How to Build A Safe Internet

Imagine living in a sci-fi society with no police, no criminal laws, no courts, and no jails. You’d carry a weapon at all times. Your house would have bars on the windows, security video systems, double-bolt locks, and metal doors. It would be very expensive, and you’d still suffer break-ins and robberies on a routine basis.

Suppose that one day, sick of yet another break-in, you approach your neighbors with a novel idea: “What if we pool our resources to set up community security? We could hire some armed guards to patrol the neighborhood at all times.” Your neighbors, I’m sure, would quickly agree that this would be a cheaper and more effective way to reduce crime. Perhaps the idea would snowball, with other neighborhoods joining your program, and pretty soon the whole city has a complete program for fighting crime. Congratulations! You just invented the police force.

This story sounds ridiculous, I’m sure. No society would be so stupid as to operate without any criminal laws or police, dumping the whole problem of security onto individual victims, at enormous cost. Right?

A screwed-up world

This is really stupid! A communal security system would be immensely superior to the current system, both in terms of cost and effectiveness. So why haven’t we built such a system?

The answer takes us back to the inception of the Internet. Its fundamental design specification was that it had to continue to provide reliable communications in the event of a nuclear war. This meant that there could not be any central hub; every node had to be a hub. No central hub meant that there was no central target, but it also meant that there was no central control.

An Internet for a different world

There is one strategy available: we can build a new Internet on top of the existing Internet. This Safe Internet would operate in conjunction with the old Internet, as an adjunct rather than a replacement. Here’s how I imagine it functioning:

A new non-profit organization would be created by the existing Internet governance organizations, charged with organizing and funding the Safe Internet. Since everything associated with the Internet must have an acronym, we’ll call it SIC: the Safe Internet Corporation. It is charged with setting up the Safe Internet layer that rides on top of the Old Wild West Internet (the OWWI, pronounced “owwie”).

SIC will have no problem getting gobs of funding from all the corporations that are spending billions on security. Remember: collective security is a lot cheaper and more effective than individual security. They use this funding to set up a smart gateway; only certified parties can pass through the gateway into the lush gardens of the Safe Internet.

A gated community

Here I run afoul of one of the most cherished benefits of the Internet: anonymity. The anarchist in each of us treasures the notion that our presence on the Internet is anonymous. I can troll to my heart’s content, insulting people left and right, behaving like a six-year old without a care in the world.

That’s wrong. In the real world we don’t permit people to act anonymously because too many people use anonymity to engage in socially vicious behavior. Internet trolls can get away with their atrocious behavior because they are shielded by anonymity. Hackers can get away with their crimes because they are anonymous. Yes, anonymity can grant each of us a little harmless fun, but it also grants amoral people the power to perpetrate much evil. For our safety, we must banish anonymity from the Safe Internet.

An individual’s account would also have to be tied to physical factors, such as bank accounts, credit cards, and mobile phones. It’s possible to spoof some of these things separately, but spoofing the entire collection of physical connections to Internet accounts is a big job.

But what about privacy?

The Internet is, for the most part, a public place. Posting revenge porn about your ex-girlfriend on the Internet is a public act. Calling somebody a stupid poopy-head in a discussion board is a public act. You should not be able to do these public acts anonymously.

There are, of course, plenty of actions on the Internet that are intended to be private, and they should permit anonymity, but such anonymity should be specific to that particular Internet location, not a default condition for all Internet activity, and such anonymity can be provided by the site owner.

Render unto the public world what is public and unto the private world what is private. Gee, that’s a catchy line.

Reputation, socially and Internetly

We can use the same methods society uses to establish reputation: everybody is born with a basically good reputation. During the course of your life, you can elevate your reputation with exceptionally virtuous acts, but more often, your reputation is tarnished by your sins. We can use the same system with the Safe Internet: everybody starts with a good reputation and is allowed through the gateway, but you can ruin your reputation by bad behavior and get thrown out. Remember, reputation lasts forever; if you get thrown out, you NEVER get back in. So you damn well better keep your nose clean.

The primary basis of your digital reputation would be lawful behavior. If you’re caught hacking, you’re out. Remember, successful hacking requires many, many trials and experiments. No hacker ever broke into a system on his first try. Hackers on the OWWI could make as many attempts as they wanted, because each attempt was anonymous. But on the Safe Internet, your first attempt to hack a site that triggers an alarm results in permanent banishment from the Safe Internet. It’s too great a risk.

We could also have protections against trollery, but these would have to be lenient; even the most patient of us occasionally gets frustrated at the ignorant morons who waste perfectly good electrons with their stupidity, and we write things that we later regret. You’d have to collect a big pile of Troll Reports to get ostracized, and those reports would have to come from a lot of different people, all of whom themselves have good reputations.

Vile gossip

A nation of algorithms, not men

By relying on AI as the main line of defense, we gain many benefits. First, AI is a lot cheaper than human referees. Second, it’s a lot faster. Third, it does provide a certain degree of anonymity. If I purchase some perverted sex paraphernalia from Amazon, no human will know what a pervert I am.

Gaming the system

Populating the Safe Internet

The major Internet platforms will eagerly leap onto the Safe Internet, although they’ll retain their old presence on the OWWI until the user population of the Safe Internet is large enough. Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Netflix will all see just how much better their lives will be when most people are on the Safe Internet, so they’ll have no problems justifying the jump. In effect, all they need do is create clones of their OWWI selves to live on the Safe Internet, and then leave their OWWI selves to wither away as users abandon them.

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The End

Master of Science, Physics, 1975. Computer Game Designer. Interactive Storytelling.

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