Net Partiality #3: Our favourite reads about the internet

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Reads from across the internet we particularly enjoyed:

  • Cyber fleets: “The Untold Story of NotPetya, the Most Devastating Cyberattack in History” by Andy Greenberg in Wired. Incredible longread by Andy Greenberg about last year’s NotPetya cyber attack, which is estimated to have caused over $10 billion in damages worldwide. This piece is a play-by-play of the impact NotPetya had on the Danish shipping giant Maersk, and is a stark reminder that we are worryingly ill-prepared to deal with these kinds of ever more frequent and sophisticated cyber attacks.
  • British Digital Corporation: “Corbyn proposes 'public Facebook' as part of media overhaul” by Jim Waterson in The Guardian. Guardian article on a new proposal by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn for the creation of a British Digital Corporation, BDC - a sort of national Facebook - to sit alongside the BBC. “A BDC could use all of our best minds, the latest technology and our existing public assets not only to deliver information and entertainment to rival Netflix and Amazon but also to harness data for the public good.” We’re not sure if a BDC would solve (or not worsen) the many issues it sets out to do - from saving quality and trustworthy journalism to giving citizens ownership over their own data - but it is an interesting idea nonetheless.
  • Canary in the coalmine: “Chinese Cops Now Spying on American Soil” by Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian in The Daily Beast. There has been a welcome new wave of attention for the repression faced by Uyghurs, China’s 12 million strong Muslim minority, with some excellent reporting by journalists such as Buzzfeed’s Megha Rajagopalan (who actually just got her Chinese visa revoked for it) and the above piece in the Daily Beast, about how Beijing is employing internet tech to spy even on Uyghurs living abroad (and building a massive registry tracking their moves). Incredibly important in its own right, but also a harbinger of the kind of extreme surveillance which might soon come for the rest of us.
  • Towards a data commons: “There is a leftwing way to challenge big tech for our data. Here it is” by Evgeny Morozov in The Guardian. Interesting piece by Evgeny Morozov, advocating for the creation of national data trusts as an alternative model to surveillance capitalism or now frequently proposed data brokerage/monetisation models. We are also exploring the data trust model, and agree giving citizens more ownership over how their data is used in this way, helps us solve the balancing act issue between data privacy and using data for purposes like AI-for-good.
  • Regulatory Superpower: “Regulate to Liberate: Can Europe Save the Internet?” by Helen Dixon in Foreign Affairs. Great, in-depth piece about Europe’s role as the most important (and in effect only) power when it comes to regulating the internet, and more specifically Big Tech. Part of a dedicated Foreign Affairs issue on the future of the internet, with many great pieces well worth reading.
  • Wizard of Oz: “Potemkin AI” by Jathan Sadowski in Real Life Magazine. Really interesting piece on the growing list of services that purport to be powered by AI, but actually rely on humans acting like robots in the background.
  • The Reputation Economy: “How TripAdvisor changed travel” by Linda Kinstler in The Guardian. Longread about the enormous impact travel review website TripAdvisor has had on the global hospitality industry - a good versus bad TripAdvisor score can make or break a hotel or restaurant. But, like other platforms, TripAdvisor has also been struggling with “fake news” in the form of paid reviews and deliberate smear campaigns, forcing the company into an “arbiter of truth” role which it, like other Silicon Valley giants, is unwilling to take on.
  • What’s Next for Tech for good: “What Might the Future of DSI Look Like?” by Codrina Cretu for DSI4EU. Great blog by my colleague Codrina on the DSI project’s new work on mapping out different possible futures for the digital social innovation and inclusive business models space.
  • In Antitrust We Trust?: “The Rules of Monopoly” by Vanessa A. Bee in Current Affairs. Though this piece isn’t strictly about the internet, it does cover most of the tech giants and the struggles we’re facing trying to challenge their growing monopoly power. Many turn to regulation when we speak about curbing corporate power, but are current antitrust tools fit for purpose? Do the rules of monopoly still hold?
  • More than clicking a box: “Do you agree?: What #MeToo Can Teach Us About Digital Consent” by Elinor Carmi in OpenDemocracy. The GDPR has in many ways empowered European citizens, but how much is this empowerment really worth if we still don’t have a meaningful choice? A thought-provoking piece by Elinor Carmi making the point that there is a lot to be learned from #MeToo and other sexual consent discussions when it comes to thinking about informed consent online.
  • Will of the People: “Who needs democracy when you have data?” by Christina Larson for MIT Technology Review. In-depth reporting on Beijing’s rationale behind its extensive data surveillance programme - not just a method to control China’s enormous population, but also to understand the needs and wishes of its people without having to open itself up to tools of democracy. A key sentence: “Even some foreign observers, watching from afar, may be tempted to wonder if such data-driven governance offers a viable alternative to the increasingly dysfunctional ­looking electoral model.”
  • Taking back control: “Taming the Tech Monster” by Guy Verhofstadt in Project Syndicate. Op-ed piece by former Belgian Prime Minister/ALDE-leader/European Parliament Brexit negotiator/frequent polemicist about the future of Europe Guy Verhofstadt with his suggestions for how we can curb big tech power and remedy some of the internet’s emerging ills, and a proposal for a new model of digital governance.

Other bits and pieces:

  • Join the team! Interested in working on the Engineroom project with us? Nesta is looking for a research intern to help with our emerging tech work. Internships last six months, and are paid at London living wage. Deadline to apply 1 September. More information here.
  • Make The Internet Great Again: Mozilla is looking for suggestions for topics to cover in their annual Internet Health report. Send in your suggestions by 14 September.
  • Interesting Berkeley syllabus on the ethics of code by Jacob Gaboury:

  • Saving Journalism: We are quite intrigued by Civil, a new initiative trying to help fund great (local) journalism through a Blockchain-based token model. Their ICO is planned for September 18th.
  • Guests for the Summer: TV Programme Zomergasten (literally “Summer guests”) is a veritable institution on the Dutch national TV, subjecting prominent guests, from actors to scientists to politicians, to a three-hour long in-depth interview. Last week internet pioneer and director of the Waag, Marleen Stikker brilliantly laid out the problems with the internet (and society more broadly) today. Watch here (unfortunately mostly in Dutch, though also some clips in English available!).
  • In The Loop: sign up for the In The Loop newsletter on the impact of technology on society, curated by DotEveryone’s excellent Cassie Robinson. They are also planning an event in London later in September, for which you can sign up here.

This newsletter is curated by Nesta as part of the Engineroom project, one of the umbrella projects under the European Commission’s Next Generation Internet banner, the European Commission's ambitious new initiative seeking to build a more inclusive, democratic and resilient internet by 2025.


Katja Bego

Katja Bego

Katja Bego

Principal Researcher, Next Generation Internet

Katja Bego was Principal Researcher and data scientist in Nesta’s technology futures and explorations team.

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