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Repealing Net Neutrality: A Dissenting Opinion

Saurabh Malkar

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I must preface that I am not a certified or self-trained expert in computer networking, the Internet, or Information-Technology (IT). The following views are mine and have been arrived at by listening to/reading up on the issue of net neutrality from partisan and non-partisan sources. Well-informed and fact-based views from experts on the subject are most welcome and highly sought.

The Trump administration placed net neutrality on the chopping block and AjitPai did the honors by repealing it. The issue created a large furor in the world of Internet and social media with divergent explanations floated by both sides.

Conservatives and right-wingers supported the repeal stating that the government shouldn’t impose itself on service providers and get to have a say in their operations. Folks on the left claimed that the Internet is no longer free and that loss of net-neutrality will usher in tiered tariffs and throttling/blocking of web content at the whim of the service providers (ISP).

It’s increasingly difficult to take a purely scientific approach towards technical issues in a culture where the pettiest things are used to smear the opposition and play partisan political games. With much effort, I have attempted to put aside politics and look merely into the nerdy details of this extremely obtuse concept of net-neutrality.

The premise of net neutrality hinges on the aphorism that the Internet/Web (* a nuanced, yet significant, distinction between the two will be discussed briefly later) is a public utility, hence, should be made available and accessible to everyone equally, just like electricity, cooking gas, and water. Corporations are profit-driven and heartless, as a result, the government should get involved in the markets and make sure that everyone gets these utilities and nobody is left in the lurch.

So, is the Internet a public utility?

The science of economics describes two characteristics for a service to qualify as public utility: non-excludability (people cannot be denied the product regardless of whether they have paid) and non-rivalry (consumption by one doesn’t reduce availability for others).

The Internet certainly doesn’t meet the non-excludability criterion, in that people who don’t pay for the service don’t get to use it. Major cities across the US have set up public Wi-Fi in a bid to provide Internet to all, but such “access-for-all” isn’t standard across the vast majority of the nation.

Thankfully, the Internet doesn’t fail to meet the non-rivalry criteria. A huge slug of new users might overwhelm existing service capabilities transiently, but additional hardware can be added to accommodate the growing demand. Thus, for all practical purposes, the Internet qualifies the non-rivalry criterion.

In summary, the Internet isn’t a public utility, at least not now.

But I would like to make additional depositions to make my case well-rounded and cogent.

The Internet was conceived in the 1960s as an effort on part of the US federal government to transfer data over foolproof communication networks run by computers. What started as a nascent and clunky project involving huge machines and laughable transfer speeds evolved into a means of global networking, telephony, and information transfer at incredibly fast speeds. This evolution was majorly spearheaded by researchers at several government agencies from different parts of the world. In the 1990s, the Internet was opened up to private players for commercial usage. Thus, the Internet has been built and developed using taxpayer money. Also, of note is that the Internet is a decentralized space that no one has hegemony over.

Now, over to the Web. Thrown around carelessly and interchangeably to describe the Internet, the Web is actually different from the Internet. The Web is an application developed by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, during his time at CERN – a multi-government funded organization – to access documents, pictures, videos and other files on the Internet that are marked in a distinguished manner. It’s one of the several ways to access stuff on the Internet and communicate with one another. By corollary, the Web was thus crafted by an individual using public’s (taxpayer)money. It’s this little, yet extremely important, corner of the Internet that this brouhaha is all about.

ISPs function as middlemen connecting end users to the Internet space, mainly through the World Wide Web or the Web or WWW. Neither did they create the Internet or the WWW, nor do they maintain it.

Effectively, private corporations are helping us access a digital space that was created using public’s money. Moreover, the creators of this space – whether it be governmental agencies or individuals – in all their largesse decided to open up the space for commercial use and allow people to freely (not to be conflated with ‘for free’) use the space.

Over the years, the Web has grown from an information archive and emailing medium to a source of employment, a means of starting and running a business, a tool to reach out to people across the world, a place to broadcast yourself and your work, and much more. While the Web doesn’t qualify as public utility, it does serve as one of the few ways by which people in first countries can augment the socioeconomic momentum of the Industrial Revolution using digital technology and by which people in third countries can change their destinies by creating an app, or by engaging in commerce across borders, or educating themselves for free.

Repealing net neutrality gives ISPs a kind of hegemony, not over the Web or the Internet, but over what we consume from this public-utility-hopeful. While larger corporations can find a way around by paying the large sums of money ISPs might demand for a certain degree of visibility on their respective services, it is almost difficult for an entrepreneur or a blogger or an independent journalist to pay the same sum for the same degree of visibility on those services.

