The Battle for Power on the Internet: Bruce Schneier at TEDxCambridge 2013

The Battle for Power on the Internet: Bruce Schneier at TEDxCambridge 2013


Translator: Ami Yokoyama
Reviewer: Elisabeth Buffard So we are in the middle of
an epic battle for power in cyberspace. On the one side,
it’s traditional power, think of organized institutional powers like governments and large
multi-international corporations. On the other side,
think of distributed power, both the good part
and the bad part: grassroots movements,
dissidents’ groups, hackers,
criminals… Initially, the Internet gave
power to the distributed. It gave them
coordination and efficiency and made them seem unbeatable. Today, traditional powers are back
and they’re winning big. What I wanna do here is tell the story
of those two powers fighting. Who wins and
how our society survives their battle. So back in the early days
of the Internet, there was a lot of talk
about its natural laws. Censorship was impossible,
anonymity was easy, police were clueless
about cybercrime… The Internet was
fundamentally international and it would be a new world order. Traditional power blocks are bended, masses empowered,
freedom spread throughout the world, and this will all be inevitable. It was a utopian vision, but some of it
did actually come to pass: in marketing,
entertainment, mass-media, political organizing, crowd funding
and crowd sourcing… The changes were dramatic. eBay really did normalize
the world’s attics. (Laughter) And Facebook and twitter really
did help topple governments. But that was just one side of
the Internet’s disruptive character. It’s also made traditional power
more powerful. On the corporate world, there are two trends
that are currently feeling this: First, the rise of cloud computing means we no longer have
control of our data: our email, photos, calendar,
address book, messages, documents, they’re now on servers
belonging to Google, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook and others. And second, we are increasingly
accessing our data using devices that are tightly
controlled by vendors. Think of your iPhone, your iPad,
your Android phone, your Kindle, your Chromebook… And even the new computer OSs,
Microsoft and Apple, are heading in this direction,
with less user control. And both of these trends
increase corporate power by giving them more control
of our data and therefore of us. Government power is also
increasing on the Internet. There’s more government
surveillance than ever before. We know now the NSA
is eavesdropping on the entire planet. (Laughter) There’s more censorship
than ever before. There’s more propaganda. More governments are controlling
what the users can and cannot do on the Internet. Totalitarian governments are embracing
the Internet as a means for control. And many countries are pushing cyberwar
as a reason of a control. On both the corporate
and the government side, traditional power
on the Internet is huge. And in many cases,
the interests are aligning. Surveillance is
the business model of the Internet, and business surveillance
gives governments access to data it couldn’t get otherwise. But you could think of it as a public-private
surveillance partnership. So what happened? How in those early Internet years
did we get the future so wrong? The truth is that technology
magnifies power in general, but the rates of adoption are different. The distributed can make
use of new technologies faster. They’re small but nimble,
they’re not hindered by bureaucracy, and some of these are not
by laws or ethics, and they can adapt faster. And when those groups
discovered the Internet, suddenly they had power. It was a change in kind. We saw that in e-commerce. Can you remember,
as soon as the Internet started being used for commerce, a new bread of cyber criminal
emerged, like out of the ground, immediately able
to take advantage. And the police who are like
trained on Agatha Christie novels (Laughter) took about a decade to catch up. (Laughter) We also saw it on social media: right marginalized groups
started to immediately use
the Internet’s organizing power. it took corporations, what, a decade
to figure out how to co-opt it. But when big institutions
finally figured it out, they had more raw power to magnify and they got
even more powerful. So that’s the difference. The distributed are more nimble and
quicker to make use their new power. The institutional are slower but
able to use power more effectively. So all the Syrian dissidents
used Facebook to organize. The Syrian government used Facebook
to identify and arrest dissidents. So who wins? Is the quick or the strong? Which type of power dominates
in the coming decades? Right now, it looks like
traditional power. It’s much easier for the NSA
to spy on everyone than it is for anyone
to maintain privacy. China has an easier time
blocking content than its citizen have
getting around those blocks. And even though it’s still easy to
circumvent digital copy protection, most users can’t do it. And this is because leveraging Internet
power requires technical expertise. Those with sufficient ability can
always stay ahead of institutional power. Whether it’s setting up
your own email server or using encryption or
breaking copy protection, the technologies are there. This is why cyber crime
is still pervasive even as police power gets better, this is why whistle-blowers
can still do so much damage, this is why organization like
Anonymous are still viable forces, and this is why social movements
still thrive on the Internet. Most of us though
are stuck in the middle. We don’t have the technical
ability to evade the large governments and
corporations on one side, with the criminal hacker
groups on the other. We can’t join any dissident movements. We have no choice but to accept the default configuration options,
the arbitrator terms of service, the NSA installed back doors or the occasional complete loss
of our data for some inexplicable reason. (Laughter) And we get isolated as
government corporate powers align, and we get trampled
when the powers fight. Where there’s Facebook,
Google, Apple and Amazon fighting it out in the marketplace, or the US, EU, China and Russia
fighting out in the world, or US vs. the terrorists or
the media industry vs. the pirates, or China vs. its dissidents. And this will only get worse
as technology improves. In the battle between
institutional and distributed power, more technology means more damage. And we’ve already seen it: cyber criminals can rob
more people, more quickly than real world criminals; digital pirates can make
more copies of more movies, more quickly than
their analog ancestors. And we’ll see it in the future. 3D printers means control debates are soon going to involve
guns and not movies. And Google glass means
surveillance debates will soon involve
everyone all the time. This is really the same thing as
the weapons of mass destruction fear: terrorists with nuclear biological bombs can do a lot more damage than
terrorists with conventional explosives. And like that fear, increasing
technology brings it to a head Very broadly, there is
a natural crime rate in society, based on who we are
as a species and a culture. There’s also a crime rate that
society is willing to tolerate. When criminals are inefficient, we’re willing to live with some
percentage of them in our midst. As technology makes each
individual criminal more effective, the percentage
we can tolerate decreases. As a result, institutional power
naturally get stronger, to protect against the bad part
of distributed power. This means even more
oppressive security measures even if they’re ineffective, and even if they stifle
the good part of distributed power. OK, so what happens? What happens
as technology increases? Is a police state the only way
to control distributed power and keep our society safe? Or do fringe elements
inevitably destroy society as technology increases their power? Is there actually no room for
freedom, liberty and social change in the technological future? Empowering the distributed is one of the most important
benefits of the Internet. It’s an amazing force for
positive social change in the world. And we need to preserve it. In this battle between
the quick and the strong, what we need is a stalemate. And I have three recommendations
on how to get there. In the short term, what we need
is transparency and oversight. The more we know
what institutional power is doing, the more we can trust it. Well we actually know this is true, we know it’s true about government. But we’ve kind of forgotten it in our fear of terrorism
or other modern threats. It’s also true for corporate power. Unfortunately, market dynamics will not force corporations
to be transparent. We actually need laws to do that. And transparency also helps us
trust distributed power. Most of the time distributed power
is good for the world. And transparency is how we
differentiate positive social groups from criminal organizations. Oversight is the second thing.
It’s also critical. And again, it’s a long understood
mechanism for checking power. And it’s a combination of things. It’s courts that act as
third party advocates, it’s legislators that understand
technologies, it’s a vibrant press, and it’s watchdog groups
that analyze and report on what power is doing. Those two things,
transparency and accountability, give us the confidence
to trust institutional power and ensure they’ll act
in our interest. And without it, I think
democracy just fails. In the longer term, we need to work
to reduce power differences. The more we can balance power
among various groups, the more stable society will be. And the key to all
this is access to data. On the Internet, data is power. To the extent the powerless have
access to it they gain in power, to extent the already
power have access to it they further consolidate their power. As we look to reducing power imbalances,
we have to look at data. This is data privacy for individuals, mandatory disclosure rules
for corporations, and open government laws. This is how we survive the future. Today’s Internet is really
a fortuitous accident. It’s a combination of an initial lack
of commercial interests, of government benign neglect, of some military requirements
for survivability and resilience, and a bunch of computer engineers
building open systems that work simply and easily. We’re at the beginning
of some critical debate about the future of the Internet, Law enforcement, surveillance,
corporate data collection, cyberwar, information consumerism
and on and on and on. This is not going to be an easy period
as we try to work this out. Historically, no shift in
power has ever been easy. Corporations are turning the Internet
into enormous revenue generator and they’re not going to back down. Neither will governments who have harnessed
the Internet for a good control. And these are all very complicated
political and technological issues. But we all have a duty
to tackle this problem. I don’t know what the result is gonna be but I hope that when,
generations from now, society looks back on us
in these early decades of the Internet, they’re not going to be disappointed. And this is only gonna happen
if each one of us engages, makes this a priority
and participates in the debate. We need to decide
on the proper balance between institutional
and distributed power, and how to build tools that
will amplify what is good in each, or suppressing what is bad. Thank you. (Applause)

