the light from a fire; they are what we prisoners believe to be life outside the cave. Plato postulates that if any of us dared to escape what the fugitive would see in the sunlit world would be illusion and that the shadows on the cave wall were real; a sort of Orwellian Kafkaesque.
    Of course each of us is only a slave to some degree, dependent on one’s intellect, aptitude and opportunities.
    The over-arching theme running through each of Nick’s questions concern “sovereignty” and to respond responsibly one first needs to determine who or what is sovereign.
    A search for synonyms reveals “ruler”, “monarch”, “supreme ruler”, “independent”, “autonomous”, “self governing”, “supreme”, and “superior”. But how does one go about becoming any one of the first three of those entities? Or how could one achieve any of the last five of these independent, autonomous, self governing states? We in the ‘west’ are told that the basic tenet of political sovereignty is the doctrine is named after the Peace of Westphalia, signed in 1648, but here’s a valid argument challenging that myth. And what does the other half of the world think about all this English legal propaganda? Moreover could there be more than one form of sovereignty? Can there be ‘political sovereignty’, ‘personal sovereignty’ perhaps other forms of sovereignty? Is sovereignty saleable, assignable, inherited and from whom and by whose authority? Can sovereignty be stolen, removed with force or coercion?
    Perhaps the answer to all these questions lies in the respective constitutions of nations; but where to start? They’re all different and some nations don’t have one, other nations have a constitution but their subjects don’t have any rights expressed therein. Then maybe the answer is revealed in the bill of rights? But which one Bill of Rights 1689 or the 42 other bills of rights listed here? And these don’t speak for the other half of the world. No wonder that the courts when resolving disputes concerning sovereignty and rights are forced to consider sovereignty as legal fiction.
    So is the foregoing a sound basis for answers to each of Nick’s questions? No! This is what Plato warned us about in his Allegory of the Cave.

    The only sound basis for response to Nick’s five questions is expressed in the words of Thomas Paine when in his Rights of Man Chapter V Ways and Means of Improving the Condition of Europe wherein he, inter alia, argued against Edmund Bourke that “It is a perversion of terms to say that a charter gives rights. It operates by a contrary effect — that of taking rights away“. Rights are inherently in all the inhabitants; but charters, by annulling those rights, in the majority, leave the right, by exclusion, in the hands of a few… They… consequently are instruments of injustice.The fact, therefore, must be that the individuals, themselves, each, in his own personal and sovereign right, entered into a contract with each other to produce a government: and this is the only mode in which governments have a right to arise, and the only principle on which they have a right to exist”.
    It was Thomas Paine an Englishman who in his 1775 pamphlet Common Sense incited the 13 English colonies in North America to declare their independence and they did, then he emigrated and worked with George Washington as one of his aides during the ensuing war. Thomas Jefferson understood Paine, Hamilton opposed him.

  5. In our search for an answer as to what sort of internet we want it may help if we look at it from the viewpoint of the community need and specific outcomes in addition to the internet as the delivery platform. This will enable us to frame or scope the discussion so we can agree on the outcomes we want then define/implement what we need to address for the internet to deliver to these outcomes, rather than talk generalities.

    One of the best internet outcome descriptions I have seen is from the Australian Smart Communities Association (ASCA) whose “smart community future vision” is described as follows:

    “a true smart community is one where all aspects of the natural and built environment will be represented in virtual world that is fully integrated, interoperable and operates within a legal framework that mirrors the legal regime of the real world. The potential benefits from a virtual representation of the real world are unlimited. Without a legal framework to support the digital representation of the real world, we will not be able to fully benefit from these significant technological advances and unlock the trillions in efficiencies that have been identified”.

    For me the key outcome/common vision words for us all are summarised as “virtual & physically interoperabilty”. “The missing link” here is the legal or governance framework which goes directly to Q2, Q3 and Q5 9 and a safe platform which can solve the security, liability and affordability requirements. The system created to deliver this will also need a new social contract to ensure that the trillions in efficiencies they see can be created (starting with the smart city IOT revolution) are distributed equitably.

    In Australia this vision/outcome for an open data/peer to peer system free of commercial controls is being driven from the community and consumers persective which is critical. From this specific internet outcome we can build the initial list of questions out as follows:

    i. How would this (virtual & physically interoperabilty) work at a inter/national, regional, industry, R & D, Charitable or consumer level and how could all these stakeholder needs be integrated?
    ii. What business model, organisational methodology, operating system and governance structures inter/nationally would be required to create and connect the Smart cities, Smart industries path to virtualisation and closed loop automation in a way which is SAFE? (An extension of Q5 Who should be in charge?)
    iii. Who owns or oversees the data? How is it collected and stored? How is the exchange of data & continuous flows facilitated both commercially and physically?
    iv. How are consumer and community privacy issued going to be managed?
    v. How can this be monetised and thus sustainable?
    vi. How would this be funded? How are the benefits distributed equitably between users, creators and the community?

    I hope this helps in our quest to to build a new framework for the internet. As highlighted by pt ii. in this post and Q5 it is not purely a technical issue!

    1. I think that if we put the right technologies in place, we can actually remove many of the legal requirements as these will be handled by the code itself rather than having a reliance on politicians/judges and courts. For example, it has been illegal for many of the intelligence agencies of the world to surveil our data, but they do anyway. For example, a secure data and communications network, implemented in the right way, would remove this possibility entirely. ]

      So I think with a range of up and coming technologies (new ways to enable connectivity ((mesh networks, satellites)) and manage data) we will not need many of the governance structures and frameworks.

