Multistakeholder or Multilateral Internet Governance?

Global debate over alternative approaches to governing the Internet has been wide ranging, but increasingly has pivoted around the wisdom of “multistakeholder governance.” This paper takes controversy around a multistakeholder versus an alternative multilateral approach as a focus for clarifying the changing context and significance of Internet governance. A critical perspective on this debate challenges some of the conventional wisdom marshaled around positions on the history and future of Internet governance. By providing an understanding of the dynamics of Internet governance, this paper seeks to illuminate and engage with issues that are of rising importance to the vitality of a global infrastructure that is becoming more central to economic and social development around the world. Based on the perspective developed in this paper, a multistakeholder process appears best suited for helping a widening array of actors, including multilateral organizations, to connect a worldwide ecology of choices that are governing the Internet.

My paper is being posted on SSRN and I’ll be speaking at the Digital Futures Conference at Shanghai Jiao Tong University this week.

Books and the Internet in Prisons: Beyond the Right to Read

A British High Court justice has ‘struck down a ban on sending books to prisoners’, as reported by the NYT: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/06/world/europe/british-judge-lifts-restriction-on-books-in-prison.html A number of writers, poets and human rights advocates have been pressing for the right of prisoners to buy books from the ‘outside world’. Apparently the prison service had supported access to books, but only through the prison libraries or purchases through the prison service, as a security measure: to prevent the smuggling of other things into the prison, as we have all seen in popular films and television series. It seems to me that it is arguably worth the time and effort of searching packages sent to prisoners in order to enhance access to books. Surely the value of books in educating and supporting the rehabilitation of those in prison is a long-term payoff that offsets the cost of screening.

About a decade ago, I was introduced to an imaginative plan to enable limited access to the Internet from prison. There are a number of programs that enable limited access to electronic text messaging, for example, but by and large, this is a huge hurdle. Nevertheless, I hope advocates of this development are continuing to pursue schemes that might enable safe access to the Internet, such as for access to education and entertainment that could be as important as the right to read. I would like to hear of initiatives in this area, and wish them well.

chinese-internet-jail

Courtesy: http://marktanner.com/blog/the-internet-in-china-going-the-full-circle/

Innovations in the Technology of Higher Education: Where is the Social Research?

My colleagues and I organized a preconference for the 2014 International Communication Association on innovations in the technologies of higher education, focusing particularly on developments around massive online open courses and related innovations. It took place in Seattle, Washington, on the 21st of May 2014. I worked with Dr Kendall Guthrie of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; Brian Loader, the Editor of iCS, and Director, School of Social and Political Sciences, The University of York; and Sarah Porter and Rebecca Eynon of the OII. We were able to attract major figures in this area, such as Kevin Guthrie, President of Ithaka, but we were not able to unearth a significant set of high-quality research papers. Why?

Higher education is described as being in a time of crisis. In the US, tuition costs have been escalating beyond the cost of inflation for some years, students are building up significant debt, whilst completion rates are in decline. The higher education system is said to be creaking under the strain of additional scrutiny from government, funders, parents and students, yet is struggling to re-invent itself to reduce costs whilst improving quality and increasing flexibility for learners. In a Europe still feeling the consequences of the financial downturn, universities are struggling to retain their public service ethos when budgets are under huge pressure. Elsewhere in the world, many countries plan dramatic expansion to their higher education systems to fuel their growing economies, but they are being held up by lack of infrastructure and the increased intellectual capital that is needed.

At the same time, higher education is becoming a global business, and yet universities are not equipped to fully embrace the potential or address the risks that this might bring. One question is whether the development of the Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), free online courses are being offered by a wide range of universities and opened to students with any academic background, will be an institutional response to this challenge. They are attracting millions of students from across the globe. To what extent though is the MOOC really revolutionary and disruptive, or is it being used cynically by the most elite institutions to further increase their brand power and assert their superiority, whilst the middle tier of institutions lose student numbers and academic credibility? Do MOOCs hold the potential to support the developing world in its academic ambitions, or are they just another example of neo-colonialism?