11 thoughts on “The Battle for Power on the Internet: Bruce Schneier at TEDxCambridge 2013

  1. Such an inspiring speech on the aching problems of the internet: the battle between privacy and surveillance. We need to be alert and take action if we want to protect our privacy. And speaking of tools that can balance this situation we're in, VPNs a good and easy way to start protecting our privacy and anonymity on the internet. All the best!

  2. Too abstract for anyone to use. Tell people: Get app x if you are y or app z if you are c. Then you may get a chance to turn the untechnical amongst us into better informed and better armed.

  3. That's how Bruce presents. He gives you the issues to consider, not the cut and dry solutions that may or may not be correct.

  4. Agent Smith: Why, Mr. Anderson? Why, why? Why do you do it? Why, why get up? Why keep fighting? Do you believe you're fighting… for something? For more than your survival? Can you tell me what it is? Do you even know? Is it freedom? Or truth? Perhaps peace? Could it be for love? Illusions, Mr. Anderson. Vagaries of perception. Temporary constructs of a feeble human intellect trying desperately to justify an existence that is without meaning or purpose. And all of them as artificial as the Matrix itself, although… only a human mind could invent something as insipid as love. You must be able to see it, Mr. Anderson. You must know it by now. You can't win. It's pointless to keep fighting. Why, Mr. Anderson? Why? Why do you persist? 

    Neo: Because I choose to. 

  5. Pewdiepie you self indulgent duck. Smosh did the same thing, and it was horrible. Don't destroy your career. YOUR NOT AN ACTOR. Pewds what have U done…

  6. Perhaps it is institutional power for which there is no room in the distributed internet!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *