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Re: “Internet needs regulation, reinvention” by Lois Wellons, Friday:
A letter decrying the misuse of the internet in perpetuating wealth and power inequality has several fallacies that the author uses to bolster her argument. The internet was not developed to provide control to the richest and brightest nor to prove that the market is always right.
DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, began in the early 1960s to employ concepts for information sharing that had come from MIT researchers in the early 1960s. This resulted in ARPANET a system of computers linked in order to share information between Department of Defense entities and later universities.
Cooperation among researchers resulted in ARPANET’s more widespread use and the incorporation of email provided further impetus to more innovation and a desire to make the still rudimentary system widely available. One of the early rules developers insisted on was that there was not to be global control by any one entity or government.
The sophistication of the nascent, yet-to-be-named named internet continued with government funding and in 1995 federal funding ceased and the system was privatized. Soon thereafter, the loose global system was christened the internet.
The original designers and visionaries of today’s internet did value freedom and democracy. That behemoths like Alphabet and Facebook have arisen is not a result of the internet’s design flaws.
These private companies have become so ubiquitous that we cannot imagine getting through the day without using one of their products or platforms. The letter writer is correct that these monopolies must be cut down to size due to their disproportionate ability to influence what information we can access and thus guide what we think about and even how we think.
Congress should look into whether Alphabet and Facebook are platforms and therefore content neutral or publishers that push a certain agenda espousing a particular point of view. Google’s recent election interference and manipulation of its search algorithms to skew search results indicate that they are publishers and therefore subject to congressional oversight.
The writer is partially correct in that users’ privacy must be protected — but by who? Can we trust the government to do the job when the evidence of past Department of Justice and FBI animus toward conservatives is known? Such information indicates that we must be vigilant as to what the enforcers are up to also.