Whether MOOCs succeed or fail, or quickly evolve to become something else, they offer an opportunity for the higher education system to consider its future models and to test out new approaches to the way that it does its business – how it creates courses and course materials, how it teaches, how it supports students, how it accredits degrees, how it markets itself, how it covers its costs or makes a profit.

There is another element to the mass online provision of higher education courses. Hidden behind the welcoming and inclusive publicity materials, sophisticated data collection and analysis tools are being created that will gather and analyse information about each student as they move through the system, as they learn, interact with each other and with the materials. This is extremely valuable data and, for the first time, universities will have access to live data about the study habits of many millions of students, together with their personal profile. The potential to use this data for the good, to develop increasingly adaptable and personalised learning systems, is huge; but therein also lies the potential for mis-use and, in the words of the for profit providers of education, for ‘brand differentiation’. What are the implications of this innovation, for good and for bad – and are we giving enough due care and attention to the way that allow this data to be used?

My colleagues thought these developments raise a rich array of research questions. For example:

  1. Is higher education really in crisis or is it really a success story of a system that has adapted over time, and will survive the current challenges without major change?
  2. What are the major innovation challenges for the higher education system and how can they best be addressed?
  3. What do MOOCs mean for the future of higher education? Are they just a marketing device for elite institutions, or can they really be a force for the ‘democratisation of education’?
  4. Which other affordances will enable the higher education system to innovate more effectively?
  5. What is the potential for the use of learner analytics and big data approaches to large-scale online education, and are there threats hidden in this advances?

These are only indicative of a far wider range of topics that could be explored around these innovations. And yet, where is the systematic, empirical research needed to address these questions? While our preconference drew much interest and some excellent papers, we expected far more work in this area. It is not new. Brian Loader and I pulled together an edited book during the last round of interest in this area, entitled Digital Academe. By all of our indicators, less work is being done in academia on the social and institutional implications of the Internet in higher education than at the turn of the century? Are we too close to academia to systematically and critically look at our own institutions?

Bill Dutton with Sarah Porter

The William F. Ogburn Career Achievement Award of the American Sociological Association

Wonderful to have received the 2014 William F. Ogburn Career Achievement Award from the American Sociological Association, given by CITASA (ASA’s section on Communication and Information Technology): http://www.asanet.org/sections/citasa_recipients_History.cfm Given my move to Michigan, I was unable to attend but I sent these words of appreciation:

Dear Colleagues of CITASA,

I would like to convey my appreciation to the selection committee and CITASA for honoring me with this career achievement award. It is a privilege to be in the company of those who have received this recognition in past years, and to have such a wonderful link with William F. Ogburn and the ASA. I am delighted to be part of the community of scholars you are building.

It amazes me that even in the space of my own career, the sociological study of the Internet and related communication and information technologies has moved from the margins of sociology to become one of its most exciting fields of innovative research. At Oxford, and I am sure this will be the case at MSU, my colleagues are increasingly looking to sociology for some of the most promising researchers focused on society and the Internet.

My thanks to CITASA for helping to raise the stature of social research on communication technology, and for this wonderful recognition from the American Sociological Association.

Bill Dutton

 

The Internet Trust Bubble Amid Rising Concern over Personal Data: WEF Report

The World Economic Forum has released a set of complementary reports, including one written by an OII team, entitled ‘The Internet Trust Bubble: Global Values, Beliefs and Practices’, by William H. Dutton, Ginette Law, Gillian Bolsover, and Soumitra Dutta. Our report is a follow up to our earlier WEF study entitled ‘The New Internet World’. Both are based on global Web-based surveys of Internet users, and conducted by the OII in collaboration with the WEF, comScore, and with support from ictQATAR.

Our survey research was conducted in 2012, prior to the Snowden revelations, so what we found to be a potential risk to trust in the Internet can only be greater than what we found pre-Snowden. That said, there is no certainty that the concerns raised over Snowden will reach the general public, or that Internet users will not adapt to risks to personal data and surveillance in order to enjoy the convenience and other benefits of Internet use. There is clearly a need for continuing research on attitudes, beliefs, and practices in related areas of security, privacy, authenticity and trust in the Internet, but also greater efforts to support public awareness campaigns, such as is a current focus of work in our Global Cyber Security Capacity Center at the Oxford Martin School.

