The Information Society


Letter from the Editor-in-Chief Rob Kling
18(3) 2002

This issue of The Information Society continues a year in which we have expanded from four issues to five. TIS issue 18(3) includes six articles (including a special section) and one book review.

The issue open with a special section of two articles that are related to the 10th Annual Conference on Computers, Freedom and Privacy (CFP2000). The section is introduced by a brief article about the history of this conference by TIS Associate Editor Lorrie Cranor. Cranor observes that the CFP conferences were organized by Jim Warren in 1991 to bring together the law enforcement and hacker communities. It also attracted civil libertarians, computer security specialists, and science fiction writers, among others. It is a unique and vital annual event which has opened important socio-technical dialogues between groups that rarely meet together for open discussion.

Foner describes the processes by which he organized the workshop. But most important, he briefly sketches some of the analyses of these issues by workshop participants. For example, Pauk Mockapetris designed the Internet's Domain Name System (DNS) in 1984 for a "world of academia, nonprofits, and gentlemens' agreements." He wryly notes that "in the real world of money, greed, scoundrels, lawyers, and intellectual property land grabs, the DNS has many political deficiencies, and that these deficiencies directly impact important civil-liberties issues. He discusses four problem areas, such as how the current DNS system amplifies disputes about intellectual property (including trademarks) (also see Mueller, 2001) and makes legitimate anonymous communication very difficult (also see Kling, et. al, 1998). Workshop participants observed that the current DNS, with globally unique registered names, such as, advantages wealthy organizations over "little guys." This URL, for example, was registered by the multinational hamburger chain. Other, small businesses with a McDonald's name, can not register this URL. He goes on to discuss a new DNS architecture that was the subject of heated debated in the workshop. This new DNS - in which URLs such as might not be unique could help to resolve today's major problems. Foner's article indicates how it could also introduce new problems for some groups. Foner's article includes similarly detailed discussions of the debates at the workshop about technologies that could expedite the use of anonymous e-cash and strategies that would encourage profit-making businesses to be more protective of their customers' privacy.

The second article in this special section, "The Network Society as Seen From Italy" by Giancarlo Livraghi and Andrea Monti, examines the growth of Italian Internet use in International perspective. Livraghi and Monti show the relatively rapid growth on Italian Internet use in the late 1990s with data from 1996-2000 displayed in eight charts. They view Internet availability to be a critical infrastructure for important social practices in advanced industrial societies. Their data show that in the year 2000 both the Netherlands and Italy each accounted for 1.5% of the number of Internet hosts worldwide. However, the Netherlands (with a population around 16 million people) is a little more than one-quarter the size of Italy (with a population of about 58 million people). Much of their article is devoted to examining some of the Italian social and legal practices that can help to explain the relatively slower uptake of Internet use in Italy. They discuss such practices as English fluency among Italians, the structuring of intellectual property laws so as to protect large software companies, the extent to which Italy's relatively concentrated mass media do not encourage Internet use, and restrictions on domain name registration. While Livraghi and Monti focus on Italian legal regimes and social practices rather than on Internet architectures -- as does Foner, their article shows how practices that support large commercial firms can inhibit the use of the Internet to enliven civil society.

The remaining four "regular articles" were not selected for intellectual synergy, but the first two of them examine issues that are congruent with the issues raised by the two articles selected, reviewed, and edited by Lorrie Cranor. In "Community Technology and Democratic Rationalization" Maria Bakardjieva and Andrew Feenberg the possibility of Internet forums supporting vibrant community groups. By "democratic rationalization," they mean the extent to which "ordinary people" who use a technology can configure or appropriate it for their own purposes. They contrast democratic rationalization with a consumption model in which the public is offered some kind of technology rather ready-made, and uses it in relatively bounded ways. Bakardjieva and Feenberg focus upon software that supports group activities, such as conferencing software (from the 1970s), diverse groupware, community networks (initiated in the mid-1980s), and more recent developments such as "instant messaging" (such as ICQ and Yahoo Messenger), and public access-Internet services such as Yahoo Groups. While Bakardjieva and Feenberg criticize technological determinism, they do believe that technological features can play important roles in enabling certain kinds of social behavior. For example, they note that early conferencing software supported "bounded groups" (among other features), and thus enabled trust to develop more readily among participants than have open discussion lists where participants can wander in and out, or which can be socially ruined when they become overloaded with (advertising) "spam" email (as have some Bionet newsgroups).

Bakardjieva and Feenberg argue that the Internet is still in an early stage of development, perhaps like radio broadcasting in the 1920s, and that there are still important opportunities for developing technologies that can better support group life. There are important philosophical parallels between their investigation and Foner's workshop's discussion of a new Internet DNS architecture that can more effectively support a civil society. One major difference between these two investigations in the fact that that any new DNS architecture will require the intervention of technical experts, while Bakardjieva and Feenberg seek ways that the participants in group can influence its communicative practices and social relationships.

