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Consent of the Networked: The Worldwide Struggle For Internet Freedom Paperback – 23 Apr 2013
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Micah L. Sifriy, techPresident.com
"Count me among those who are thoroughly convinced by MacKinnon's reporting and arguments.... In many ways, MacKinnon's book is the one Evgeny Morozov should have written, if he was more interested in building a sensible movement for Internet freedom rather than conducting scorched-earth warfare against people who believe the Internet can help strengthen democratic culture.... While Consent of the Networked offers netizens a workable roadmap to a real vision of internet freedom, the people who should most read this book aren't the already aware, but folks--especially policy-makers--who see all the shiny devices and trendy social media and foolishly assume that the Internet will ultimately prevail. It might, but only if we understand what a lucky and unusual accident the Internet really is, and that to keep it open and free, we have to fight for it."
"[A] sharp, sobering rebuttal [to] heady rhetoric, questioning and complicating our understandings of what it means to be free online. MacKinnon's book presents a cogent picture of the many ways in which our lives, both online and off, are increasingly affected by regulators, politicians, and companies seeking to carve territories into the still-amorphous web.... [T]he book's intention isn't to offer up a set of neat solutions, but to spur all of us to pay more attention to the threats lurking beneath the web's shiny baubles, and to exhort us to take a more active role in claiming and defending our digital power, rights, and freedoms. In that, Consent of the Networked succeeds admirably; it should be required reading for anyone who cares about the future of the web--that is, for all of us."
Anne-Marie Slaughter, Bert G. Kerstetter '66 University Professor of Politics and International Affairs, Princeton University
"Consent of the Networked is a must-read for anyone interested in freedom of personal and political expression in the 21st century. It's accessible, engaging, and periodically hair-raising. It should have the same impact on public awareness of the vital issues surrounding Internet freedom that 'An Inconvenient Truth' had with regard to climate change."
"The Internet poses the most complex challenges and opportunities for human rights to have emerged over the last decade. Rebecca MacKinnon's book is a clear-eyed guide through that complexity." Joseph S. Nye, Jr., University Distinguished Service Professor, Harvard University, and author of The Future of Power
"Cyber power and governance of the internet is one of the great unsolved problems of the 21st century. Rebecca MacKinnon has written a wonderfully lively and illuminating account of the issues we face in this contentious area. It is well worth reading."
"Insightful and moving.... Ms. MacKinnon's stories of the effort occurring worldwide as people harness the Internet, often with a political, socioeconomic or religious motivation, are discerning, harrowing and empowering. From Egypt's record of torturing and jailing bloggers, China's system of corporate-level censorship and South Korea's strict requirements for real identification for online users, Ms. MacKinnon repeatedly strikes the appropriate balance between a technological discussion of the Net and the significance of human rights.... Packed with thorough and impeccable research and persuasive, eye-opening anecdotes from around the world, Consent of the Networked should spearhead a robust debate and join the handful of other books that successfully guide the reader through the land mines surrounding responsible use of the Internet." Boston Globe
"Internet policy maven Rebecca MacKinnon warns in an important new book... that the liberating power of digital technology is under threat from corporations and governments alike.... [MacKinnon] argues that neither political action nor competitive pressure spawned by the free market will protect our rights, finally making a strong case for a third way--a nongovernmental watchdog with sufficient clout to preserve freedom on the Internet."
"In her grand sweep of 'the worldwide struggle for internet freedom', Rebecca MacKinnon alights on the many dilemmas facing policy makers and corporate chiefs, and the many threats that cyberspace poses for individual liberty.... Thoroughly researched by one of the experts in the field, the book straddles the line between an academic and general audience. Mac Kinnon entreats internet users to see themselves as active citizens--not consumers or eyeballs. She harks back to Huxley's Brave New World... [and] ends with a rallying cry." L. Gordon Crovitz, Wall Street Journal
"'Consent of the Networked' describes how important it's been for the Internet to develop outside of multinational organizations, with technology companies, engineering associations and civil society groups having as much influence as governments.... Applying the political-science notion of a social contract to the Web for 'consent of the networked' is a novel approach. It recognizes that the Web is global, with an inherent ideology in favor of more transparency and greater access to information."
New York Journal of Books
"[M]any thinkers on the information-wants-to-be-free side of the debate present the same binary choice, seeing almost any state control of the Internet, or any government attempt to protect intellectual property, or even the attempts of private social networks to get people to log in with their real names, as affronts to democracy comparable with the worst excesses of repressive regimes. Luckily, Ms. MacKinnon's analysis is more nuanced and balanced than that, and Consent of the Networked is an excellent survey of the Internet's major fault lines."
James Fallows, National Correspondent, The Atlantic
"For nearly a decade, Rebecca MacKinnon has been at the center of evolving debates about how the Internet will affect democracy, privacy, individual liberties, and the other values free societies want to defend. Here she makes a persuasive and important case that, as with other technological revolutions through history, the effects of today's new communications systems, for human liberation or for oppression, will depend not on the technologies themselves but rather on the resolve of citizens to shape the way in which they are used." Joi Ito, Director, MIT Media Lab
"Consent of the Networked will become the seminal book firmly establishing the responsibility of those who control the architecture and the politics of the network to the citizens who inhabit our new digital world. Consent of the Networked should be required reading for all of those involved in building our networked future as well as those who live in it."
Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist
"A growing number of people throughout the world are counting on the Internet to move their countries in a more democratic direction. Consent of the Networked describes what's happening, successes and failures, what's next, and what needs to be done. It's the real deal." Kirkus Reviews
"An incisive overview of the global struggle for Internet freedom.... In her wide-ranging book, MacKinnon details the many ways in which governments, corporations and others are using the Internet--from empowering people to helping authoritarian dictators survive." Booklist
"A vitally important analysis of Internet manipulation that should be read by anyone relying on the web for work or pleasure."
Cory Doctorow, Boing Boing
"It is an absolutely indispensable account of the way that technology both serves freedom and removes it. MacKinnon is co-founder of the Global Voices project, and a director of the Global Network Initiative, and is one of the best-informed, clearest commentators on issues of networks and freedom from a truly global perspective. MacKinnon does a fantastic job of tying her theory and analysis to real-world stories." Guardian (UK)
"This timely, scholarly survey of global offences against 'freedom' on the internet also points out that Facebook, Google and the like supply 'corporate' rather than 'public' spaces, whose users are subject to the unsophisticated moral diktats of their owners." Pop Matters
"Fluent in Mandarin, MacKinnon spent nearly a decade as a CNN correspondent in Beijing, including several years as the bureau chief.... Her insight into how Western perception of the state of the Internet in China differs from the true situation on the ground is invaluable."
"An excellent survey of the Internet's major fault lines."-Wall Street JournalSee all Product description
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She explains clearly how governments like Burma, Syria and Egypt have managed to close down the Internet locally for short periods and how governments like China and Russia exercise what she calls respectively "networked authoritarianism" and "digital bonapartism". She sets out how even democratic governments are increasingly wanting to exercise more control over the Net with her native USA opposing the WikiLeaks material going online and having some 50 Internet-related Bills in Congress. She assesses the power and responsibility of what she calls the "sovereigns of cyberspace" such as "Googledom" and "Facebookistan" and highlights how discretonary are their terms of service and how opaque are their processes for removing content.
Like so many books critiquing uses and abuses of the Internet, however, the solutions proposed are very partial and lack detail. The problem is that there are fundamental contradictions in our attitudes to the Internet, even if we broadly share the same 'Western' values of individualism and liberty.
MacKinnion understands how the Internet works and how political activism operates, so she is sober and realistic in her assessments, writing that "If the events of 2011 taught the world anything, it is that although the Internet empowers dissent and activism, it is not an instant freedom tonic that, when applied in sufficient quantities, automatically results in freedom". Her central thesis is that "the corporations and governments that build, operate and govern cyberspace are not being held sufficiently accountable for the exercise of their power over the lives and identities of people who use digital networks". Yet - perhaps inevitably - the models she examines and supports for strengthening accountability of the Internet are very limited in reach and effectiveness. She admits that "The potential answers are daunting in their complexity".
She explains the role of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) and she describes the work of organisations like the Global Network Initiative (which only Yahoo, Google and Microsoft have joined) and Global Voices and political movements like the Pirate Party (especially in Sweden). She looks briefly at initiatives such as Britain's Internet Watch Foundation (which I chaired for six years) and mentions things like the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement between the USA and 34 other countries and British and French legislation on online copyright enforcement. She outlines the provisions of a Charter of Human Rights and Principles for the Internet which is both very broad-brush and unrealistically ambitious.
MacKinnon asserts: "It is imperative that voters, politicians, and companies of the world's democracies gain greater awareness of the need to find innovative ways of addressing problems that will not require citizens to pay for security with their freedom". I could not agree more. Maybe "Consent Of The Networked" will help a little in raising such awareness but sadly it does little to advance innovative solutions.
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Her book is an attempt to take the Net freedom movement to the next level; to formalize it and to put in place a set of governance principles that will help us hold the "sovereigns of cyberspace" more accountable. Many of her proposals are quite sensible. But my primary problem with MacKinnon's book lies in her use of the term "digital sovereigns" or "sovereigns of cyberspace" and the loose definition of "sovereignty" that pervades the narrative. She too often blurs and equates private power and political power, and she sometimes leads us to believe that the problem of the dealing with the mythical nation-states of "Facebookistan" and "Googledom" is somehow on par with the problem of dealing with actual sovereign power -- government power -- over digital networks, online speech, and the world's Netizenry.
But MacKinnon has many other ideas about Net governance in the book that are less controversial and entirely sensible. She wants to "expand the technical commons" by building and distributing more tools to help activists and make organizations more transparent and accountable. These would include circumvention and anonymization tools, software and programs that allow both greater data security and portability, and devices and network systems to expand the range of communication and participation, especially in more repressed countries. She would also like to see neitzens "devise more systematic and effective strategies for organizing, lobbying, and collective bargaining with the companies whose service we depend upon -- to minimize the chances that terms of service, design choices, technical decisions, or market entry strategies could put people at risk or result in infringement of their rights." This also makes sense as part of a broader push for improved corporate social responsibility.
Regarding law, she takes a mixed view. She says: "There is a need for regulation and legislation based on solid data and research (as opposed to whatever gets handed to legislative staffers by lobbyists) as well as consultation with a genuinely broad cross-section of people and groups affected by the problem the legislation seeks to solve, along with those likely to be affected by the proposed solutions." Of course, that's a fairly ambiguous standard that could open the door to excessive political meddling with the Net if we're not careful. Overall, though, she acknowledges how regulation so often lags far behind innovation. "A broader and more intractable problem with regulating technology companies is that legislation appears much too late in corporate innovation and business cycles," she rightly notes.
MacKinnon's book will be of great interest to Internet policy scholars and students, but it is also accessible to a broader audience interested in learning more about the debates and policies that will shape the future of the Internet and digital networks for many years to come.
My entire review of "Consent of the Networked" can be found on the Technology Liberation Front blog.