Are We Hallucinating About the Internet?

The technology industry and channel partners are certainly much better off because of the Internet. The technology changes it has spawned have resonated through the channel for more than a decade. But are we totally missing the downside of that experience?

Professor Jonathan Zittrain, a leading academic researcher studying the impact of the web, is warning in a new book, believes there's a dark side to where it is taking us. He tells BBC News, that the many appliances that have been developed for easier Net access are damaging the innovation on which the web was founded and are centralizing too much power in the hands of governments and multinational companies. While such mobile devices, smartphones, kiosks and tracking systems promise more convenient access to the web, he worries that they are evolving into broad-based monitoring tools. A regular PC on an open net is much less of a danger, he argues, since it is controlled by the user, not the content provider (although this point is arguable, since large U.S. ISPs such as AT&T and Verizon have been willing to bend over backwards to cooperate in government data-mining operations that can intercept both phone calls and emails.)

It's an interesting premise to consider, especially for those of us enamored of our mobile phones, PDAs and other gizmos that provide rich margins to channel partners. Are these devices inevitably pushing us toward a world of nonstop surveillance and monitoring? Will the rise of closed systems (and the applications written for them) make the Net a less innovative place? And should developers and users do more to resist the trend?

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