In "ICANN and Internet Governance: Leveraging Technical Coordination to Realize Global Public Policy" political scientist Hans Klein examines the governance-related features of the very controversial Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). ICANN was created by the U.S. government as an independent corporation in 1998 to coordinate domain names for the Internet. It also lays the foundations for governance, creating capabilities for promulgating and enforcing certain kinds of global regulations on Internet use, such as procedures for resolving disputes about who is entitled to names such as (see Mueller, 2001).

Klein notes that some of ICANN's effective authority derives from the Internet's DNS technological architecture based on a centralizable "unique root." Under the current regulations, ICANN would have to approve a shift to any new decentralized DNS architecture that would be proposed by groups, such as those who contributed to Foner's CFP2000 workshop.

Klein is surprised that ICANN, a creation of the U.S. Department of Commerce, is able to promulgate any global policies. He shows how ICANN leverages the capabilities in the Internet domain name system to implement four mechanisms of governance: authority, law, sanctions, and jurisdictions. He reveals how these governance-related features are embodied in seemingly technical features of ICANN's institutional design. Overall, this article shows how the recognition of ICANN's governance mechanisms allows us to better understand one critical element of Internet's emerging regulatory regime.

The next article shifts from the world of the Internet to the development of electronic cash (e-cash) systems that are based on "smart cards." In "Failures And Successes: Notes on The Development of Electronic Cash," Felix Stalder examines the efforts by Mondex International, a subsidiary of MasterCard International, to establish a new e-cash system. Mondex's approach is one of several different e-cash architectures that have been advanced in the last decade, and the firm advertised it as much more convenient than conventional coins and bills for small payments. To be attract people, an e-cash scheme has to offer significant advantages over well-accepted payment schemes, including cash, credit cards, debit cards, and checks. Each of these has a different profile regarding such matters as their practical convenience, the anonymity of transactions, their security from theft or fraud, and the losses faced by a person who loses the payments instrument (ie., cash may be lost, but credit cards can be readily replaced with little or no loss to their owner).

Mondex's e-cash scheme allowed small payments to be made to or from its cards, without requiring a bank to be contacted for every transaction. Each transaction did require the payer and payee to insert their cards into a special Mondex terminal. Consumers would periodically have to "tank up" their Mondex cards at a Mondex station (organized like an ATM). Merchants would periodically download hundreds of transactions at a time to Mondex.

Stalder examines Mondex's efforts to pilot its smart cards in Guelph Canada, in the late 1990s, as well as the controversies about the cards actual and possible characteristics (ie., how well it enabled anonymous transactions). Using the lens of Actor-Network Theory, he describes the significant effort to develop the technological infrastructure of different kinds of cards and card readers. In addition, Mondex enrolled major banks as institutional participants. In its Guelph experiment, Mondex also enrolled Guelph's city council and numerous merchants in downtown Guelph. To its surprise, Mondex failed to enroll a substantial number of consumers to try their e-cash card and to become committed to its use, and it closed the experiment after 22 months.

Stalder examines Mondex's e-cash venture on two levels. At the most practical level, the Guelph experiment "failed" because too few consumers saw a dramatic advantage in the smart card over established alternative payment schemes. In addition, Mondex treated its payment schemes' architecture as proprietary, and consumers had only Mondex's claims about their cards' ability to support anonymous, secure payments to rely upon. But Stalder views the Mondex experiment as having some "successful outcomes" -- including its executives abilities to have the Canadian government endorse a private currency, and to enroll major banks in experimenting with a new e-cash scheme.

Our last article, "Domesticating Computers and the Internet," by Jonathon N. Cummings and Robert Kraut examines how people have been integrating computers and selecting specific software, features, and services for home use since the mid 1990s. Their article uses data from four national surveys to document how personal computers and the Internet have become increasingly domesticated (ie., adapted and integrated) since 1995 and to explore the mechanisms for this shift. By 2000, their respondents were logging on to the Internet more often from home than from places of employment and did so for pleasure and for personal purposes rather than for their jobs. Their data support two complementary explanations for how these technologies have become domesticated. Women, children and less well-educated individuals are increasingly using computers and the Internet and have a more personal set of motives than well-educated men who usually brought PCs home for work in the 1980s. In addition, the widespread diffusion of the PC and the Internet and the diversity of people who use them for personal interests has led to a much richer set of appealing personal and domestic online services.

This issue ends with Blaise Cronin's review of the book net_condition: art and global media, edited by P.Weibel, and T. Druckrey.

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Rob Kling
Center for Social Informatics
Indiana University - Bloomington


Mueller, Milton. 2001. "Rough Justice: A Statistical Assessment Of ICANN's Uniform Dispute Resolution Policy." The Information Society, 17(3):153-163.

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