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Furture of open internet

Will non-profit foundations step up to save the internet?

A few corporations and government are strangling democratized technology. We have to fight back, but it takes money

The internet is increasingly controlled by a few companies that are not acting in the pubic's interests. Photograph: AP

The best foundations and philanthropies exist to address market failure, working to solve problems that business and government ignore or make worse. Andrew Carnegie funded public libraries in America. Bill and Melinda Gates are working to save lives in the developing world. The Ford Foundation puts social justice at the core of its programs.
Now it's time for our major foundations and philanthropists to address an impending new failure. They can help save the kinds of open, decentralized systems that gave us personal computing and the internet.
Like a python that suffocates its prey, the forces of centralization corporate and governmental are inexorably strangling democratized technology and communications. They have power, and they have money, and they're not even slightly interested in allowing tomorrow's technology and communications to be controlled by the users, because that would threaten their power and profits. They don't do this because they necessarily have evil goals. Rather, like the python, it is in their nature.
I'm hardly the first to notice any of this. Far-seeing people have been warning for years about the way users of technology and communications have been herded often willingly into various kinds of walled gardens and centralized services. Companies like Facebook, Google, Apple and Microsoft have built dominant positions in key areas of the overall ecosystem by offering genuine value. Governments create or permit oligopolies, even monopolies, in telecommunications service; and politicians fan public fears of violence and terrorism so they can spy on, if not lock down, our communications.
The result: the devices we buy are increasingly controlled by the sellers, not us. What we say and do is increasingly recorded. Innovation moves from the edge of networks to the center, because we need permission from the ones in control.
It's not a lost cause, not yet. A number of efforts, some longstanding and others fledgling, are under way in the US and around the world to alert people to what's at stake. Activist groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation, among a number of others, work hard to get the public's attention.
The EFF and others are also trying to do something about the situation, beyond talking, by working on technological measures to boost security and this is key keep user control at the edges, by effectively re-decentralizing. These efforts range from the decades-old free software movement (often called "open source") to the more recent "Indie Web" and Open Technology Institute projects. In an upcoming column I'll talk in more detail about some of the newer technological initiatives.
However useful they are, they may well be over-matched on this most tilted of playing fields. Which is where foundations enter the picture. Here's my plea to them:
First, direct some resources toward education. Help the public understand the issues. This is necessary because on issue after issue, major media tend to reflect corporate and governmental values, not the public's. Copyright, for example, has become a major control issue, with Hollywood and its allies working constantly for ever-tougher laws restricting access to and use of copyrighted material, and using existing laws to thwart innovative new services that threaten their business model. The major TV networks' news programs have barely addressed copyright, because they are part of the cartel that wants more control.
An education campaign would work to persuade traditional media, or at least buy some advertising, but that's only a start. It would also use newer forms of media, including social media. It would work with parents and educators, to help children learn how to be critical thinkers and trust liberty over control.
My second wish for the philanthropic folks: Please fund a bunch of research and development of open technologies and services. In other words, help re-create an infrastructure for tech liberty. Don't pick winners. Pick possibilities and help as many as possible, building on current experiments and projects and finding new ones that sound promising. Understand that most will fail, and be fine with that.
Once we see what is likely to work, funders could then reinvest to help make those technologies and services sustainable in large part by encouraging the public to use them. One thing we've seen in the tech and communications world is how self-reinforcing it can be. The only non-negotiable requirements for this R&D should be that projects are a) decentralized in nature, b) designed to increase users' control and personal security, and c) open-source so that others can build on them. The last thing we need to assist is another Facebook or Comcast.
How much would be needed for this? If just 10 major foundations each committed $50m to the initiative, that would be a good start. Keep in mind that even half a billion dollars is pocket change for the Googles, Comcasts and Facebooks of our era, much less the National Security Agency.
I've been told that people from several key philanthropies met recently with open-technology thinkers to ask what the foundation world could do to address the situation. I implore them to meet again more publicly this time and resolve to take action, not just talk. This is an emergency. Please do something, before it's too late.
"The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it." Karl Marx

"He would, wouldn't he?" Mandy Rice-Davies. When asked in court whether she knew that Lord Astor had denied having sex with her.

“I think it would be a good idea” Ghandi, when asked about Western Civilisation.

Bitcloud developers plan to decentralise internet

Can the Bitcoin network provide a model for a whole new internet?

An ambitious project has been launched that the developers hope could one day replace the current internet.
Bitcloud aims to harness the same methods used to mine Bitcoins, to provide services currently controlled by internet service providers (ISPs) and corporations.
Individuals would perform tasks such as storing, routing and providing bandwidth, in return for payment.
The founders are searching for developers for the project.
"We will start by decentralising the current internet, and then we can create a new internet to replace it," they said.
Just as Bitcoin miners provide computing power and are rewarded for solving complex mathematical equations with the virtual currency, so individual net users would be rewarded based on how much bandwidth they contribute to the Bitcloud network.
"Adding the profit motive to the equation gives this project a chance to succeed where many others have failed in the past," reads the group's white paper.
A currency known as Cloudcoins is proposed to underpin the network.
"If you're interested in privacy, security, ending internet censorship, decentralising the internet and creating a new mesh network to replace the internet, then you should join or support this project," the group said.
'Much to do' Among examples of new services, the proposal describes how YouTube could become WeTube.
"WeTube can act as a replacement for YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, Soundcloud, Spotify and other audio video streaming services," it said.
Artists would be paid with a percentage of advertising revenues, it said.
Critics may question how such a model can be sustained but the success of Bitcoin suggests that such decentralised networks can work.
Online retailer Overstock began accepting Bitcoin payments earlier this month and recently Google revealed it was looking at ways to integrate Bitcoins into its payment systems.
But the team behind Bitcloud, whose names have not been released, acknowledged they were only at the beginning of the project.
"There are still many key decisions that need to be made in the Bitcloud protocol. We have a basic idea of how everything will work, but we need assistance from programmers and thinkers from around the world who want to help," they said.
"The idea is an interesting thought-experiment at least," Boing Boing co-founder Cory Doctorow blogged on the site.
"Using market forces to allocate resources on the internet is an old one and I remain sceptical that this produces optimal outcomes," he added.
"The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it." Karl Marx

"He would, wouldn't he?" Mandy Rice-Davies. When asked in court whether she knew that Lord Astor had denied having sex with her.

“I think it would be a good idea” Ghandi, when asked about Western Civilisation.

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