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Who Controls the Internet?: Illusions of a Borderless World

Who Controls the Internet?: Illusions of a Borderless World [Kindle Edition]

Jack Goldsmith , Tim Wu
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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A timely look at the ways that governments make themselves felt in cyberspace. Goldsmith and Wu cover a range of controversies, from domain-name disputes to online poker and porn to political censorship. Their judgments are well worth attending. (David Robinson, Wall Street Journal)

In the 1990s the Internet was greeted as the New New Thing: It would erase national borders, give rise to communal societies that invented their own rules, undermine the power of governments. In this splendidly argued book, Jack Goldsmith and Tim Wu explain why these early assumptions were mostly wrong: The Internet turns out to illustrate the enduring importance of Old Old Things, such as law and national power and business logic. By turns provocative and colorful, this is an essential read for anyone who cares about the relationship between technology and globalization. (Sebastian Mallaby, Editorial Writer and Columnist, The Washington Post)

BBC Focus, Autumn 2006

'This fascinating book is a highly detailed and easily accessible guide.'

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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Refreshing 17 Jun 2006
This is a competent work that challenges the oft-repeated cliché of the "Internet without borders". Written in an approachable style, it analyses a number of cases where governments, from the United States, through Europe to China and Australia, have successfully managed to control the Internet. Sometimes, as in China, this was accompanied by an unprecedented investment in IT infrastructure, demonstrating that intervention in the developing world, however problematic, does not always equal lack of innovation.

The authors give an accurate picture of various modes of intervention, and of their outcomes but if their book has a shortcoming, it is probably in its underestimation of the very real threat of government intervention in cyberspace. Although, they have successfully argued that intervention may sometimes be necessary (as in the case of eBay) they never provide the elements of a proper governance model.

Highly recommended.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Caught in the net 9 Aug 2013
This is a clear and insightful book, which clarifies the legal and IT maze that exists behind each website. It starts by showing
how companies initially hostile to State intervention had turned and begun actively assisting in the censorship of the Internet. It details both the soft and hard doctrines of State coercion that turned the dream of a libertarian self-regulated global community into one bounded by national geographically sourced local laws. Well recommended to understand the hows an why you are reading this webpage.
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Goldsmith & Wu (2006) in `Who Controls the Internet', contrast the early expectations and ideology that surrounded the developments of the internet, with the reality of commercialisation and governmental control, shortly before and after the change of the millennium.

By characterising the early ideology of the internet as free, undisturbed by physical location, government intervention and law and reflects the `hacker ethics', although Goldsmith & Wu do not use the latter terminology. Throughout the different chapters, each based around an example, such as Yahoo versus local law, the authority over the Root, internet crime and copy rights, they show that the internet is over the years brought under governmental and commercial authority. "The internet is no exception" as Goldsmith & Wu (2006: 153) argue, to other information technologies that have been introduced to us like the telegraph, radio and television.

Besides illustrating their point, they also argue that there is some virtue in this development. Despite internets contribution to globalisation, most of us are still concentrated within local, language and cultural boundaries, have `different backgrounds, capacities, preferences, desires and needs' and are not interested in racism, discrimination, fraud, cybercrime and infringement of our privacy, freely possible in the early years of the internet (Goldsmith & Wu, 2006: 149). Commercial interests and customisation, and governmental law, in some cases globally imposed, show that regulation has lead to a more stable and robust internet.

The strength of Goldsmith & Wu's (2006) book lays in this argument.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.3 out of 5 stars  25 reviews
25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Why the bordered Internet is necessary 23 Jun 2006
By Malvin - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
"Who Controls the Internet?" by Jack Goldsmith and Tim Wu offers a clear-eyed assessment of the struggle to control the Internet. Starting with a discussion of the early vision of a borderless global community, the authors present some of the most prominent individuals, ideas and movements that have played key roles in developing the Internet as we know it today. As Law Professors at Harvard and Columbia, respectively, Mr. Goldsmith and Mr. Wu adroitly assert the important role of government in maintaining Internet law and order while skillfully debunking the claims of techno-utopianism that have been espoused by popular but misinformed theorists such as Thomas Friedman.

The book has three sections. Part One is "The Internet Revolution". The authors discuss the early days of the Internet through the 1990s, when Julian Dibbell and John Perry Barlow articulated a libertarian vision that gained wide currency in the public imagination. The Electronic Frontier Foundation worked to protect the Internet from regulation in the belief that a free online community might unite people and melt government away. However, Jon Postel's attempt to assert control over the root naming and numbering system in 1998 was short-lived, as the U.S. government flexed its power in order to protect its national defense and business interests.

