Seeking your opinions on internet values and core principles

By | September 1, 2010

The next Internet Governance Forum (IGF) is just around the corner and for the first time I am organizing a workshop there.  I think the title of the workshop speaks for itself.  It is: “Core Internet Values and the Principles of Internet Governance Across Generations.”

The idea is very simple.  We are going to have a group of very smart people.  Some of them are internet pioneers from different countries, some of them are established researchers, and some are well known practitioners.  We will also have a group of young, less known (yet) people, whose activism and professional lives are related to the internet in one way or another.  The panel itself is quite large and we are also counting on having a very diverse and engaging audience from the IGF community.

So, the plan is to have a discussion among the panelists and then involve the floor, about core internet values and principles.  The question is not only what those values and principles might be, but whether the perception of these values and principles varies across generations and what that may mean for the future of internet-related policies.

This is where I would really appreciate an input from anyone reading these lines.  What do you think are the core values and principles of the internet where we can find the widest gaps across generations?

One example may be the notion of privacy.  I think since online social networks became popular there is an ongoing debate about how the younger generations’ perceptions of privacy online differ from that of their parents.  We all heard Mark Zuckerberg’s announcement that the age of privacy is over.  But is it so for everyone?

What are the core values and principles of the internet that you still hold dear?  Which ones do you think were important in the past, but are no longer important?

Please share your thoughts!

18 thoughts on “Seeking your opinions on internet values and core principles

  1. lisa

    What about the core principles that might/would only become apparent in the future? Eg. the idea that information might have an expiry date and that would be respected by devices and networks that encounter that information.

    The idea of information lasting forever doesn’t seem to be a concern for people, but then we’ve only been producing completely-persistent information for the last 50 or so years. Imagine Facebook in 50-100 years when the majority of profiles are of dead people…

    1. Dima Post author

      This is a very good point. So, yes, please air ideas like that as well.

      BTW, you be interested in checking out “Delete,” a book that talks about this very concern and more.

  2. Nadya Dich

    As a complete outsider, I am afraid I do not quite understand the term “values and concepts of Internet”. Take your example with privacy. It’s a concept in itself, but Internet creates new issues around it. Is that what you mean?

  3. Dima Epstein

    Yes, that too. And also if you think people who grew up with the internet, mobile phones, location based services, social networks, etc. would think differently about privacy because they use all this tech. Do you think the notion of privacy has changed over time? What else is out there that is important to your internet experience and the way the web functions? After all, I think we all are insiders, since we use it all the time.

  4. Nadya Dich

    Well, things that come to mind: a possibility to get a more or less instant answer to pretty much any question (and possibility of instant gratification more broadly), unlimited long-distance communication, free access to any movie/song (illegal in most developed countries, but if you go to, you can find quite a lot, for free), online bookings of all sorts. These are the things that our parents didn’t have and that play a big role in everyday life. But I guess this is too obvious and you are looking for something deeper than that? Or are you asking how these things change our values? If so, I think all of the things above make us more spoilt, impatient, un-appreciating, dependent and bad at time-management. 🙂

  5. Dima Epstein

    Thank you, Nadya! This is great. Although these are applications, and not necessarily values or principles, the list in itself is insightful.

    BTW, I learned today that both Vkontakte and Odnoklassniki are owned by the same entity.

  6. Naveed Ul Haq

    Hey good luck for the workshop Dima. I am arranging a remote hub in Islamabad. Would love to take your workshop proceedings on board. Meanwhile , will be giving my opinion to you ..

  7. Dima Epstein

    Thank you Naveed! Please shoot me an email with any details about the workshop you may need. And please share your thoughts on the subject here, on the blog, or any other way you feel comfortable with. Thanks again!

  8. Paul Muchene

    Hi Dima! I got this link from the ISOC-NGL course. Dima I think openness of the Internet will continue to be a core principle both now and tomorrow. By openness I look at it in the technical and social angle. Open Internet standards and protocols are necessary for the sustained growth of the Internet and without them the Internet would not have been successful as an communication and information system as we have it today. Certain organisations like ITU would like to bring alternative proprietary and competing protocols that would make the Internet behave more like the traditional telecommunication industry. Open Internet standards should be maintained always. On the social sphere I feel the openness of the Internet is being threatened by governments who are not tolerant to diverse opinions and expression. The zeal to censor content that is objectionable to governments is a cause of concern and undermines the fundamental freedom of expression. ‘Net neutrality’ also falls in the sphere of openness as I feel the idea to charge content providers for internet traffic sent across other network providers could undermine a truly open Internet.

    As to which core principles are important in the past but could be irrelevant in the future, a hard look at the principle of accessibility could offer a glimpse of where we are headed. I think physical accessibility to an Internet connection may be less important in future generations as it was in the past. The exponential growth of mobile handsets and establishment of fiber optic networks even in developing countries like mine is bridging the ‘physical access’ divide. However accessibility in terms of accessing local or language specific content and the use of IDNs will still play out in future IG debates.

    I think you should also craft new principles that would shape the Internet in future generations to come. I do not have any at the moment but your forum could be a good brain storming starting point on new core Internet principles.

    I will not be able to attend your workshop in Lithuania but I hope I could follow your presentations remotely. Please keep me posted.