We found strong support for the values and attitudes underpinning freedom of expression on the Internet. Users in the emerging nations of the Internet world are in some respects more supportive of freedom of expression online than are users in the nations of the Old Internet World. In fact, in 2012, users from the nations more recently moving online, those who compose the New Internet World, are more likely to support norms underpinning freedom of expression online than do users from nations of the Old Internet World, who were early to adopt the Internet, as well as reporting higher levels of perceived freedom in expressing themselves on the Internet.

However, there is concern worldwide over the privacy of personal information, but this is not evenly distributed. Users in nations that have more recently embraced the Internet appeared somewhat less aware of the risks and more trusting in their use of the Internet. Moreover, many users around the world indicate that they are not taking measures designed to protect their privacy and security online. In addition, there is evidence of large proportions of the online world lacking trust in the authenticity and appropriateness of information on the Internet, often looking towards the government to address problems in ways that could put values of the Internet at risk, such as freedom of expression. At the same time, there is a surprisingly high proportion of users that take governmental monitoring and surveillance of the Internet for granted, even before the disclosures of Edward Snowden and his claims about US and other governmental surveillance initiatives. These are illustrations of a pattern of attitudes and beliefs that might well signal a looming crisis of trust in the freedom, privacy, security and value of the Internet as a global information and communication resource.

Building on the theme of trust, A. T. Kearney prepared a related WEF report, entitled ‘Rethinking Personal Data: A New Lens for Strengthening Trust’. In many respects, it moves forward to identify steps that could be taken to address growing concerns over trust in the Internet.

The third report was prepared by a team of researchers at Microsoft, who also build on issues of personal data and trust. All are part of the World Economic Forum’s multi-year ‘Rethinking Personal Data’ initiative.

Links to all three reports are below:

http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_InternetTrustBubble_Report2_2014.pdf   

http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_RethinkingPersonalData_TrustandContext_Report_2014.pdf

http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_RethinkingPersonalData_ANewLens_Report_2014.pdf

Coincidentally, I gave a keynote on the ‘Internet trust bubble’ in Shenzhen, China, at the Huawei Strategy and Technology Workshop today, with the release of this report, 13 May 2014. I am doubtful that our data convinced many in the audience that there was reason for concern, as most discussion was rather optimistic about the future of mobile and the Internet, but I do believe there is international recognition of

Business Models in a Mobile World: a one-day workshop at Oxford Brooks University, 12 September 2013

I’d like to bring your attention to a workshop that Paul Jackson is organizing at Oxford Brooks University:

9:00 to 5:00, 12 September 2013
Wheatley Campus, Oxford Brookes University

– What threats and opportunities do new mobile technologies present to your organisation and industry?

– How could mobile devices help you reach new customers, provide new sources of value and enable you to do business in more innovative ways?

These are just two of the questions Oxford Brookes will help you answer in a free one-day workshop. The aim is to guide an invited group of businesses through the ‘big issues’ involved in mobile innovation. At the end of the day, we believe you (and your organisation) will be better placed to understand the strategic threats and opportunities presented by mobile technology – as well as having ideas for new projects, products and services.

**Mobile technology – and why it’s important**
Smart-phones and tablet computers (e.g. iPads) have seen a rapid rise in recent years. Along with developments such as wifi and remote sensing equipment, a range of devices have emerged that allow people to work with a radical degree of flexibility. Customers, too, can consume products and services in entirely new ways (just think of books and music). In response to these changes, many organisations are already rethinking their products and processes – what they produce and how they do it – to take advantage of the new technology.

**Mobile adoption will often involve ‘business model’ innovation**
Business model innovation is about more than just new access and communications channels – important though these are! It’s about reconfiguring organisational designs and infrastructures, partnering in new ways, rethinking cost structures and pricing models, and generally developing new value propositions, perhaps for new customer niches. Such changes allow for a new ‘businesses logic’ to emerge – challenging established ways of meeting customer needs. Such developments can spur completely new markets and industries (think Facebook and the Internet). At Brookes we’re keen to look at these big, strategic issues, as enabled by mobile technology.

