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The internet is not theirs: shifting towards a public service

Information, education and knowledge should not depend, or not exclusively, on the arbitrary decisions of a handful of Silicon Valley billionaires

Telegram pendiente de actualización
Javier Sampedro

Judge Santiago Pedraz from Spain’s National Court recently experienced the challenges of battling a digital platform. He recently suspended Telegram (an app similar to WhatsApp) from operating in the country due to allegations of copyright infringement from three TV production companies: Mediaset, Atresmedia and Movistar Plus. A few days later, Pedraz was forced to reverse course.

Specialized lawyers and technology analysts say that blocking Telegram was far too heavy-handed. It could have negatively impacted eight million users in Spain with no connection to the allegedly illegal content. Moreover, there is no clear way of implementing the judge’s decision without causing chaos.

There’s also worry about a bill from the U.S. House of Representatives threatening a ban on TikTok if it doesn’t sever ties with its Chinese parent company, ByteDance. President Joe Biden is poised to sign the bill if it clears the Senate. The concerns stem from the China trade war initiated by Donald Trump, a situation Biden has done little to counter.

The use of TikTok by a huge number of Americans puts a lot of data in the hands of the Chinese government and businesses. Yet, the potential shutdown of TikTok in the U.S. has drawn criticism from users who aren’t involved in industrial espionage or trade wars. Similar to Telegram, TikTok offers unique advantages that users value and shouldn’t be overlooked.

“Walling off the internet” is the expression we hear every time the issue of internet regulation arises. But it has always had fences, like the ones that keep mad bulls from getting out and hurting kids. But the fences that currently exist are made of rickety wood that breaks easily. The current regulatory debate on artificial intelligence (AI) underscores the significant challenge lawmakers face, which may never be fully resolved.

There’s an alternative to the, in all probability vain, objective of walling off the internet or blocking specific networks: build them from scratch. Creating platforms, applications and social networks that function as a public service, as a resource for citizens, rather than as a business for the world’s largest companies. To use a pre-internet analogy, the existence of a Citizen Kane should not deprive us of the BBC. Information, education and knowledge shouldn’t depend, or at least not only, on the whims of Silicon Valley billionaires.

It’s up to us, the citizens, and our political representatives to establish and fund a new type of network — an internet designed to serve the public. This was the original vision of its creators, a group of scientists who generously applied their immense talents for the betterment of society.

After four decades, the time has come to realize their original vision. While video games have successfully funded the advancement of essential technologies, it’s time to roll up our sleeves and face the challenging reality behind the screens. Scientist and media expert Helen Jay shared several compelling initiatives in an article for Scientific American. Read it, dig into these ideas and, most importantly, come up with some of your own. The world eagerly awaits them.

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