    1. Dima Post author

      Thank you, Paul Muchene! These are excellent points! Do you think there is a difference in the way openness was perceived when the Internet just got started and the way it is perceived now? If yes, in what way? And if no, why do you think is that?

      Thanks again and I am sorry I won’t meet you in Vilnius.

      1. Paul Muchene

        Dima! I regret taking this long to reply to your post. I hope your workshop went well 🙂 Yes, there is a vast change in the way openness was perceived in the past and currently and I also forsee it would have a different interpretation in future. In the past with the launch of ARPANET academic and research institutions participating in online discourses relied on trust and therefore they shared their networks and computing resources with trust as a substrate for their actions. This could also partly explain why in its incipience the IPV4 protocol was not built with security in mind. I trusted the source of the information I was getting and in turn I trusted my resources to the networks and institutions I associated with. Today this is not the case I even run a firewall on my PC. I can no longer can trust the information I receive nor my PC/computer to the external world unless I stringently enforce privacy and cryptography to whatever I access or to whom accesses my PC. The Internet is slowly becoming fractured islands of trusted and untrusted networks because of Spam and malware invading cyberspace. It is no longer the open space it was in the 70s and 80s. The future looks bleak (I hope am not too pessimistic) if anything to go by with the NN debate and measures by governments and organisations filter content (even if legitimate) the Internet is becoming less and less an open space.
        An open Internet ought to be maintained in the face of cyber security threats and attempts to censor and monitor cyberspace. This is a very daunting undertaking and I hope this point can be brought out in the IGF.

        1. Dima Post author

          Hi Paul! Thank you for your feedback and please accept my apologies for getting back slowly. The IGF is just over and there was not time to answer during the forum. Luckily, your comments came in time for me to see them before the panel.

          The panel itself worked quite well. I will be posting of it soon. I think the discussion has touched, even if briefly on the value of openness. I will post the video of the panel as soon as it will become available.

  9. Nilofar Ansher

    Hi Dima,

    The questions you pose are thought provoking not only because they are relevant to critical understanding of how an entire generation grew up, but also understand if they did so with a supposed or imagined value system in the virtual world. Would they have made up their core values or did they transplant it from the real world? I am trying to understand how some of us attempt to replicate offline (real world) contexts online – with rules and regulations, laws, security and other paradigms which we haven’t yet explored.

    The lines between public and private space and real and virtual worlds are fast blurring. For the generation born and growing up in the 2000s, there is no dichotomy or dissonance in their offline behaviour and online attitude – it’s part of their meta-self. Today, they pick and choose their identities and no longer adhere to constructs of gender, work or social identities in cyberspace.

    Read here for more thoughts on this:“i-choose-to-‘like-and-poke’-and-therefore-i-am”/

    In the past, the sense of discovery that the Internet gave me, was something that I held very dear, and continue to do so today. However, the sense of discovery was tempered by concerns of security, safety, not putting too much information ‘out there’, limited browsing time and technology, and a total lack of interface understanding. I was clueless in the early 90s about the ‘how’ of it – how has the Internet come to be, how is it changing the way I learn, study, work and communicate? How is it changing my conception of self, society and community?

    Today, I consider cyberspace a home. I don’t call it second home though. I honestly don’t have to consciously think about what information I put ‘out there’ – everything already is! The rules of engagement have changed. Do I regret this transparency? This total ‘lack of privacy’. Perhaps, I do. There is an unexplained pressure to be part of the herd mentality. There is pressure to conform. Which is obvious even in the real world constructs. However, the Internet DIDN’T start off as a place where conformity was inevitable.

    My personal thoughts on being a Digital Native here:

    I think the terms ‘values’ and ‘principles’ apply to some extent on the Internet. On the whole, I think, the question of ‘politics’ would be more relevant. How have we come to engage with the Internet today compared with the past – talking about the political legacy here.

    1. Dima Post author

      Thank you, Nilofar, for a thoughtful response! I will definitely check our posts out.

      My question is not just about the value system of the “digital natives,” but more about the values embedded in the internet. Perhaps some of the changes you’ve observed across generations are a result of certain affordances and limitations of the internet as a medium where a lot of our digital life is happening? What do you think about this? What is there on the internet that allows you to trust it with all your information? What do you think allows it to be your “home”?

      1. Paul Muchene

        Dima I concur with Nilofar when he states “The lines between public and private space and real and virtual worlds are fast blurring”. A notable principle of the Internet is the principle of user-centricity; the ability for users to share, interact,innovate as well as control what information they can disclose online. The Internet has afforded me the means to ‘advertise’ myself, my occupations and interests to a far wider audience. Linked-in, facebook, myspace, youtube are some of the tools that enable me to do so. This has led to a conundrum, in the past I valued my privacy and still do but the more I interact with the online world am slowly losing my personal privacy whenever I share, disclose, interact or innovate something new online. One way or another people will want to associate my digital persona with the real me and they can decipher certain attributes of who I am based on what I post online. This is something I would not have had to deal with in the past but now I worry alot about my privacy and how much I must disclose. Although user centricity should be maintained it could clash with traditional perceptions and definitions of privacy. Is there really real privacy online?

        1. Dima Post author

          Good question. I think i have a draft post dealing with the same topic, but i will have to look at it after i am back.

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