**How the workshop will work**
The workshop is aimed at practitioners who are interested in exploring these issues for their organisations. We are still looking for companies to express an interest in taking part (see below for more details). The first of these events takes place at Oxford Brookes’ Wheatley campus on 12 September, but other events will follow.

In taking part, you – or one person from your organisation – will work alongside some 10-15 other businesses. On the day there will be a few introductory and feedback sessions, but most of the time will be spent in small groups (just 3-4 people) working through a facilitated set of tasks. These will help you – and the others in your group – understand what mobile technology will mean (and is meaning) for your business and industry, and what you can do in response.

**Why will we be working in groups?**
Group working will provide an opportunity to learn from, and share ideas with, people in non-competitor organisations. Groups will be facilitated by academic members of staff from Brookes, representing a range of different subject areas, including: business strategy, digital marketing, information systems and innovation management. All will be helping you to work through a common methodology and set of exercises.

**Why is Brookes doing this?**
The workshop is an initiative of the Oxford Digital Research Group, based at Brookes. Mobile technology – and its implications for business models – forms part of the group’s research. By working with you, we will be better placed to understand where businesses are on this agenda, and to test and improve our ideas and techniques for helping organisations address it. Put another way, it’s about engaging with businesses in order to generate findings that will have practical effects while adding to the stock of academic knowledge.

**OK, I’m interested. What do I do now?**
Just email Dr Paul Jackson at Brookes on pjackson@brookes.ac.uk expressing your interest. You should also say who might attend the day on your organisation’s behalf, if not you. Please also say why you’re interested and what you’ve done to date on this agenda (if anything). The team at Brookes will then form suitable groups of businesses for the workshop. Note that we’ll be doing our best to have a good spread of organisations and industries, as well as avoiding potential competitive conflicts. There will be other events, subsequent to the 12 September event, so if we can’t fit you in this time, we may suggest a later workshop.

**What else do I need to know?**
If invited to attend, we will ask you to sign a document about ethics and confidentiality. This is just to ensure that everyone understands what will (and will not) happen to the information and ideas they share. Our aim is to make sure you feel comfortable in participating and able to do so in a constructive and open way. Further details on the structure of the day will also be shared at a later date.

**Contact**
Please email pjackson@brookes.ac.uk or visit www.oxforddigitalresearch.org.uk if you have any more questions.

Politics and Policy of the Internet Seminar at Konstanz University

I have been spending the week keeping quite busy and engaged teaching a small seminar at the University of Konstanz, Germany. The seminar is entitled ‘Politics and Policy of the Internet’ and my 12 students are masters students in their faculty of politics and public administration. The first photo is of a subset of the class during one of our breaks.

Konstanz Students 2013

Preparing for, and giving the course, has been very useful in moving me along in completing a 4 volume set of readings for Routledge, entitled ‘Politics and the Internet’. Also it has been refreshing to hear the discussion of the readings. I’m impressed by the high standards the students have in the methodological rigor and argumentation of the various readings – excellent critics, but also in their ability to see the contributions of the work they review. The discussion of particular contemporary issues and cases has been the most interesting aspect, and I was pleased to be able to introduce the students to some of the ancient history of tele-democracy around interactive cable, videotex, and bulletin board systems. Sometimes it is useful to be older.

How Can Politicians Endorse Press and Internet Regulation that Compromises Freedom of the Press?

A classic study of public opinion found that while Americans generally supported abstract principles of freedom of expression, many would not support the application of these principles in concrete cases, such as permitting an extreme group to speak at a local school (McCloskey and Brill 1983). That the public can support concrete actions that undermine professed principles was one factor that led to elitist theories of democracy, which argued that democracies rely on elites, such as judges, and parliamentarians, to protect democratic rights and civil liberties. They can’t be left to public opinion. This does not always work.

The public and many politicians seemed to ignore a disjunction between abstract principles and concrete applications of these principles when all the parties in Britain as well as the public at large supported a statutory imposition of a press regulator, agreed early this week, while still voicing support for freedom of the press.

