History of Computing Class: 3rd Blog Comment

What is the (implicit) argument about who or what controls data in the chapter we read from Stephen Levy’s In the Plex? And what is the argument of the chapters we’ve read so far from Goldsmith and Wu’s Who Controls the Internet?

Write a comment of 3-4 concise paragraphs (no more than 450 words total) that talks about how these two arguments are actually at odds with each other. How can you bring them into conversation, or alignment, by using your own insights and historical examples from class? If you’re stumped, take a look at this article to help you think through the connections.

THIRD BLOG COMMENT DUE Thursday Nov. 15 by 10pm


  1. David Binnion

    “In the Plex” showed how the needs and wants of the user changed the form of the internet. It showed how Google came to rise as a company by tailoring its product to fit the user. Meanwhile, “Who Controls the Internet” showed how the government was able to change the internet by regulation. It showed how Yahoo had to alter its services because of the laws of countries in the real world.

    These two views do seem to be at odds with each other. How can one being serve two masters? It would seem as though the internet could not simultaneously be free and regulated,

    It doesn’t appear to be too hard to bring the two views together. All it would take is a bit of compromise. Users want the internet to be a free, open space. To the ends and purposes of most of the users, that is perfectly fine and acceptable. To the ends of the users that seek to use the technology to infringe upon the rights of others, it is not. That is where regulations come in. The government can find and punish the users who infringe upon the rights of others while allowing the rest to do as they please. The thing is, the government cannot be allowed to gain too much power and rule over the users in the manner of Big Brother with constant surveillance and punishment for dissenting opinions.

  2. Eduard Glantsman

    One the one hand you have the concept of root authority, described in Chapter 3 of “Who Controls the Internet,” which is held firmly by the United States government. They have the power and authority to assign IPs and domain names to anyone wanting to connect to the internet, which gives them the power to decide who gets to connect to said internet. As such, it can be argued that the internet is controlled by the U.S. government.

    On the other hand, the chapter in “In the Plex” underlines the fact that an enormous portion of the internet is managed and run by industry (specifically, Google). The internet industry accounts for a massive slice of the world’s economic pie, like for example the fact that Google is the world’s largest computer manufacturer simply for the fact that it has to maintain and operate so many servers. In essence, the industry owns the architecture of the internet. This concept presents the argument that the internet is, rather, controlled by industry.

    Of course, since the US government owns root authority it can, at any point in time, decide that any particular website or IP isn’t allowed to communicate with the internet anymore. However, doing so would, in fact, bring harm to the US government in an economic way. Therefore, there exists a balance of power between government authority and industrial architecture.

    This relationship between industry and government is nothing new. In the heyday of mainframe computing, private companies like IBM would continually provide services to the US government (and others), and the government would return those services with handsome government contracts. Similarly with Google, many municipalities provide the fiber optic cable and location space for their data centers, which Google buys or rents from those governments in exchange for services.

    Essentially, this relationship highlights the fact that data is controlled by neither the government nor industry, but both. Data is a resource, just like iron or oil or human labor. As such, any organization that seeks to be successful and powerful is going to want to control it.

  3. Avery

    The main argument of the first few chapters of the book Who Controls the Internet, is that though the internet may seem like a unregulated space it is in fact highly dependent on certain national governments, especially the United States. On the other hand the In the Plex article suggests that over time Google, and other large commercial companies like Amazon, have come to control the data that we as users put on the internet. These two arguments are in conflict, because on one hand one reading tells us that Government controls the internet, that is they control the network, but private companies own the data and a network is only as important as the data it contains, If YouTube consisted solely of cat videos, the government would hardly be concerned with it.

    What has allowed this strange ownership pairing to come into existence and thrive has been the fact that it was in the government’s best interest to allow it to happen. The government has always been in the habit of using private industry, for the sake of coming up with ways to manage data. In 1890, when the census was imminent, the government hired Herman Hollerith to provide them with the machines they would use to process the data. Hollerith was responsible for gathering data, and the government got what it needed in the end. The issue is the same with the internet, to expect the government to maintain both ownership of the network, and gathering of the data on was deemed too large a task and instead private companies were allowed to gather data, and the government could ask for it at a later date, because despite owning the data on the network, the Who Controls the Internet chapters have shown us that these companies are still subject to local law.

