Two relevant and related news stories from this weekend:
Today’s New York Times includes an article on charging companies for email. The gist is this:
America Online and Yahoo, two of the world's largest providers of e-mail accounts, are about to start using a system that gives preferential treatment to messages from companies that pay from 1/4 of a cent to a penny each to have them delivered. The senders must promise to contact only people who have agreed to receive their messages, or risk being blocked entirely.
The Internet companies say that this will help them identify legitimate mail and cut down on junk e-mail, identity-theft scams and other scourges that plague users of their services. They also stand to earn millions of dollars a year from the system if it is widely adopted.
So corporate, economically-driven email will have priority over your personal messages to your grandma. And there’s really nothing to stop this pay-for-play model from trickling on down to the masses. danah boyd makes a good point about the chilling effect this potentially has for email as a communications platform:
... Email is already dying amongst youth. Right now, most of us in our 20s view postal mail as the site of bills and junk mail; the occasional letter and package is super exciting, but we can almost always predict those (they are usually correlated with birthdays, holidays and the one-click button). For youth, it’s the same story with email — you get notices from parents, adults, companies, junk mail, and the occasional attachment that was announced via IM. Add postage stamps to this and email will become even less valuable; your friends won’t pay for it so the system will highlight the companies over your friends — yuck. Even those who appreciate sending email will be alienated by turning this into a capitalist enterprise. Yuck. Bye bye email, hello IM and SMS and alternative asynchronous message systems.
There’s also been a lot of discussion sparked by the Nation’s piece entitled The End of the Internet
. It details the major communications corporations’ lobbying efforts to operate Internet services as private networks, removing federal oversight. An immediate change would be a policy of throttling connection speeds on identified undesirable content (mp3, video, and porn downloads), while giving more bandwidth to content from preferred corporate customers.
This speaks to a number of interests in this course. Commercialization of the Web is both a historical and current issue, and the implications that has for individual, creative content will be something we cover later on with Lessig’s book. There are privacy issues, since the process of inspecting content packets (“deep packet inspection”) means that services providers will know exactly sort of content you’re sending to and fro. Are they entitled to this information? What will they do with it? What will federal agencies do with it? The article also ponders our “digital destiny,” which raises the issue of technogical determinism. Lots of stuff to talk about here.