      Many thanks for getting involved Ian, very much appreciate the input!

      1. Hi Nick some further thoughts & comments to assist …

        I agree with your comment “if we put the right technologies in place, we can actually remove many of the legal requirements as these will be handled by the code itself rather than having a reliance on politicians/judges and courts”. Not sure I fully agree with your comment “So I think with a range of up and coming technologies (new ways to enable connectivity ((mesh networks, satellites)) and manage data) we will not need many of the governance structures and frameworks”.

        The big question that arises from these comments are who is WE and HOW is this to be achieved? Who is going to put these right technologies in place? Who is going define the rules for the software and on what basis? A representative stakeholder community or some techs? Yes we want new physical systems such as mesh networks which improve rules based connectivity to simplify current system complexities but at the end of the day this is about humans, the type of society we want and how we organise ourselves . Surely the role of technology is to support human decision making not replace it?

        The question to me is “how can a decentralised internet system/capability support our human & social evolution”? The ASCA sees this as an ‘interoperable virtual & physical world” which needs to operate simultaneously at personal, community, industry and societal levels. Without a vision/model/case to enable the necessary collaboration the end result you describe becomes a matter of chance or “happenstance” as described by Baum & Singh in their “Evolutionary Dynamics of Organisms”. They describe a technological age which is in an era of ferment resulting in technical discontinuities i.e. lots of dead ends.

        The transition from our current “era of ferment” requires a “dominant design” for what they called a “spanning organisation” which aligns directly with your response to Chris Troutner above “Maybe we need to go further still and realise that nuances also exist within the collective, that each stakeholder is driven by a different set of motives”.

        Without a dominant organisational or spanning design which can “recognise stakeholder nuances and provide a methodology to bring them together in a way which achieves each of their needs/motives” …our human evolution, transition to the virtual & physical interoperability and decentralised creation of value is left to “happenstance”….. so we need a Breakthrough Business model (spanning organisational methodology) to create the WE and the HOW to take us out of the current ferment and usher in a Era of Incremental managed change.

        In essence we see that a new dominant smart society system (a spanning org design which provides communities access to the ability to build interlinks/operability through the safenetwork) can be built at the centre of and replace the current system (I understand SAFE can ultimately replace the existing the DNS infrastructure need).

        If approached correctly consumer, community, industry and societal stakeholders will drive the Communitylinked SAFE data/peer to peer system solution and new social contract when the significant $$ & efficiency benefits which are returned to the all community stakeholders are presented simply. The cost/benefit analysis and user demand for the services will overide the perceived loss of security objection/roadblock of some stakeholders!

        We are close to completing the ULB CL beta site which explains in detail the CommunityLink methodology and how it addresses the above. When completed I will send you a link and intro letter to begin a discussion as to how the CL business model, business & investment case can directly support the SAFE commercial path/partnership approaches described in the Maidsafe Business Overview. With SAFE & CL working together we may have the dominant design to take us out of the current era of ferment and usher us into an era of Incremental managed change. I have a range of technical questions. I would appreciate your advice as to the best forum to address those with you.

    2. If You lean on the real-world legal framework, then You end up leaning on the LOWEST COMMON DENOMINATOR.

      Do You really want Einsteins to adhere to the same rules that the drunks in some Nazi bar adhere to? One solution that might save the Einsteins is the use of namespaces, the way they are used in various programming languages. Please note that namespaces do not have to be included into each other, they can be arranged in a totally un-hierarchical manner.

  6. Hi Nick
    I’ve been a web developer for the Australian Government for 20 years and MaidSafe is one of the few developments that’s really got my complete attention. I agree and support much of your commentary about the current imballance in todays Internet re centralisation of services resulting in the ‘Internet haves’ and the ‘Internet have nots’. My question though is….

    Humans and humanity can sometimes be evil by way of acting out perverse behaviours. If presented with the opportunity to communicated and share their perversions with other likeminded evil doers under complete anonymity, won’t it surely attracted all the undesirable entities on the Internet to this new anonymous honeypot? Or is that the price we’ll have to agree to pay and perhaps turn a blind eye?

    1. Hi Brad,

      Thanks for response and great to have you engaged. The SAFE Network was designed as a better computer network, in our opinion a step change improvement on the current centralised model. It is designed for the 99% (?) of us that use the Internet to connect, learn and share knowledge that helps to improve and further our understanding of the world around us. You are correct that people with views and motives that most of us find abhorrent will use the network, but that is no different to them using the internet/dark web today.

      There is also a lot of evidence to suggest that things like data surveillance don’t prevent crime, because these events are rare they do not comply with traditional prediction analytics. Indeed you could argue that most self-respecting cyber-criminals and terrorists would not allow themselves to be exposed via Internet-connected technologies, precisely because they know the security services are watching.

    2. Yes, we should turn the blind eye, because, as Edward Snowden told very vividly: the safest community, where nobody is able to harm anybody else, is a community, where everybody is in jail, in solitary confinement. OH, and by the way, the dead people commit the least amount of crime, so may be we should be really efficient at “making sure” that crime can not possibly happen.

Comments are closed.