Redecentralize Digest — November 2019

A relatively short digest this month, due to lack of time to inform, think and write. As always, do feel free to send suggestions and summaries our way!

IGF happened

The United Nations’ Internet Governance Forum took place in Berlin, gathering a world-wide crowd of civil society groups, policy makers, companies, academics, and other ‘internet stakeholders’. Videos of many sessions have been published. Some sessions I attended (e.g. on interoperability or digital identities) were interesting, although primarily because it reveals how people with different backgrounds and affiliations thought about these topics. Generally speaking, it feels like concerns about centralisation are widely held, but a vision for decentralisation is not really there yet.

Selling out the .org top-level domain

The oversight of .org domains, widely used by not-for-profit organisations, was in hands of a not-for-profit itself: the Public Interest Registry (PIR), which was set up by the Internet Society (ISOC).

Things changed in two steps. First, in June, PIR was due for a 10-year contract renewal with ICANN which among other changes dropped the price caps it was previously constrained to. Then this month, out of the blue, ISOC sold PIR to a newly created for-profit company for an undisclosed amount.

The full drama is described in this story by The Register. Many orgs are understandably unhappy about the sell-out and started the Save .ORG campaign.

I know little about the legal side, but wonder why PIR/ISOC even has the possibility to “discard the non-profit status” without broader consultation, if at all. If we do have a centralised system, could its organisation at least have some well-designed bylaws?

EU’s internet plans, cont.

With the new European Commission taking office, we can soon expect a proposal for regulations about web services, in the review of the existing eCommerce Directive (see August’s digest). In Brussels, many discussions are held and opinions published (e.g.), especially about the responsibilities of social media companies for harmful content and conduct on their platforms.

One event this month was the Future of internet regulation event of the Greens/EFA group; especially Aral Balkan’s talk there brought a strong plea for decentralisation. In another event the next day, Prabhat Agarwal, the usual representative of the Commission on this topic, answered me that demanding interoperability of online platforms is something they currently do not focus on, but they do want to research further.

At least, it seems a good sign that decentralised social media, even if only Mastodon, starts to get a place in these discussions.

The Death of Transit and Beyond

This talk by Geoff Huston is from the RIPE 75 conference, two years ago. Watching it felt like a helpful wake-up call, as it pictures how the global internet might slowly be dying: the few dominant content providers build proprietary networks (e.g. their own undersea cables) to their data centers in every city; then when people get all services from a local data center, which ‘magically’ syncs with its headquarters, the global internet becomes irrelevant.

Now this may be an exaggerated picture; clearly not all services are GAFAM*-based, yet — but will it be economically viable to retain the infrastructure for the rest? The recent trends encourage thinking more broadly about net neutrality (may we need ‘data center neutrality’?) and the future of the internet.

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About this digest

The Redecentralize Digest is a monthly publication about internet (re)decentralisation. It covers progress and thoughts relating technology and politics, without ties to a particular project nor to one definition of decentralisation — figuring out its meanings and relations is part of the mission.

This edition was written by Gerben.

The digest’s format and content are not set in stone. Feedback and suggestions for next editions are welcome at hello@redecentralize.org.

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