The number of major cyberlaw and information tech policy books being published annually continues to grow at an astonishing pace, so much so that I have lost the ability to read and review all of them. In past years, I put together end-of-year lists of important info-tech policy books (here are the lists for 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011) and I was fairly confident I had read just about everything of importance that was out there (at least that was available in the U.S.). But last year that became a real struggle for me and this year it became an impossibility. A decade ago, there was merely a trickle of Internet policy books coming out each year. Then the trickle turned into a steady stream. Now it has turned into a flood. Thus, I’ve had to become far more selective about what is on my reading list. (This is also because the volume of journal articles about info-tech policy matters has increased exponentially at the same time.)
So, here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to discuss what I regard to be the five most important titles of 2012, briefly summarize a half dozen others that I’ve read, and then I’m just going to list the rest of the books out there. I’ve read most of them but I have placed an asterisk next to the ones I haven’t. Please let me know what titles I have missed so that I can add them to the list. (Incidentally, here’s my compendium of all the major tech policy books from the 2000s and here’s the running list of all my book reviews.)
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Looking for a concise overview of how Internet architecture has evolved and a principled discussion of the public policies that should govern the Net going forward? Then look no further than Christopher Yoo‘s new book, The Dynamic Internet: How Technology, Users, and Businesses are Transforming the Network. It’s a quick read (just 140 pages) and is worth picking up. Yoo is a Professor of Law, Communication, and Computer & Information Science at the University of Pennsylvania and also serves as the Director of the Center for Technology, Innovation & Competition there. For those who monitor ongoing developments in cyberlaw and digital economics, Yoo is a well-known and prolific intellectual who has established himself as one of the giants of this rapidly growing policy arena.
Yoo makes two straight-forward arguments in his new book. First, the Internet is changing. In Part 1 of the book, Yoo offers a layman-friendly overview of the changing dynamics of Internet architecture and engineering. He documents the evolving nature of Internet standards, traffic management and congestion policies, spam and security control efforts, and peering and pricing policies. He also discusses the rise of peer-to-peer applications, the growth of mobile broadband, the emergence of the app store economy, and what the explosion of online video consumption means for ongoing bandwidth management efforts. Those are the supply-side issues. Yoo also outlines the implications of changes in the demand-side of the equation, such as changing user demographics and rapidly evolving demands from consumers. He notes that these new demand-side realities of Internet usage are resulting in changes to network management and engineering, further reinforcing changes already underway on the supply-side.
Yoo’s second point in the book flows logically from the first: as the Internet continues to evolve in such a highly dynamic fashion, public policy must as well. Yoo is particularly worried about calls to lock in standards, protocols, and policies from what he regards as a bygone era of Internet engineering, architecture, and policy. “The dramatic shift in Internet usage suggests that its founding architectural principles form the mid-1990s may no longer be appropriate today,” he argues. (p. 4) “[T]he optimal network architecture is unlikely to be static. Instead, it is likely to be dynamic over time, changing with the shifts in end-user demands,” he says. (p. 7) Thus, “the static, one-size-fits-all approach that dominates the current debate misses the mark.” (p. 7) Continue reading →
This Book is NOT about the Net
My latest Forbes column takes a look at Andrew Keen’s latest book, Digital Vertigo: How Today’s Online Social Revolution Is Dividing, Diminishing, and Disorienting Us. It’s an interesting book, and a much better one than his previous screed, Cult of the Amateur. Andrew raises valid concerns about the sheer volume of over-sharing taking place online today. As I note in my review:
Keen is on solid ground when outlining the many downsides of over-sharing, beginning with the privacy and reputational consequences for each of us. “Social media is the confessional novel that we are not only all writing but also collectively publishing for everyone else to read,” he says. That can be a problem because the Internet has a very long memory. A youngster’s silly pranks or soul-searching self-revelations may seem like a fun thing to upload when such juvenile antics or angst will win praise (and plenty of pageviews) from teen peers. Your 34-year-old self, however, will likely have a very different view of that same rant, picture, or video. Yet, that content will likely still be around for the world to see when you do reach adulthood.
And Keen offers many other reasons why we should be concerned about a world of over-sharing and “hypervisibility.” The problem is that Keen drowns out these valid concerns by assaulting the reader with layers of over-the-top pessimistic prognostications and apocalyptic rhetoric. In particular, again and again and again in the book he comes back to George Orwell and his dystopian novel, 1984. Keen insists that some sort of Orwellian catastrophe is set to befall humanity because of social media over-sharing. (See this other Forbes column on Keen’s book, “Why 1984 Is Upon Us,” to see just how far this theme can be pushed). Continue reading →
The folks at the Concurring Opinions blog were kind enough to invite me to participate in a 2-day symposium they are holding about Brett Frischmann’s new book, Infrastructure: The Social Value of Shared Resources. In my review, I noted that it’s an important book that offers a comprehensive and highly accessible survey of the key issues and concepts, and outlines much of the relevant literature in the field of infrastructure policy. Frischmann’s book deserves a spot on your shelf whether you are just beginning your investigation of these issues or if you have covered them your entire life. Importantly, readers of this blog will also be interested in the separate chapters Frischmann devotes to communications policy and Net neutrality regulation, as well as his chapter on intellectual property issues.
