In the summer of 2019, Pew Research Center interviewed U.S. residents about their emotions about collecting personal data. Report came out in the fall with an expressive title: “Americans and Privacy: Concerned, Confused and Feeling Lack of Control over Personal Information. In addition to the emotions listed in the title, it turned out that a significant number of respondents simply do not understand what companies and the government do with the collected data.
The World Wide Web is based on domain name systems (Domain Name System, DNS) and IP addresses. DNS is a distributed computer system for obtaining information about domains. Most often it is used to obtain IP addresses by computer or device name. In turn, IP address is a unique network code of a node in a computer network built on TCP/IP protocols.
Historically the first and most popular system root domains is managed by ICANN. There are a number of other systems, but for good reason they are called “alternative” – none of them have become widely used. Pavel Zavyalov, Development Director of the Dateline Company, makes an analogy with postal addresses: imagine that a certain city has introduced its own system of street names and house numbering; in order for a letter to reach it, you need to know both “your own” system (so that your post office processes the letter correctly) and “someone else’s” system (so that the recipient’s office accepts the letter and delivers it to the recipient). And what if each of the intermediate points has its own system too? Of course, it is much easier to use a unified and common domain name system than to coordinate disparate ones.
Internet protocol is one of those technologies, says Pavel Zavyalov, which were conceived as temporary, but remained in use. We are talking about the protocol IPv4, which was first used back in 1983 in the ARPANET network, the predecessor of the Internet. In the mid-1990s, the IPv6, an improved version of the protocol, which, among other things, made it possible to greatly increase the number of available addresses. The two systems are now coexisting.
Domain name and IP address systems can hardly be clearly called centralized or decentralized. On the one hand, there are indeed organizations managing them. On the other hand, resources are distributed at the local level – by domain registrars and providers that assign IP addresses. In addition, it is important to remember that both ICANN and IANA have coordination functions. Zavyalov emphasizes: problems don’t start from the fact that there is a conditional “center”; they occur only when centralization creates the ground for censorship.
Besides the birth traumas of the basic protocols of the world network, there are other problems related to its centralized architecture:
Tier-level issues: consolidating capacity in the hands of hosting providers. For example, by data 2018, 34% of all Internet was hosted on Amazon servers. This means that Amazon’s technical problems concern all major Internet services that rent server capacity from it. Such cases threaten to cascade down or at least malfunction at thousands of popular sites.
Server stability issues are automatically accompanied by data security issues that are stored on these servers. The more data is in one place, the more people will suffer from hacking.
It is a centralized structure that allows governments to conduct censorship, making it much easier for them to monitor citizens and violate their privacy. This consideration naturally leads us to the second scourge of the modern Internet.
“Governments have a bad attitude towards decentralization,” says Dmitry Vitaliev, founder of eQualitie. – Because most of them are interested in being able to monitor behavior and receive user data”. Dmitry is categorical: Internet disconnection and network censorship systems are now possible precisely because the main Internet protocols and key services are centralized. It is the established structure of the network that allowed the Indian authorities last year to completely cut from the World Wide Web the rebellious state of Kashmir, leaving the residents not only without information, but also without the most important services such as banking and ordering rare medicines.
Last year, Russian agencies began testing technologies to control data transfer – following the entry into force of the relevant law “on the sovereign Internet“. It is not yet clear where exactly this will lead to: judging from the fact that several airports have stopped working during the exercise on the sovereign Internet, the equipment for repelling threats and filtering officially forbidden content has yet to be improved.
In China, neither emergency situations nor a threat to public order are necessary for censorship and access to personal data. In the previous article, we already detailed about the “Great Chinese Firewall” – it allows authorities to restrict access to foreign resources, keep records of Chinese sites, filter web pages by keywords and force foreign search engines, including Google, to filter search results.
Content filtering and censorship is also practiced by the Iranian government. Providers and Internet cafes in the country are subject to mandatory registration, the law regulates the content of websites, and undesirable sites from the list formed by the authorized comitee are blocked.
Another country that has historically severely restricted communication with the World Wide Web is Cuba. For political and economic reasons, the development of the Internet on “Liberty Island”, firstly, has lagged behind the world pace since its inception, and secondly, it has been restricted by censorship for many years. Due to lack of information, the OpenNet Initiative project in 2007 simply could not assess the degree of Internet filtering in the country.
. The issue of information dissemination in a pandemic is one of the most painful. Under the guise of fighting against inaccurate government data (including and Russia), they block websites and persecute individuals – journalists, doctors and ordinary citizens. In order to help Russian journalists cover the pandemic safely, the Center for Media Rights Protection created a special resource. Here, journalists can get answers to questions about how to organize their work, such as what documents they need to travel. The content of the site clearly indicates that in the Coronavirus era it became more difficult for citizens to exercise their right to information.
This is just one of the examples. Remember how many times you’ve searched for something in your search engine, and then you’ve seen relevant contextual advertising on other sites for several days. You or your acquaintances probably already have stories about how you just talked about something, and the next morning you found an advertising banner on the subject in your device screen. It’s not cyberpunk, it’s reality: anything you write or say can and will be used to sell you a product or service. Neil Alexander, one of the developers of the decentralized network protocol Yggdrasil, says: “It is in advertising that people most notice what they are watching. It’s become common to hear about the “creepy” ads that haunt you on all the sites and all the apps in a row, for example, after you’ve looked for something or talked about something. In many other cases, the tracking is far less obvious.
Not only contact information is under threat, but also financial, medical and other personal information: as a result of hacking from the outside or the activity of the cybercriminals from among the employees, data on passwords, salaries, credit cards and operations on them can fall into the wrong hands. For example, last fall the black market popala base of Sberbank credit card holders, including inactive ones. A recent example is a serious data leak from EasyJet’s UK low-coster: hackers received email addresses and flight information from nearly nine million customers. Less than a week earlier, the data allegedly belonged to nine million customers of SDEC’s express delivery service, received for sale online: the database contains delivery and location information and customer information, including TIN.
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