New norms of behavior are needed for Internet users, and it’s time for governments, companies, other organizations, and individuals to work together to define those standards, Internet advocates say.
Even as the Internet gives more and more people new ways to express themselves and improve their standard of living, it also creates problems that demand international and multistakeholder cooperation, speakers at the Global Internet and Jurisdiction Conference 2018 in Ottawa, Canada, said Monday.
The Internet has driven forward the ideas of globalization and equal opportunity for everyone, but technological advances have also created complexity that many people weren’t prepared for, said Kathy Brown, president and CEO of Internet Society.
“We now face enormous challenges as the pace of change has accelerated faster than did our human institutions, societal and existing global agreements,” she said during the first day of the conference.
Many governments have looked toward heavy regulation and censorship as a way to deal with this complex environment, Brown added.
Governments in some countries “are doubling down on what they know how to do — shut it down, shut it off, censor users, regulate creators,” she added. “The global Internet community, itself, is in danger of splintering into predictable commercial, social and geopolitical camps, and user trust is being lost by bad actors exploiting the very vulnerabilities that we understood but failed to adequately address.”
International cooperation is needed to deal with the security problems that continue to plague the Internet and with groups using it to distribute hate speech or inaccurate information, added Vint Cerf. New Internet norms of behavior are needed to create an “increasingly beneficial Internet in anticipation to the billions who will gain access to it as this decade ends,” he said.
The freedom of expression that the Internet enables has “some social downsides,” Cerf said. “Mixed into the vast useful, or at least innocuous, content of the Internet is harmful, wrong, abusive, and misleading material injected by intent or ignorance.”
An international effort is needed to deploy the same tools that built the Internet to improve its safety, security, privacy, and utility, Cerf added.
Cross-border solutions will not be easy, however, some participants said. While international cooperation is needed, Internet advocates in the developed world need to recognize that some solutions may not work as well in developing nations, said Katherine Getao, secretary of the Ministry of Information, Communications, and Technology in Kenya.
The cost of implementing cross-border regulations and agreements in the developing world can be prohibitive or may not fit with local standards, she said. Adding to the difficulty of creating global norms: In some cases, Internet users in developing countries may not fully understand what they give up to receive the benefits of online services, she added.
“Every day in developing countries, we subscribe to thousands of free services, and we do it in exchange for our [personal] data,” Getao said. “We don’t know how valuable the data is that we are giving up.”
Many online services come from outside of Kenya, she added. “Is there a way to … compensate those who give up this data?” she said.
As the conference looks for solutions to several problems, new ideas are needed to deal with a growing loss of trust in the Internet, Brown said.
“So, how do we address these social anxieties, legitimate government concerns and economic realities?” she added. “Keep doing what we are doing or develop new approaches that can facilitate decision-making on a local, regional, and global scale that will keep pace with the changing world in which we find ourselves?”
The solutions must be collaborative, inclusive, transparent, and agile, she added. “Current top-down governmental efforts at control, self-serving business models, unilateral security communiques will not be successful,” she added. “New models are required and we must act now.”