    This creates the problem that we face currently, what is “local law,” and who is subject to it: in the early chapters of the book we see Yahoo being made subject to French and Chinese local law because they have products that they promote to both countries and have thus been subject to follow the law lest they face the consequences. While on the other hand companies that are located in countries were legislation about the internet is weak, such as the Caribbean, are able to break laws of other countries such as the piracy laws of the U.S as their products are not directly marketed there, and they stand to lose very little from being persecuted by these countries, and thus a disparity in the control these governments can exert is exposed.

  4. ProfessionalLemur

    Stephen Levy’s In the Plex primarily details how Google has been a lifelong proponent of a ubiquitous, cheap/free internet. Goldsmith and Wu’s Who Controls the Internet, however, takes the opposite point, arguing that a free internet is an imaginary internet, and that government regulations will forever rule over cyberspace. Indeed, these two articles represent two polar spectrums of internet concepts, freedom vs. reality.

    The Plex article makes it evident that Google has a long standing history of pushing the envelope regarding freedom of the internet. Though their primary purpose as a business was, of course, to generate a profit, they put this on the back burner and offered many of their cutting-edge applications for free (i.e. Gmail, Cloud). These concepts were radical at the time, and Google could have lost millions; despite this, they took the risk to further extend the internet to everyone. Google went so far as to establish data centers not only in the U.S., but also in countries as far as Latvia. Google did everything in its power to achieve its dream of a fast, free internet for everyone.

    This dream, however, is more of a fantasy according to Goldsmith and Wu. The argument in their book is that governments regulate the internet, and therefore the internet can never be truly free. The book’s point is supported by censorship in countries such as China, France, and even the U.S. The argument presented is that the internet will always be regulated by governments, and as such, regulations such as S.O.P.A (passed or not) and China’s censorship policies will forever govern the servers of cyberspace.

    The Plex article and Who Controls the Internet are clearly at odds; While one shows evidence of the cloud revolution, ultimate internet freedom, the other says “Not so fast” and points out that even when that time comes the internet shall be subject to its governmental overlords. Both of these texts are, of course, factual and logical, and in truth they are both correct. What keeps either argument from being “right” or “wrong” is the looming many maybes that plague them both. The Plex article assumes that the cloud revolution is both certain and with foreseeable consequences, when in reality neither is certain. Who Controls the Internet assumes that all governments which regulate the internet do so with an iron fist, and that governments will always have that authority. Again, neither is necessarily certain. Ultimately, though the arguments are contradictory, either suggested future is equally possible, only time will tell.

  5. Huda

    The first two chapters from Who Controls the Internet? argues that even though the internet seems unregulated, it is actually dependent on different governments, primarily the United States government. In contrast, In The Plex, shows that Google is in charge of data on the internet.

    These arguments are at odds with each other because while the government plays a big role in regulating the internet, it is not actually the case with Google. While the government asks Google to take down certain content, Google listens to their requests sometimes but does not always comply. This shows that Google is in control of regulating data on the internet. Another reason Google is in charge of data on the internet is due to their multiple web applications such as Google documents and Google books. Many people use Google’s multiple applications which is a why a lot of content on the internet is because of Google.

    A reason I think the argument about who controls data are at odds with each other is due to the time period the readings cover. In Who Controls the Internet, the first two chapters focus on the 1980s-1990s. During this time period, not as many people had access to the internet as the present day. The internet was starting to become popular but it was easier to regulate content during this time. The In The Plex chapter covers content from the 2000s-2010. This time period is very recent. During this time, people used the internet and Google much more than the 1990s. I think that it is harder to regulate content in this time period and the present day, because of the large amount of people that use the internet. (Very good historical insights, Huda!–MH)

  6. Josh Brann

    In the Plex

    Argument: The amount of servers that Google has at its fingertips is the potential of the data that Google can provide, there fore Google controls the data. Google controls the internet in that the servers they have dictate how much data can be stored.