It is most important to focus on those expected to uphold civil liberties in the face of prevailing public opinion, our elected officials. Are they hypocrites, not seeing the inconsistency in how their stated principles are contradicted by their support for actions that will have a chilling effect on freedom of the press? Or do they see themselves balancing conflicting principles, such as accepting limits on freedom of the press in order to uphold law and policy on bribery, privacy and data protection, and libel or defamation?

I should preface my response by stating my own view that the new press regulation will have a chilling effect on freedom of the press and freedom of expression online. The obvious threat of imposing exemplary fines on papers or Web sites that don’t join the club, and are judged to have defamed a person, is clearly going to have a chilling effect across the board, and particularly on organizations without deep pockets. Providing greater support for libel actions against newspapers and Websites will lead the press and bloggers to over-censure their work in anticipation of potential retribution by the regulator, such as in disproportionate awards to claimants.

Most importantly, this creation of law and regulation by the state to control the press in print and online is the beginning of the end of an independent press – the Fourth Estate identified by Edmund Burke. The press is a Fourth Estate because it is separate and relatively independent of the state, and therefore able to hold government to account. Now we are seeing some newspapers (e.g., FT, Guardian) joining the state sponsored club of papers, losing their independence, while a few papers, such as The New Statesman, have had the courage to refuse to join this group.

So the question that I must ask myself is whether this loss to freedom of the press through the creation of this regulator is justified by other values that will be protected by the regulator. My conclusion is that it is not, but let me explain by taking you back into increasingly familiar territory, which has been well developed by many others, but ignored since the day that Mum’s Net made phone hacking a politically powerful issue.

Phone hacking is a good example as it brings together the major wrongs attributed to the press and other actors in this saga. Namely, it involved unauthorized access to personal information (violation of privacy and data protection), bribery of police officers (police corruption), and defamation (libel or slander by the press).

Immediately after the phone hacking scandal broke out, the principle focus of blame fell on the Press Complaints Commission. It was said to have had no teeth, and was ineffectual in regulating the press. Self-regulation therefore lost credibility, and this created momentum behind the Leveson Inquiry and then behind statutory regulation of the press – regulation imposed by the state although cloaked in a Royal Charter.

In the immediate aftermath of the phone hacking scandal and attacks on the PCC, I approached my colleagues enmeshed in the study of journalism and the press and argued that the Press Complaints Commission was being used as a red herring, deflecting attention from those responsible for the law and policy that should protect the public from phone hacking. Thinking I would be corrected, I found to my surprise that they generally agreed, but they shied away from openly challenging what was soon becoming the dominant narrative among the critics of phone hacking. Far from the Internet creating an ‘echo chamber’ of self-reinforcing opinion (Sunstein 2007), the groupthink within the club of those critical of the tabloids put politicians in a true echo chamber.

Clearly, unauthorized access to personal information is a violation of privacy and data protection but it was and continues to be the responsibility of the Information Commissioners Office (ICO). The ICO reported on phone hacking well before the issue exploded with pressure from Mum’s Net in the pre-Hacked Off days. Politicians failed to take onboard the findings of the ICO and support the ICO in dealing with this problem. The Press Complaints Commission (PCC) is not the ICO or Parliament. The government should give the ICO the resources and support necessary to address this problem.

Likewise, the bribery of police officers is not the job of the PCC and could never be. How could the government create a press regulator capable of taking on the Metropolitan Police. This is absurd. Again, the PCC was a red herring here as well. The arrests of many journalists over hacking and bribery – without a PCC – attests to its irrelevance here as well. While I believe the arrests of journalists has been disproportionate in the extreme, and damaging to the press, they illustrate that laws and public bodies exist to address bribery and corruption. No need for a state press regulator here.

That leaves defamation, but here again, there are major existing laws in Britain that protect the public from defamation. In fact, Britain has become world famous for being the place to bring lawsuits. American legislation has sought to block individuals bringing libel cases to the UK courts in order to protect freedom of expression in the US. Britain is known as the destination for libel tourists. But one need only think about examples in the UK, such as failure to expose allegations against the BBC’s Jimmy Saville, to see that defamation is so protected here that the public was unaware of these allegations for decades, and reported only after his death.

