The internet is changing.
Conspiracy theorists have not picked up on the fact that
much of the initial technology would not have been developed without the US
military, but since then the web has evolved into a wonderfully anarchic free
market of ideas.
However, the nature of anarchy ensures that it can never
last – and it usually ends in dictatorship.
It was the issue of technical compatibility that led to the
first internet dictatorship: customers wanted convenience more than they wanted
choice. So the call went up for a “Strong Man” to take charge – and the
unlikely figure of Bill Gates of Microsoft was only too happy to take on the
The next problem was sorting the vast amount of information
that was being generated by the fast-developing technology. Bill was eager to
take on this job too, but people were already tiring of his grip on the
technology. So the way was open for a new internet dictator, Google.
Now it seems that Google is in turn giving way to another
internet dictator, the Chinese government. Google made a Devil’s deal when it
set up shop in China, accepting the condition that it would co-operate with the
massive state censorship there.
Now it has discovered that “someone” – no prizes for
guessing – has launched a sophisticated cyber-attack, accessing the g-mail
accounts of Chinese dissidents. Google is now considering whether it can remain
While Red China is an extreme case, most governments are
trying to exert control over the internet. It is relatively easy for a modern
state to block access to politically inconvenient websites and to hack e-mail
accounts. Even in the United Kingdom, the birthplace of liberal democracy, the
government wants providers to keep records of private e-mails, so that
officials can peek at them if they want.
Throughout history, technologies that have been developed by
free enterprise have come under ever greater state control. That may be
happening to the internet.
If so, this will not be the end of the internet, but it may
mark the end of the pioneering phase that has given many of us opportunities we
have come to take for granted.