“Take your business over to Facebook or on some other social media outlet and you won’t be discriminated against,” one might argue. Not quite true! Social media have tailored news feeds and show you what you have already seen. It will be difficult to market your business on fronts that are slowly devolving into echo chambers. Also, one cannot be certain that social media giants are unbiased in the way they deliver content, as has been the case with Facebook, which was accused of manipulating the ‘trending’ feature to suit their political leaning.

The gravity of the problem is further compounded when one factors in the regional monopolies that ISPs enjoy in the US. Competition is scarce because of the cost-intensive nature of running cables under the streets and setting up hardware. Overbuilders (ISPs using existing hardware and cables to provide an alternative) can increase competition, but financial feasibility and ROI of such ventures are pretty dim. In this regard, the Web certainly functions like a public utility and requires some sort of accountability on part of the ISP.

There is also a technical angle to the importance of net neutrality, which is lucidly explained here.

Repeal of net-neutrality should get everyone disconcerted, especially, small business owners, entrepreneurs, innovators, and the most vulnerable – alternative news media outlets, especially the ones with unsavory views – many of which tend to be on the political right. Cheering along to your own demise because your guy did it is the gold standard of intellectual indolence and buffoonery.

I would like to once again post face that I am not a certified or self-trained expert in matters of the Internet, computing, or networking and would welcome fact-based feedback on this subject.

Having said that, I can tell you two things with certainty: 1. Capitalize the first letter of Internet and Web and place the definite article the before these words when referencing them; and 2. We use the Web to get on the Internet to do stuff.

Signed

A Conservative-Libertarian

An ex-dentist and a business graduate who is greatly influenced by American conservatism and western values. Having born and brought up in a non-western, third world country, he provides an ‘outside-in’ view on western values. As a budding writer and analyst, he is very much stoked about western culture and looks forward to expound and learn more. Mr. Malkar receives correspondence at saurabh.malkar[at]gmail.com. To read his 140-character commentary on Twitter, follow him at @saurabh_malkar

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Ten Ways the C-Suite Can Protect their Company against Cyberattack

MD Staff

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Cyberattacks are one of the top 10 global risks of highest concern in the next decade, with an estimated price tag of $90 trillion if cybersecurity efforts do not keep pace with technological change. While there is abundant guidance in the cybersecurity community, the application of prescribed action continues to fall short of what is required to ensure effective defence against cyberattacks. The challenges created by accelerating technological innovation have reached new levels of complexity and scale – today responsibility for cybersecurity in organizations is no longer one Chief Security Officer’s job, it involves everyone.

The Cybersecurity Guide for Leaders in Today’s Digital World was developed by the World Economic Forum Centre for Cybersecurity and several of its partners to assist the growing number of C-suite executives responsible for setting and implementing the strategy and governance of cybersecurity and resilience. The guide bridges the gap between leaders with and without technical backgrounds. Following almost one year of research, it outlines 10 tenets that describe how cyber resilience in the digital age can be formed through effective leadership and design.

“With effective cyber-risk management, business executives can achieve smarter, faster and more connected futures, driving business growth,” said Georges De Moura, Head of Industry Solutions, Centre for Cybersecurity, World Economic Forum. “From the steps necessary to think more like a business leader and develop better standards of cyber hygiene, through to the essential elements of crisis management, the report offers an excellent cybersecurity playbook for leaders in public and private sectors.”

“Practicing good cybersecurity is everyone’s responsibility, even if you don’t have the word “security” in your job title,” said Paige H. Adams, Global Chief Information Security Officer, Zurich Insurance Group. “This report provides a practical guide with ten basic tenets for business leaders to incorporate into their company’s day-to-day operations. Diligent application of these tenets and making them a part of your corporate culture will go a long way toward reducing risk and increasing cyber resilience.”

“The recommendation to foster internal and external partnerships is one of the most important, in my view,” said Sir Rob Wainwright, Senior Cyber Partner, Deloitte. “The dynamic nature of the threat, not least in terms of how it reflects the recent growth of an integrated criminal economy, calls on us to build a better global architecture of cyber cooperation. Such cooperation should include more effective platforms for information sharing within and across industries, releasing the benefits of data integration and analytics to build better levels of threat awareness and response capability for all.”

The Ten Tenets

1. Think Like a Business Leader – Cybersecurity leaders are business leaders first and foremost. They have to position themselves, teams and operations as business enablers. Transforming cybersecurity from a support function into a business-enabling function requires a broader view and a stronger communication skill set than was required previously.

2. Foster Internal and External Partnerships – Cybersecurity is a team sport. Today, information security teams need to partner with many internal groups and develop a shared vision, objectives and KPIs to ensure that timelines are met while delivering a highly secure and usable product to customers.