Freedom of the press and expression, more generally, are being shaped by an ecology of choices being made about other policies and values, including libel, privacy, security, and other digital rights, such as freedom of information. Worldwide, choices being made by public officials about this wide-ranging ecology of law and policy is increasingly restricting freedom of expression (Dutton et al 2011). Internet content filtering is increasing around the world, as is the application of inappropriate regulatory models to the Internet, such as state pressure on ISPs to control content as if they were a broadcaster. On top of this, the previously unthinkable state regulation of the press in Britain is indeed a set back, but hopefully not a point of no return.

Together these trends are threatening the role that the Internet has played in empowering individuals in ways that are creating a Fifth Estate of networked individuals (Dutton 2009). The Fifth Estate can source its own information and networks in ways that can challenge the press, government and corporate elites. However, in one ‘little’ law, the UK is putting the Fourth and the Fifth Estate in great jeopardy, at the time when independent thought and accountability are desperately needed. This is the foundation of a pluralist liberal-democracy.

What can be done? I will try to support the journalists who are speaking the truth to power, such as Simon Jenkins with The Guardian, John Kampfner, Nick Cohen, and others, who are not towing the all party line on the new press regulator, and support the papers and Web sites that have the courage to challenge this new imposition of greater fines in a country that has been a libel tourist destination, such as The New Statesman. Also, it seems clear that this new press and Internet regulation has begun to wake up an otherwise too complacent blogosphere to stop taking freedom of expression for granted. Everyone needs to be more watchful of moves nationally and internationally away from support for and tolerance of freedom of expression (Dutton et al 2011).

Academics need to stop being afraid of offending politicians and challenge the echo-chamber that the anti-tabloid press and those public intellectuals seeking revenge on the press barons that have put politicians. As a number of commentators have said, this is all about freedom of the press and expression that is critical to well functioning liberal democratic societies, and not the time or way to take revenge on the press barons. Parliament should bring concrete actions in line with their abstract principles and drop this unwarranted press regulation, since competing values are already well protected by other law and policy.

References

William H, Dutton, (2009), ‘The Fifth Estate Emerging through the Network of Networks’, Prometheus, 27: 1–15.

William H. Dutton, Anna Dopatka, Michael Hills, Ginette Law, and Victoria Nash (2011), Freedom of Connection – Freedom of Expression: The Changing Legal and Regulatory Ecology Shaping the Internet. Paris: UNESCO, Division for Freedom of Expression, Democracy and Peace. Reprinted in 2013; Trans. In French and Arabic.

McCloskey, Herbert, and Brill, Alida, (1983), Dimensions of Tolerance: What Americans Believe About Civil Liberties. New York: Russell Sage.

Sunstein, C. R., (2007), Republic.com 2.0 . Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

 

The Oxford Handbook of Internet Studies

The Oxford Handbook of Internet Studies is now available in print and OUP has created a Website for the book: http://ukcatalogue.oup.com/product/9780199589074.do  You can find Chapter 1, the introduction, on line and available free, if you’d like an overview of the Handbook. See: http://ukcatalogue.oup.com/product/9780199589074.do#.UQ6iIOg7i_E  It was published in late January 2013.

The first paragraph of the preface reads:

“Internet Studies is one of the most rapidly developing interdisciplinary fields of the early 21st Century. With the increasing significance of the Internet, and the range of issues surrounding its use and governance, the field is on a course to continue expanding in its range and diversity through the coming decades. Despite the pace of change, it is a time to take stock of this emerging field, examine current approaches to study of the Internet, and reflect on the field’s future. This was the key motivation behind this handbook.”

It has been published initially in hardback, but OUP usually bring out paperback versions of their handbooks in due course after first publication in hardback, I am hoping that is the case with The Oxford Handbook of Internet Studies.  Also the handbook will be uploaded to Oxford Handbooks Online (www.oxfordhandbooks.com), an online resource to which many institutions subscribe, and this should enable greater access to the material. So, I hope that for most people seriously interested in Internet Studies, that library acquisition and online access should enable access to the material, particularly if we can make the case for the paperback edition. I am very optimistic about the book’s reception, and therefore its eventual availability in paperback.