Eaten by the Internet: Putting the Power of Internet Infrastructure on Your Radar

Corinne Kath is a postdoctoral researcher in the Programmable Infrastructure Group at Delft University and part of the ALGOSOC consortium. He is also a member of the Critical Infrastructure Laboratory affiliated with the Minderoo Center for Technology and Democracy at the University of Cambridge., and editor of Eaten by the Internet, published by Meatspace Press.

To understand the power in the contemporary technology industry, we need to look at the often invisible infrastructure of the Internet. This considerable scope ranges from physical components such as cellular antennas, clouds, chips, data servers, and satellites to less tangible but equally critical standards and software components, including operating systems, browsers, and computing power that enable connectivity. provides, rarely attracts attention unless something is noticed. broken. And even then, many Internet users don’t ask why.

Given how much Internet infrastructure features in current discussions of big technology, rather than the data or content that accesses it over the network. Recent examples include the international battle between the United States and China over advanced semiconductors or chips. Russian dominance of Ukraine’s Internet, by forcing local Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to reroute traffic over Russian infrastructure. Or the recent attack by French competition authorities on Nvidias officesa dominant player in the AI ​​hardware and software market. These technologies and companies are key to the functionality of connected devices, including phones and laptops, and also play an important role in companies’ ability to use and train generative AI models like ChatGPT. Only a limited number of companies manufacture these key infrastructure components, which puts them in a powerful position to shape our societies to their liking.

Beyond AI and chips, the cloud computing industry comes to mind as an often overlooked key player. As other academics have pointed out, several software companies, including Uber and Zoom, have publicly stated that they cannot operate without their cloud providers, or the connectivity providers that allow people to access their applications. . Likewise, privacy technologies that are advertised as solutions to invasive corporate surveillance often require computing and connectivity resources owned by companies known for invasive enterprise surveillance. As Dr. Michael Weil, associate professor of digital law and regulation at University College London, writes:

Anyone can run a server, but few companies have a real handle on the large-scale computing infrastructure required by PET, including what devices like phones can do. These include operating system providers such as Apple and Google browser providers such as Apple and Google and app store providers such as yes!Apple and Google.

Instead of, or perhaps in addition to, concerns rooted in data collection and behavior prediction, we should focus on making Internet infrastructure providers more visible as central forces of political power. For this purpose, I wrote a book called Edit Eaten by the internet Published by Meatspace Press. This book focuses on the Internet and how the companies that provide its technical backbone are transforming our world from the ground up. The book contains fifteen chapters contributed by a global collection of researchers, activists and technical experts. These include the president of the Signal Foundation, Meredith Whittaker, renowned disinformation researcher Joan Donovan, legal scholar Jenna Raddock, digital law and EU policy expert Michael Weil, and the founders of the Critical Infrastructure Lab at the University of Amsterdam, Niels Tenover, Maxigas, and Fike Jansen, and Oxford University interstellar internet policy expert Jung Otto to name a few.

The authors carefully describe the changing politics and political economy of Internet infrastructure. In doing so, they are creating, and beyond, pioneering academic work in the field. This book examines how market power in the technology sector is being restructured around the material infrastructure of the Internet. Emphasizing the theme of continuity, Susan Van Geuns draws a connection between the “lines” of today’s Internet infrastructure and the online forums that use them to promote hate, and the longstanding infrastructure of US imperialism in Asia. In his chapter, Indian technologist Gershabad Grover argues that there is a pressing need for a deeper understanding of contemporary and emerging infrastructural mechanisms of state control in Asia as tools of resistance. And Britt Paris presents examples of resistance to the appropriation of shared resources provided by local Internet cooperatives for the private interests of blockchain companies moving to rural areas in the United States.

Furthermore, it is clear that Internet infrastructure plays a central and growing role in today’s conflicts. In their contribution, Ksenia Ermoshina and Francesca Musiani show how Ukrainians are changing their digital security practices in response to Russian aggression. In her chapter on the countless legal attacks on encryption around the world, Mallory Nadel provides powerful examples of government-ordered curtailment of people’s political rights. These chapters depict Internet infrastructures as both a conduit for asserting (colonial) dominance and as a source of opposition and opportunity. Infrastructure is also key to understanding changes in industry power. Shivan Kaul Sahib shows the impact of corporate dominance of Internet infrastructure on online privacy services, effectively turning privacy into a luxury good. However, there is hope for an Internet infrastructure that serves public values. Mahwish Ansari and Ashwin Mathew both elaborate on the concept of network technology governance. They emphasize the joint efforts of civil society organizations, social movements, and informal networks of Internet governance experts in combating the disruptive effects of networked technology.

The book’s chapters cover a wide range of topics, ranging from the global politics of content moderation by internet infrastructure to the colonialism inherent in the race to land the moon, and from the damage done by blockchain companies in rural America to the features of online censorship around the world. Asia. The authors tackle complex issues, discussing the consolidation of power in advertising and the cloud industry, the role of Internet infrastructure in the Ukraine war, and the environmental impacts of technology, among others. What brings this book together is a serious concern about how Internet infrastructure is quietly changing societies to abandon public values, and concrete proposals for resisting this development. The book also shows how the Internet is changing in response to its growing infrastructural importance to geopolitics, economic production, and climate change. What the internet becomes a pawn in a political chess game, a footnote to the cloud business model, a game for the moon, is also part of what various authors are trying to answer. Some authors are invited to explain their ongoing research Technical Policy Press. In doing so, they root contemporary technology debates in the politics of Internet infrastructure, asking us to ask: How can we ensure that our infrastructure sustains us rather than consumes us?

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Eaten by the internetedited by Corinne Cath, is available to order online or you can download the PDF for free from the Meatspace Press website.

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