3. Build and Practice Strong Cyber Hygiene – Five core security principles are crucial: a clear understanding of the data supply chain, a strong patching strategy, organization-wide authentication, a secure active directory of contacts, and encrypted critical business processes.

4. Protect Access to Mission-Critical Assets – Not all user access is created equal. It is essential to have strong processes and automated systems in place to ensure appropriate access rights and approval mechanisms.

5. Protect Your Email Domain Against Phishing – Email is the most common point of entry for cyber attackers, with the median company receiving over 90% of their detected malware via this channel. The guide highlights six ways to protect employees’ emails.

6. Apply a Zero-Trust Approach to Securing Your Supply Chain – The high velocity of new applications developed alongside the adoption of open source and cloud platforms is unprecedented. Security-by-design practices must be embedded in the full lifecycle of the project.

7. Prevent, Monitor and Respond to Cyber Threats – The question is not if, but when a significant breach will occur. How well a company manages this inevitability is ultimately critical. Threat intelligence teams should perform proactive hunts throughout the organization’s infrastructure and keep the detection teams up to date on the latest trends.

8. Develop and Practice a Comprehensive Crisis Management Plan – Many organizations focus primarily on how to prevent and defend while not focusing enough on institutionalizing the playbook of crisis management. The guide outlines 12 vital components any company’s crisis plan should incorporate.

9. Build a Robust Disaster Recovery Plan for Cyberattacks – A disaster recovery and continuity plan must be tailored to security incident scenarios to protect an organization from cyberattacks and to instruct on how to react in case of a data breach. Furthermore, it can reduce the amount of time it takes to identify breaches and restore critical services for the business.

10. Create a Culture of Cybersecurity – Keeping an organization secure is every employee’s job. Tailoring trainings, incentivizing employees, building elementary security knowledge and enforcing sanctions on repeat offenders could aid thedevelopment of a culture of cybersecurity.

In the Fourth Industrial Revolution, all businesses are undergoing transformative digitalization of their industries that will open new markets. Cybersecurity leaders need to take a stronger and more strategic leadership role. Inherent to this new role is the imperative to move beyond the role of compliance monitors and enforcers.

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Moving First on AI Has Competitive Advantages and Risks

MD Staff

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Financial institutions that implement AI early have the most to gain from its use, but also face the largest risks. The often-opaque nature of AI decisions and related concerns of algorithmic bias, fiduciary duty, uncertainty, and more have left implementation of the most cutting-edge AI uses at a standstill. However, a newly released report from the World Economic Forum, Navigating Uncharted Waters, shows how financial services firms and regulators can overcome these risks.

Using AI responsibly is about more than mitigating risks; its use in financial services presents an opportunity to raise the ethical bar for the financial system as a whole. It also offers financial services a competitive edge against their peers and new market entrants.

“AI offers financial services providers the opportunity to build on the trust their customers place in them to enhance access, improve customer outcomes and bolster market efficiency,” says Matthew Blake, Head of Financial Services, World Economic Forum. “This can offer competitive advantages to individual financial firms while also improving the broader financial system if implemented appropriately.”

Across several dimensions, AI introduces new complexities to age-old challenges in the financial services industry, and the governance frameworks of the past will not adequately address these new concerns.

Explaining AI decisions

Some forms of AI are not interpretable even by their creators, posing concerns for financial institutions and regulators who are unsure how to trust solutions they cannot understand or explain. This uncertainty has left the implementation of cutting-edge AI tools at a standstill. The Forum offers a solution: evolve past “one-size-fits-all” governance ideas to specific transparency requirements that consider the AI use case in question.

For example, it is important to clearly and simply explain why a customer was rejected for a loan, which can significantly impact their life. It is less important to explain a back-office function whose only objective is to convert scans of various documents to text. For the latter, accuracy is more important than transparency, as the ability of this AI application to create harm is limited.

Beyond “explainability”, the report explores new challenges surrounding bias and fairness, systemic risk, fiduciary duty, and collusion as they relate to the use of AI.

Bias and fairness

Algorithmic bias is another top concern for financial institutions, regulators and customers surrounding the use of AI in financial services. AI’s unique ability to rapidly process new and different types of data raise the concern that AI systems may develop unintended biases over time; combined with their opaque nature such biases could remain undetected. Despite these risks, AI also presents an opportunity to decrease unfair discrimination or exclusion, for example by analyzing alternative data that can be used to assess ‘thin file’ customers that traditional systems cannot understand due to a lack of information.

Systemic risk

The widespread adoption of AI also has the potential to alter the dynamics of the interactions between human actors and machines in the financial system, creating new sources of systemic risk. As the volume and velocity of interactions grow through automated agents, emerging risks may become increasingly difficult to detect, spread across various financial institutions, Fintechs, large technology companies, and other market participants. These new dynamics will require supervisory authorities to reinvent themselves as hubs of system-wide intelligence, using AI themselves to supervise AI systems.