    Who Controls the Internet

    Argument: The US Government controls the Internet in that they have total “root authority”

    The two readings are speaking of different things, but are correlated in many instances. “In the Plex” the argument states that the more servers that Google has the more data Google can provide, therefore Google controls the data. Where as in the textbook the argument is that the US government controls the internet by having total root authority. These are correlated in that both have ownership or control over some portion of the Internet. The US Government has authority over the root authority and Google has authority on how many servers they have in which dictates the amount of data that Google provides.

    They are at odds because Google is still under the US government’s jurisdiction, in that they are a .com based site. Not only are they under the US government’s jurisdiction for specifics such as being a .com site, but also are required to follow federal and state laws. The Internet is continuing to become more and more complex with more and more data. This brain that Google is creating is inevitably going to create legal issues with the US Government.

    Google and the US Government both have authority, but Google has as much authority over its business as does any other business in the United States. The control a certain aspect of the internet, both of which are essential to the internets ability to function. The major difference is that Google provides a service or relaying information. What is already on the internet is not part of Google’s authority but that of the US Government.

  7. OodlesOfNoodles

    I believe the argument of Steven Levy’s “In the Plex” about who or what controls data is that Google controls the user provided data. As for the “Who controls the Internet” reading, I believe the argument is that the internet is controlled by national governments. These two forces sometimes oppose each other.

    When the United States Government funded ARPANet, it was meant to be used only for military communications. However, due to academia getting access to this network, things change and soon enough private business has access and controls who has access. This showed how the Internet moved from being under government control to being controlled by business. Fast-forward to today and now you see government trying to control what is on the Internet from the businesses (i.e. the Yahoo vs. France case) and recently national governments (US, France, Germany, Brazil etc.) request confidential user information (data) from the private businesses.

    Since losing the Internet to business, the government will always try to do something to regulate what goes on the Internet since they don’t have control. However, private companies will always fight back because they want to do business and make money. Over all, I guess they will always be in conflict and each side wants control of the Internet because they are both hungry for power; Government is always searching to gain more power as well as businesses, especially in a competitive market. I also believe this is what will drive the future of society into chaos and possibly war.

  8. Tully Mijatovic

    “In the Plex” argues that data is controlled by what people want to do with it. “Who Controls the Internet?” argues that data is controlled by whoever is perceived to have most un-opposable power over it.

    In telling Google’s story, Levy says the way things should work – and do work, in Google’s case – is someone with data says, “You know, it’d be great if I could do (insert something useful here) with my data, but it’s currently impossible, or so inconvenient it may as well be,” and Google overhears and says, “Yeah, we think that’d be pretty cool, too. I bet Marc and Johanna’d have a few ideas on how to do it, Omid, too. If you need us, we’ll be in the lab for the next month. Where’s the caffeine?” And a month later, out comes gSlicedBread 2.0 Beta, and everyone has an epiphany/heart attack about how awesome it is.

    The picture of the internet Wu paints is, by contrast, dystopian. I sincerely hope all who come across this blog post have seen “Office Space.” For those who haven’t, in the movie, there is a character named Milton. His prized possession is a cool red Swingline stapler. Bill Lumbergh, his boss, takes it, not because he has a particular use for it, but because he likes it and because he can. Milton’s sole protest is “I…believe you have my stapler,” and nothing more, because he knows he’ll get canned if he does anything more. This is similar to the story of Jon Postel, the Internet, and the US Federal government. On January 28th, 1998, Jon said, “I believe you [the Government] have my internet,” and took it back for a little while. Then, through Ira Magaziner, the Government said, “Jon, we can put you in jail for a million billion years. Could you hand that back to us, ol’ buddy?” Since he couldn’t oppose the Government’s power by putting it in jail of his own, Jon did as he was forced, and promptly died of heart failure. To this day, the Federal Government retains most of the internet’s naming and DNS power/rights, and usurping said power/rights is a criminal offense.

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