I'm back but the Internet still sucks

Nothing can be more enjoyable than a vacation from blogging: my experience was just great! But now that the book is nearly done, I am beginning to slowly rediscover  the Interwebs. I am not sure how much I’ll last, as the prospect of spending the summer completely away from all the digital noise –offline and in the woods– is too hard to resist (fear not: I’ll be writing and distributing my blog posts through pigeon mail!). Or, since I already have a position on everything, I can just pre-write them in advance.

Anyhow, good news is that nothing important has happened in my absence.  The Internet is still (mostly) evil. Google is still viewed as a sum total of all human goodness on Earth (The New Republic even compared it to Sakharov the other day but here I am comparing them to Hitler for hiding that article under a paywall); “Internet freedom’ is still a buzzword that few people understand – and those who do are not the kind of guys you’d like to send to promote peace in the Middle East; and yes, we are at cyberwar (I’m writing this from a bunker). Below are my mega-vitriolic thoughts on some major developments in all three departments:

Google’s new “censorship transparency” initiative
: meh. Given that Google owns different platforms in different countries, making lists of countries with the largest number of requests makes as much sense as saying how many gigabytes of search data (WTF you may ask - me too) are blocked by the Chinese. I have absolutely no clue what it actually means that Brazil leads the world  in Google’s tables of “evilness”.  After all, Google owns Orkut, a social network, and Orkut is extremely popular in Brazil. Social networks face completely different content regulation challenges than search engines. Comparing Brazil to Ireland is not going to make much sense, why even bother? Just because it makes for a nice map mash-up? Or because it further dilutes the public debate and presents Google as the Sakharov 2.0, waging a global struggle for everyone’s rights?

Last time I checked, though, Sakharov was not selling AdWords during his quest for democracy.  After all, tables that lack meaning still make for good PR. Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for transparency but – here I speak the unspeakable, so you may  want to stop reading right here -  I also see nothing wrong with certain governments demanding Google to remove certain pieces of content . For you know what? In many cases, such demands are driven by rule of law rather than some vile censorship agenda: lumping all of them in one pile is as irresponsible as it gets, which, curiously, Google almost points out in its own FAQ.  Now, if only the same people who write Google's FAQs also wrote their press-releases.

“Internet freedom” debate:  it’s going south. In just three months, the well-meaning folks over at the State Department have lost all control over their own ill-thought buzzword. Conceptually, it’s no longer just a fancy way to describe defense of “freedom of expression” on the Internet; for all intents and purposes, it’s now seen just as another, cooler, gadget-friendly way to promote “regime change”. That’s how most hawkish conservatives see it – the recent George Bush conference on cyber-dissidents  is just another proof – and that’s how the rest of the world would see it, too. I am still puzzled that people at the State Department were so naïve as to think that “Internet freedom” would not be appropriated by the neocons as a useful banner to disguise their regime change agenda.

Even worse, all of this seems to clash with the rest of the Obama agenda on democracy promotion, which is as cool, remote and rational as you can imagine. Well, it was all Hillary’s fault: invoking the “information curtain” metaphor in her seminal speech on “Internet freedom” was a sure way to frame this discussion as some kind of a Cold War 2.0. And boy don't we know what happens in a cold war: everyone wants to start smuggling faxes and Xerox machines, training dissidents in civic disobedience, and using silly metaphors that don't add up but make us all feel extremely smug and important. Predictably, defending the open and single Internet – the original objective behind Hillary’s speech - is not a priority anymore - at least as far as the public is concerned; why bother, if we can just liberate them all with tweets (but if only we avoid our own PowerPoints!). “Internet freedom” must have been the worst possible Internet-related buzzword to throw at the hungry conservatives.

CYBERBORE CYBERWAR: yes, in case you haven’t noticed, we are losing the CYBERWAR (all caps, no less) – and, unfortunately, we are losing it to a bunch of cybersecurity contractors (especially those that were smart enough to put former government execs on their payrolls).  If, unlike me, you have been anywhere near the Internet in the past few months, you must have heard the news: Mike McConnell – who thinks we are at cyberwar which we are already losing –  wants to re-engineer the Internets (all those tubes will need to be relocated, after all), while Leon Panetta apparently didn’t get the memo announcing that “electronic Pearl Harbor” was no longer a very fashionable metaphor. I’ve got a proposal, too: if we are already at cyberwar – and this must be a war with the highest number of cat videos watched during combat – I propose to declare all Twitter activity – and especially if involved iPads –  to be unpatriotic. Or here’s an even brighter idea: Let’s just nuke the entire Bay Area! That way, the evil Chinese hackers will have nothing to attack: bingo, we won the war.

Given all the fuss, the only person with sensible views on the issue has been Obama’s newly appointed cyber-czar Howard Schmidt, who, as unpatriotic as he is, thinks that the cyberwar does not exist. It’s only because of Schmidt’s sobriety that I retain a glimmer of hope that cybercontractors won’t win the cyberwar. The most overlooked aspect of this “struggled” is that we can’t fight the cyberwar and be promoting Internet freedom at the same time. Re-engineering the Internet, by default, presumes "re-engineering it away" from being “open and single” – and that’s what Clinton kind of wanted to preserve before their magic Internet juice was claimed by conservatives to be used in their own Twitter Agenda. Good luck. My money is on DoD and the contractors: they always win and they’ll win this time. Get used to it: all your Internet freedoms will belong to Booz Allen Hamilton.