Part Two is "Government Strikes Back". Users in different places with widely varying cultures and preferences want information presented in their local language and context, the authors explain. Governments use a number of techniques to pressure or control local intermediaries to restrict Internet content that a majority of its citizens find unacceptable, such as the sale of Nazi paraphenelia in France. Of course, bad government begets bad policy: the authors tell us how China uses its powers of censorship to block dissent and publishes propaganda that cultivates a virulent form of nationalism. Yet, the authors illustrate how good government can work by showing how the contest in the U.S. between the RIAA and Kazaa ultimately enabled Apple's iTunes to emerge as a legally acceptable service that balances copyright laws and the public's preference for using the Internet to source and download music.

Part Three is "Vice, Virtues, the Future". The authors present an interesting case study about eBay and its founder's idealistic faith in the inherent goodness of the Internet community; we learn that when the company found its business model severely challenged by fraud, a resolution to the crisis was made workable with the assistance of local law enforcement. According to the authors, eBay, the case of an Australian libel lawsuit against a U.S. publisher, and Microsoft's acquiesence to European Union (EU) regulation of its Passport service are examples of how the bordered Internet seeks to protect citizens from harm. They argue convincingly that as a communications medium, the Internet is not unlike other technologies that have come before and therefore the Internet is not likely to displace territorial government. Rather, it is more likely, the authors speculate, that cultural and political differences may be leading us into a technological Cold War where the U.S., EU and China develop their own competitive Internet platforms.

The author's reasoning that issues of Internet law might be handled in the same manner as environmental laws at the international level brings to mind an argument made by Robyn Eckersley in her excellent book, "The Green State" where the pivotal role of the state in preserving the natural environment is asserted. While these two books might appear to be unfashionable to some by their emphasis on the state, in my opinion it appears that the facts on the ground support these authors when they suggest that government serves as the most amenable and accessible mechanism for expressing the popular will of the people, and will likely remain so for the foreseeable future.

I strongly recommend this engaging, intelligent and visionary book to everyone.
35 of 42 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Poorly reasoned apology for government control/surveillance of the Internet 21 Jan 2010
By Jesse Taylor - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I was very disappointed with this book after seeing all of the high reviews here, and reading the description for the book. I thought I was going to be reading an in-depth analysis of the technical, legal, and political means by which governments control, censor, and surveil the Internet, what the sociopolitical effects of this are, and how people around the world are resisting invasion of privacy and deprivation of autonomy.

Instead, I discovered that it was actually a poorly reasoned apology for government surveillance, censorship, and control of the Internet. Bringing out those trusty old substitutes for rational analysis and debate -- child porn, Nazi hate speech, and computer fraudsters -- Wu and Goldsmith repeatedly attempt to show us how grateful we should be for our governments "protecting" us from "villains", and how we were all so "naive" for thinking that we wanted to be able to have a democratic, uncensored electronic communications medium, and how silly we were for thinking that we would actually be allowed to have one.

They discuss issues within inane framings such as "uninhibited debate vs. order", and talk about how it's great that governments are censoring and monitoring the public, because that's what people need to keep them safe from all of those Nazis and child pornographers. They of course, superficially touch upon the Chinese surveillance state, and how in *extreme* and *rare* situations like China, government surveillance, censorship, and control might *possibly* lead to political repression -- but other than that, they keep on the velvet gloves, hardly discussing government violations of liberty and privacy, and not touching at all upon the extensive surveillance apparatus in the United States or Great Britain. They're too busy scaring us with stories that are supposed to let us know how good all of this is, to honestly cover the reasons that people oppose these sorts of government activities

Instead of hearing WHY people are so "caught up" in these "naive" quest for the ability to have private, uncensored communications, we have over 1/3 of the book informing us that these programs are a "necessary evil", and how anyone who criticizes them is just a naive, ethnocentric "libertarian" who doesn't understand that they can't go around pushing the "uniquely American values" of free speech and privacy on other cultures who don't want them. They both under- and mis-represent the views of people who defend privacy and autonomy, and make them out to be a bunch of naive, overly-optimistic, idealists who have such an innocent, childish view of the world that they, in their quest after silly abstractions like political freedom, have overlooked all of those "public goods" like libel law and police repression that maintain that comfortable "order" (comfortable, that is, if you are an Ivy League professor who gets to experience the friendly side of it, instead of a Chinese torture chamber) that is threatened by "uninhibited debate" (like people being able to openly discuss corporate crimes without being hit with a SLAPP lawsuit for violating the libel/slander laws that the authors are so vigorously promoting).

They "prove" through the example of fraud on E-Bay, that people need government to protect them from fraud, conveniently ignoring the fact that the market system that those same governments were designed to protect are the sole reason that the fraudsters exist in the first place (if there was no money or economic inequality/injustice, what exactly would a fraudster *do*?).

And besides all of that, even as an apology for totalitarianism and nationalism, it was still poorly put together. The book has extremely low information density, and is very poorly reasoned. Even if you agree with them that governments should tightly control and monitor the Internet, you still won't learn much -- most of the book is irrelevant fluff. Their view of how governments "work" is very simplistic -- reminiscent of a high-school civics/government class. Seeing that the authors are law professors at Ivy League universities merely reaffirms Noam Chomsky's statement that many of the people in universities these days are not really "intellectuals", but in fact "a kind of secular priesthood, whose task it is to uphold the doctrinal truths of this society."

Don't waste your time, money, or energy.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars BORDER IS NOTHING WITHOUT CONTROL 1 May 2006
By VAL ODUENYI - Published on
This well-written, smooth-flowing text has the capacity of keeping even the laziest reader reading without pause. Please, note that its essence does not include IT technologies like HTML, CSS, JAVA, and so on. Rather, the business of this book is based entirely on attempts (by both individuals and organisations) to bring sanity to the 'world-wild-net'!
Each argument seemed logical regardless of which side it is inclined to. At the moment, signs of change could be seen at the online horizon; yet, it may still take years (if not decades) for the holes to be completely plugged and monitored. But until when the future arrives, the Internet will remain a borderless world occupied by a flock of fly-free birds, many of which will continue to evade caging.
The chapters of this book did a good job in determining and weighing the pros and cons of effecting Internet controls. And, the most gruesome aspect is that the world wide web runs the risk of being balkanized into 'territorial waters'. And judging by Google's experience in China, this sort of control would cause professionalism to be compromised with the view of gaining market-shares.
In conclusion, there is no doubt that some measure of Internet sanity would be nice. However, absolute or high-handed governmental controls may serve to rob the Net of its flavors. Traditional online businesses would be the biggest gainer if this ever happens, whereas the biggest losers would include internet entertainment and leisure-oriented industries.
Most of the issues raised in this book are real-world. They constitute very good guiding principles. But as the Internet continues to grow and evolve, the validity of these principles may not be all that future-proof. Only time will tell. But until then, border will continue to mean nothing when control is non-existent.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Understand the complexity of the Internet 15 Jan 2007
By Andreas Harke - Published on
Jack and Tim made one thing dramatically clear: The Internet is no lawless enclave in our world. Their journey from the very beginning to the modern Internet is full of clear examples and anecdotes describing the "rude awakening" of idealists and patient people who participated in the development of the globe-consuming web.

When I read that the authors come from the dry plains of law science I was sceptical if the book would be worth to read. I imagined that their approach would be as dry as the 1000 ft law books in the libraries.

But, when I opened it and started reading I first put it down after page 186, the very last page of the remarkable work. Their writing is so gripping, so light to read, that even a none-English person like me could easily understand and enjoy it.

After working with the Internet since the beginnings of the 80's I thought I knew a lot about it and how it is screwed together, but I got surprised. Their view from a complete different angle, threw light on hidden aspects I honestly never thought about. In a modern world full of economical interests and its enforcement all makes absolute sense and even dramatic events like the Napster case fall into their logical place in this big puzzle.

Every part of the book is filled with cross-references and hints to further readings. All cases and examples are deep researched and very neutral presented.

Buy it, read it and give it to a dear one.
12 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This book is great. 31 Mar 2006
By srl - Published on
Lately, news about music piracy, on-line privacy, e-commerce, China's Internet censorship, Yahoo, Google, etc. is everywhere and, given that we spend so much time on the Internet downloading music, web-stalking people, buying stuff and working, we should be really grateful (I know I am) that, without having to read all that news, we can become better informed about these issues and Internet regulation by just reading Who Controls the Internet? Goldsmith and Wu have done us a huge favor by sifting through a lot of information about these complicated topics and breaking it down without dumbing it down.

This book is interesting, accessible and engaging enough to read cover to cover in one sitting. It's not esoteric theory and bears no resemblance to a boring law review article. These professors don't wax poetic about whether or not one can control this wacky metaphysical world called the "Internet".

The current debates about the Internet seem to focus on who gets to control the Internet and, more importantly, our interactions on the Internet and how to exercise such control. Through good writing, thorough research and well-developed ideas, Goldsmith and Wu explain the history behind these debates, where they stand today and how they should be resolved. Their book is great and couldn't be any timelier.

...and, oh yeah, keeping in mind that these guys are law professors, you just gotta love the little shout out to Wu-Tang Clan. Somewhere out there, even ODB is smiling down on this book.
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