What We’re Reading

Black Code coverRonald J. Deibert is the director of The Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs and the author of an important new book, Black Code: Inside the Battle for Cyberspace, an in-depth look at the growing insecurity of the Internet. Specifically, Deibert’s book is a meticulous examination of the “malicious threats that are growing from the inside out” and which “threaten to destroy the fragile ecosystem we have come to take for granted.” (p. 14) It is also a remarkably timely book in light of the recent revelations about NSA surveillance and how it is being facilitated with the assistance of various tech and telecom giants.

The clear and colloquial tone that Deibert employs in the text helps make arcane Internet security issues interesting and accessible. Indeed, some chapters of the book almost feel like they were pulled from the pages of techno-thriller, complete with villainous characters, unexpected plot twists, and shocking conclusions. “Cyber crime has become one of the world’s largest growth businesses,” Deibert notes (p. 144) and his chapters focus on many prominent recent examples, including cyber-crime syndicates like Koobface, government cyber-spying schemes like GhostNet, state-sanctioned sabotage like Stuxnet, and the vexing issue of zero-day exploit sales.

Deibert is uniquely qualified to narrate this tale not just because he is a gifted story-teller but also because he has had a front row seat in the unfolding play that we might refer to as “How Cyberspace Grew Less Secure.” Continue reading →

Future and Its Enemies coverTechnologies of FreedomI was honored to be asked by the editors at Reason magazine to be a part of their “Revolutionary Reading” roundup of “The 9 Most Transformative Books of the Last 45 Years.”  Reason is celebrating its 45th anniversary and running a wide variety of essays looking back at how liberty has fared over the past half-century. The magazine notes that “Statism has hardly gone away, but the movement to roll it back is stronger than ever.” For this particular feature, Reason’s editors “asked seven libertarians to recommend some of the books in different fields that made [the anti-statist] cultural and intellectual revolution possible.”

When Jesse Walker of Reason first contacted me about contributing my thoughts about which technology policy books made the biggest difference, I told him I knew exactly what my choices would be: Ithiel de Sola Pool’s Technologies of Freedom (1983) and Virginia Postrel’s The Future and Its Enemies (1998). Faithful readers of this blog know all too well how much I love these two books and how I am constantly reminding people of their intellectual importance all these years later. (See, for example, this and this.) All my thinking and writing about tech policy over the past two decades has been shaped by the bold vision and recommendations set forth by Pool and Postrel in these beautiful books.

As I note in my Reason write-up of the books: Continue reading →

Regulating Code book coverIan Brown and Christopher T. Marsden’s new book, Regulating Code: Good Governance and Better Regulation in the Information Age, will go down as one of the most important Internet policy books of 2013 for two reasons. First, their book offers an excellent overview of how Internet regulation has unfolded on five different fronts: privacy and data protection; copyright; content censorship; social networks and user-generated content issues; and net neutrality regulation. They craft detailed case studies that incorporate important insights about how countries across the globe are dealing with these issues. Second, the authors endorse a specific normative approach to Net governance that they argue is taking hold across these policy arenas. They call their preferred policy paradigm “prosumer law” and it envisions an active role for governments, which they think should pursue “smarter regulation” of code.

In terms of organization, Brown and Marsden’s book follows the same format found in Milton Mueller’s important 2010 book Networks and States: The Global Politics of Internet Governance; both books feature meaty case studies in the middle bookended by chapters that endorse a specific approach to Internet policymaking. (Incidentally, both books were published by MIT Press.) And, also like Mueller’s book, Brown and Marsden’s Regulating Code does a somewhat better job using case studies to explore the forces shaping Internet policy across the globe than it does making the normative case for their preferred approach to these issues. Continue reading →

Richard Brandt, technology journalist and author, discusses his new book, One Click: Jeff Bezos and the Rise of Amazon.Com. Brandt discusses Bezos’ entrepreneurial drive, his business philosophy, and how he’s grown Amazon to become the biggest retailer in the world. This episode also covers the biggest mistake Bezos ever made, how Amazon uses patent laws to its advantage, whether Amazon will soon become a publishing house, Bezos’ idea for privately-funded space exploration and his plan to revolutionize technology with quantum computing.


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Viral Hate coverThe Internet’s greatest blessing — its general openness to all speech and speakers — is also sometimes its biggest curse. That is, you cannot expect to have the most widely accessible, unrestricted communications platform the world has ever known and not also have some imbeciles who use it to spew insulting, vile, and hateful comments.

It is important to put things in perspective, however. Hate speech is not the norm online. The louts who spew hatred represent a small minority of all online speakers. The vast majority of online speech is of a socially acceptable — even beneficial — nature.

Still, the problem of hate speech remains very real and a diverse array of strategies are needed to deal with it. The sensible path forward in this regard is charted by Abraham H. Foxman and Christopher Wolf in their new book, Viral Hate: Containing Its Spread on the Internet. Their book explains why the best approach to online hate is a combination of education, digital literacy, user empowerment, industry best practices and self-regulation, increased watchdog / press oversight, social pressure and, most importantly, counter-speech. Foxman and Wolf also explain why — no matter how well-intentioned — legal solutions aimed at eradicating online hate will not work and would raise serious unintended consequences if imposed.

In striking this sensible balance, Foxman and Wolf have penned the definitive book on how to constructively combat viral hate in an age of ubiquitous information flows. Continue reading →

Are we as globalized and interconnected as we think we are? Ethan Zuckerman, director of the MIT Center for Civic Media and author of the new book, Rewire: Digital Cosmopolitans in the Age of Connection, argues that America was likely more globalized before World War I than it is today. Zuckerman discusses how we’re more focused on what’s going on in our own backyards; how this affects creativity; the role the Internet plays in making us less connected with the rest of the world; and, how we can broaden our information universe to consume a more healthy “media diet.”


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Technologies of FreedomThis year marks the 30th anniversary of the publication of Technologies of Freedom: On Free Speech in an Electronic Age by the late communications theorist Ithiel de Sola Pool. It was, and remains, a remarkable book that is well worth your time whether you read it long ago or are just hearing about it for the first time. It was the book that inspired me when I first read in 1994 to abandon my chosen field of study (trade policy) and do a deep dive into the then uncharted waters of information technology policy.

A Technological Nostradamus

Long before most of the world had heard about this thing called “the Internet” or using terms like “cyberspace” or even “electronic superhighway,” Pool was describing this emerging medium, thinking about its ramifications, and articulating the optimal policies that should govern it. In Technologies of Freedom, Pool set forth both a predictive vision of future communications and “electronic publishing” markets as well as a policy vision for how those markets should be governed. “Networked computers will be the printing presses of the twenty-first century,” Pool argued in a remarkably prescient chapter on the future of electronic publishing. “Soon most published information will disseminated electronically,” and “there will be networks on networks on networks,” he predicted. “A panoply of electronic devices puts at everyone’s hands capacities far beyond anything that the printing press could offer.” As if staring into a crystal ball, Pool predicted: Continue reading →

2013 is shaping up to be another big year for Internet and information technology policy books. Here’s a list of what’s coming out or already on the market.  As faithful readers know, I put together end-of-year lists of important info-tech policy books, and here are the lists for 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and the most recent one for 2012. And here’s my compendium of all the major tech policy books from the 2000s. So I’ll do my best to get through all these books and whatever else follows throughout the year. Consider this my public service to the Internet policy community: I read nerdy Internet policy books so that you don’t have to!

Let me know what else I may have missed and I will add it to the list.

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.)

Continue reading →

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 →