Thursday, December 09, 2010

The Forces Of Mordor

The internet is getting quite Tolkienesque as it matures. The current battles being waged over Wikileaks seems to line up the forces of Mordor against a ragbag, but capable crew of purists, whilst we citizens (or subjects) of Middle Earth (the internet, to torture the analogy) watch on..

The issues this throws up are fascinating, from the openness of the web to the ownership of the internet and I have no doubt whole books, as well as Sunday newspaper supplements, will be devoted to the subject.

Ironically, I remember sitting in Boardrooms persuading the people who now want to 'own' the internet that they needed it at all. How things have changed in little over a decade or so.

With big money comes vested interests and with the terrifying influence of the far right in the US comes a real threat to the openness of the internet and to the rights of people outside the US.

Of course, having watched too many transmissions of Spooks and read all the Larss0n 'Girl With A Dragon Tattoo' books, I, along with most people in Europe, I suspect, think that Sweden - ostensibly the least corrupt country on earth - is rotten at the core and that the hand of Secret Services can be seen all too commonly these days in the UK.

But it's amazing that it's taken the blocking of a single account to bring the wrath of vengeance down upon the duopoly of Visa and Mastercard, along with their uppity little brother Paypal. These are price gouging companies that are a tax on pretty much every individual in the developed world - and moreover enable banks to then price gouge with eye-popping interest rates.

It seems that fairness is still more important to us than being ripped off (or maybe we've decided that it's a fight we can take on, whereas the banks and financial services industry seems impenetrable and absolutely teflon in its current state).

Perhaps the biggest irony in all of this were the leaked cables about the US lobbying for these virtual monopolies Russia.

A country that once prided itself on competition now exports anti-competitiveness around the world, from Microsoft, eBay and Amazon to Google, YouTube and now Facebook. They are the virtual equivalents of Mastercard and Visa.

And the citizens of Europe (nor most other places for that matter) have no choice but to use them. That Russia was willing to tackle the credit cards' oligopoly is fascinating, and the fact that Digital Sky Technologies, the Russian based technology company, is gradually building significant stakes in American online services such as Facebook and Groupon is even more telling.

I'm not taking sides in the Wikileaks war, but as the Australian Prime Minister pointed out, the US created this mess in the first place. What Europe should now learn is that our dependence on the US has to be lessened urgently, using legislation if necessary, and our citizens should not become victims of America's inexorable move to the paranoid right.

More than anything we should ensure that the US does not get to own and control the internet any more than it does today.