Fiduciary duty

As AI systems take on an expanded set of tasks, they will increasingly interact with customers. As a result, fiduciary requirements to always act in the best interests of the customer may soon arise, raising the question if AI systems can be held “responsible” for their actions – and if not, who should be held accountable.

Algorithmic collusion

Given that AI systems can act autonomously, they may plausibly learn to engage in collusion without any instruction from their human creators, and perhaps even without any explicit, trackable communication. This challenges the traditional regulatory constructs for detecting and prosecuting collusion and may require a revisiting of the existing legal frameworks.

“Using AI in financial services will require an openness to new ways of safeguarding the ecosystem, different from the tools of the past,” says Rob Galaski, Global Leader, Banking & Capital Markets, Deloitte Consulting. “To accelerate the pace of AI adoption in the industry, institutions need to take the lead in developing and proposing new frameworks that address new challenges, working with regulators along the way.”

For each of the above described concerns, the report outlines the key underlying root causes of the issue and highlights the most pressing challenges, identifies how those challenges might be addressed through new tools and governance frameworks, and what opportunities might be unlocked by doing so.

The report was prepared in collaboration with Deloitte and follows five previous reports on financial innovation. The World Economic Forum will continue its work in Financial Services, with a particular focus on AI’s connections to other emerging technologies in its next phase of research through mid-2020.

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US Blacklist of Chinese Surveillance Companies Creates Supply Chain Confusion

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The United States Department of Commerce’s decision to blacklist 28 Chinese public safety organizations and commercial entities hit at some of China’s most dominant vendors within the security industry. Of the eight commercial entities added to the blacklist, six of them are some of China’s most successful digital forensics, facial recognition, and AI companies. However, the two surveillance manufacturers who made this blacklist could have a significant impact on the global market at large—Dahua and Hikvision.

Putting geopolitics aside, Dahua’s and Hikvision’s positions within the overall global digital surveillance market makes their blacklisting somewhat of a shock, with the immediate effects touching off significant questions among U.S. partners, end users, and supply chain partners.

Frost & Sullivan’s research finds that, currently, Hikvision and Dahua rank second and third in total global sales among the $20.48 billion global surveillance market but are fast-tracking to become the top two vendors among IP surveillance camera manufacturers. Their insurgent rise among IP surveillance camera providers came about due to both companies’ aggressive growth pipelines, significant product libraries of high-quality surveillance cameras and new imaging technologies, and low-cost pricing models that provide customers with higher levels of affordability.

This is also not the first time that these two vendors have found themselves in the crosshairs of the U.S. government. In 2018, the U.S. initiated a ban on the sale and use of Hikvision and Dahua camera equipment within government-owned facilities, including the Department of Defense, military bases, and government-owned buildings. However, the vague language of the ban made it difficult for end users to determine whether they were just banned from new purchases of Dahua or Hikvision cameras or if they needed to completely rip-and-replace existing equipment with another brand. Systems integrators, distributors, and even technology partners themselves remained unsure of how they should handle the ban’s implications, only serving to sow confusion among U.S. customers.

In addition to confusion over how end users in the government space were to proceed regarding their Hikvision and Dahua equipment came the realization that both companies held significant customer share among commercial companies throughout the U.S. market—so where was the ban’s line being drawn for these entities? Were they to comply or not? If so, how? Again, these questions have remained unanswered since 2018.

Hikvision and Dahua each have built a strong presence within the U.S. market, despite the 2018 ban. Both companies are seen as regular participants in industry tradeshows and events, and remain active among industry partners throughout the surveillance ecosystem. Both companies have also attempted to work with the U.S. government to alleviate security concerns and draw clearer guidelines for their sales and distribution partners throughout the country. They even established regional operations centers and headquarters in the country.

While blacklisting does send a clearer message to end users, integrators, and distributors—for sales and usage of these companies’ technologies—remedies for future actions still remain unclear. When it comes to legacy Hikvision and Dahua cameras, the onus appears to be on end users and integrators to decide whether rip-and-replace strategies are the best way to comply with government rulings or to just leave the solutions in place and hope for the best.

As far as broader global impacts of this action, these will remain to be seen. While the 2018 ban did bring about talks of similar bans in other regions, none of these bans ever materialized. Dahua and Hikvision maintained their strong market positioning, even achieving higher-than-average growth rates in the past year. Blacklisting does send a stronger message to global regulators though, so market participants outside the U.S. will just have to adopt a wait-and-see posture to see how, if at all, they may need to prepare their own surveillance equipment supply chains for changes to come.

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