However, my review focused on a different matter: the book’s almost complete absence of “public choice” insights and Frischmann’s general disregard for thorny “supply-side” questions. Frischmann is so focused on making the “demand-side” case for better appreciating how open infrastructures “generate spillovers that benefit society as a whole” and facilitate various “downstream productive activities,” that he short-changes the supply-side considerations regarding how infrastructure gets funded and managed. I argue that: Continue reading →
On numerous occasions here at the TLF over the past eight years, I’ve noted the profound influence that the late Ithiel de Sola Pool had on my thinking about the interaction of technology, information, and public policy. In fact, when I needed to pick a thematic title for my weekly Forbes column, it only took me a second to think of the perfect one: “Technologies of Freedom.” I borrowed that from the title of Pool’s 1983 masterpiece, Technologies of Freedom: On Free Speech in an Electronic Age. As I noted in my short Amazon.com review, Pool’s technological tour de force is simply breathtaking in its polemical power and predictive capabilities. Reading this book three decades after it was published, one comes to believe that Pool must have possessed a crystal ball or had a Nostradamus-like ability to foresee the future.
I felt that same was this week when I was re-reading some chapters from his posthumous book, Technologies without Boundaries: On Telecommunications in a Global Age–a collection of his remaining essays nicely edited and tied together by Eli Noam after Pool’s death in 1984. Re-reading it again reminded me of Pool’s remarkable predictive powers. In particular, the closing chapter on “Technology and Culture” includes some of Pool’s thoughts on the future of copyright. As you read through that passage below, please try to remember he wrote these words back in the early 1980s, long before most people had even heard of the Internet and when home personal computing was only just beginning to take off. Yet, from what he already knew about networked computers and digital methods of transmitting information, Pool was able to paint a prescient portrait of the future copyright wars that we now find ourselves in the midst of. Here’s what he had to say almost 30 years ago about how things would play out: Continue reading →
My latest Forbes column is entitled “Why Doesn’t Society Just Fall Apart?” and it’s a short review of Bruce Schneier’s latest book, Liars & Outliers: Enabling the Trust that Society Needs to Thrive. It’s an interesting exploration of the societal pressures that combine to ensure that (most!) societies don’t go off the rails and end in anarchic violence. In particular, he identifies and discusses four “societal pressures” combine to help create and preserve trust within society. Those pressures include: (1) Moral pressures; (2) Reputational pressures; (3) Institutional pressures; and (4) Security systems. By “dialing in” these societal pressures in varying degrees, trust is generated over time within groups.
Of course, these societal pressures also fail on occasion, Schneier notes. He explores a host of scenarios — in organizations, corporations, and governments — when trust breaks down because defectors seek to evade the norms and rules the society lives by. These defectors are the “liars and outliers” in Schneier’s narrative and his book is an attempt to explain the complex array of incentives and trade-offs that are at work and which lead some humans to “game” systems or evade the norms and rules others follow. Continue reading →
It’s time again to look back at the major cyberlaw and information tech policy books of the year. I’ve decided to drop the top 10 list approach I’ve used in past years (see 2008, 2009, 2010) and just use a more thematic listing of major titles released in 2011. This thematic approach gets me out of hot water since I have found that people take numeric lists very seriously, especially when they are the author of one of the books and their title isn’t #1 on the list! Nonetheless, at the end, I will name what I regard as the most important Net policy book of the year.
I hope I’ve included all the major titles released during the year, but I ask readers to please let me know what I have missed that belongs on this list. I want this to be a useful resource to future scholars and students in the field. [Reminder: Here's my compilation of major Internet policy books from the past decade.] Where relevant, I’ve added links to my reviews as well as discussions with the authors that Jerry Brito conducted as part of his “Surprisingly Free” podcast series. Finally, as always, I apologize to international readers for the somewhat U.S.-centric focus of this list.
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Earlier this year I read Scott Cleland’s new book, Search & Destroy: Why You Can’t Trust Google, Inc., after he was kind enough to send me an advance copy. I didn’t have time to review it at the time and just jotted down a few notes for use later. Because the year is winding down, I figured I should get my thoughts on it out now before I publish my end of year compendium of important tech policy books.
Cleland is President of Precursor LLC and a noted Beltway commentator on information policy issues, especially Net neutrality regulation, which he has vociferously railed against for many years. On a personal note, I’ve known Scott for many years and always enjoyed his analysis and wit, even when I disagree with the thrust of some of it.
And I’m sad to report that I disagree with most of it in Search & Destroy, a book that is nominally about Google but which is really a profoundly skeptical look at the modern information economy as we know it. Indeed, Cleland’s book might have been more appropriately titled, “Second Thoughts about Cyberspace.” In a sense, it represents an outline for an emerging “cyber-conservative” vision that aims to counter both “cyber-progressive” and “cyber-libertarian” schools of thinking.
After years of having Scott’s patented bullet-point mini-manifestos land in my mailbox, I think it’s only appropriate I write this review in the form of a bulleted list! So, here it goes.. Continue reading →