Building a sustainable path to a global knowledge system –

The global Internet that keeps our information ecosystem rich and robust is in jeopardy. Policies to ensure technological neutrality, portability and interoperability are urgent, warn Juan Ortiz Freuler and Stefano Quintarelli.

Juan Ortiz Freuler is a researcher at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School. Stefano Quintarelli is an internet entrepreneur and former Italian MP who invented the “device neutrality” paradigm.

Two years later, the pandemic continues to ravage economies around the world. However, the American tech giants have become stronger than ever: their data usage has increased by 18% and data usage for games has increased by up to 75%.

Over the past two years, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google have seen their combined annual profits grow from around $175 billion to nearly $300 billion; at the same time, tech giants have come under increasing scrutiny from regulators.

This explosive growth may have slowed in recent months as recession fears grow, but regulatory and policy scrutiny continues.

The current scenario seems uneven. On the one hand, the technology sector is facing a strong techlash: Nowadays, more and more people in Europe and the United States consider that many of these companies are not trustworthy. On the other hand, a number of countries restrict the free flow of data. Data localization rules, application blockages, firewalls, shutdowns are all growing phenomena: a sign that many governments and businesses around the world are not only preparing, but actively working towards a more fragmented information ecosystem. This means that the still prevalent Internet governance that allowed companies to operate globally with few local barriers is starting to crack.

In the face of these tensions, we are faced with a question: how will the current generation of leaders deal with them to bring about change. We believe the outcome will ultimately depend on which approach becomes dominant as we imagine the future of the Internet.

If the surveillance approach becomes prevalent – ​​either in the form of corporate-promoted surveillance capitalism or in the form of government-promoted political surveillance – then it will most likely be shut down more often than it would be. economically desirable.

If the approach that sees the Internet as a platform for the exchange of digital services and goods becomes dominant, we are likely to see great fragmentation, as countries try to create their own “digital ports” to obtain [secure] a good part of the market. In this case, we risk losing a lot of knowledge.

However, if the primary lens through which we see the Internet is that of a knowledge-sharing network, as it was originally conceived, then the interests of all nations and all regulators could converge. Anyway, it’s not just a question of conceptualize the Internet. On the contrary, we need the Internet to start functioning as a real knowledge network.

It’s not a matter of taste; we urgently need knowledge to be shared and interconnected, given the rate at which our planet’s natural ecosystems are collapsing. We need our information ecosystem to be at least as networked as its natural counterparts. In short, this means we need a big realignment.

But our current information ecosystem, the Internet, needs to be weeded before it can sow. To do this, policy makers and regulators have three key tools: the principles of neutrality, portability and interoperability. To be effective, legislators and regulators must apply these principles not in single, stand-alone policies, but as part of an integrated approach. An approach that deliberately aims to realign our networks with knowledge sharing and creation [at readdressing our networks towards knowledge sharing and creation].

By taking advantage of this toolkit, policy makers around the world would invigorate the digital environment and make it more diverse, rich and robust. The combined strengths of neutrality, portability and interoperability would reassure entrepreneurs that they would get a fair chance in the market, while reassuring political leaders that technology vendors will not limit the sovereignty and autonomy through locking mechanisms.

Deploying neutrality, portability and interoperability would help ensure that the Internet continues to function at the scale of our current challenges: if the collapse of natural ecosystems and the consequent displacement of millions of people is an inherently planetary challenge, then we need an equivalent planetary network. knowledge model to deal with it.

It’s important to recognize that these three tools will be less effective in solving issues like privacy. For example, in our existing technology framework, gatekeepers controlling AppStores and web browsers have assumed responsibility for protecting users from abuse by malicious apps and websites. If these guardians lose power, it is likely that malevolent activity will increase until the energy void is filled.

But there is a viable alternative: to mitigate these risks, we need supervisory powers to be exercised by independent bodies, not market players. By doing so, we could have institutions that can protect people both from malicious actors and from abuse by corporate gatekeepers.

The toolbox would have help solve the techlash by nurturing a more informed public debate. Rules favoring neutrality, portability and interoperability are, by definition, rules that favor and often require the sharing of information between different companies and state actors. These are standards that promote coordination. The sharing of knowledge and information would allow for vigorous public debate about the design of the technology and the actual operation of the global interconnected information system. A debate that public representatives should engage in to ensure that we realign our technology development priorities with the public interest.

Donald E. Patel