Panel celebrates Dr. Derrick Cogburn’s new book “Transnational Advocacy Networks in the Information Society: Partners or Pawns?”

Dr. Cogburn presents work from his new book “Transnational Advocacy Networks in the Information Society: Partners or Pawns?”

In 2016 global governance of the Internet took a major step forward with the transition of the so-called IANA functions (the management of the authoritative mapping of domain names and IP address numbers) from US government oversight to a new multistakeholder arrangement housed under the International Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). The product of decades of negotiations and planning by an array of stakeholders from government, industry, and civil society, the IANA transition proceeded even as new organizational forms and ICTs emerged to disrupt the established technosocial order, both within and outside these institutions of Internet governance like ICANN, the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), and the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), among others. Interrogating the impact of these new organizational forms on multistakeholder approaches to Internet governance, AU School of International Service professor (and Internet Governance Lab co-director) Dr. Derrick Cogburn’s new book titled, Transnational Advocacy Networks in the Information Society: Partners or Pawns?, provides a timely contribution to an increasingly important field of study.

On Monday the Internet Governance Lab co-hosted a book launch celebrating Dr. Cogburn’s new book and discussing some of the important questions it raises for the future of multistakeholder Internet governance. Following introductory remarks from AU School of International Service Dean Dr. James Goldgeier and AU School of Communication professor and Internet Governance Lab director Dr. Laura DeNardis, the event proceeded with a panel discussion led by Ambassador Diana Lady Dougan, Senior Advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and former Assistant Secretary of State at the US Department of State.

Panel participants included Fiona Alexander, Associate Administrator in the Office of International Affairs at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), Mike Nelson of the content delivery network and internet service provider CloudFlare, Andrea Glorioso, Digital Economy and Cyber Counselor with the E.U. Delegation to the U.S., Marc Rotenberg, President and Executive Director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), and Larry Irving, President and CEO of the Irving Information Group.

Among the topics discussed were the role of civil society groups and transnational advocacy networks (TANs) in shaping the multistakeholder governance process and the IANA transition, differing approaches to Internet governance and information policy across various jurisdictional contexts (e.g. competing approaches to privacy taken by the EU and the US), and the role of the private sector (especially tech firms) in contributing to bottom-up governance of the Internet.

Nearly twenty years after political scientists Margaret Keck and Kathryn Sikkink developed the concept of transnational activist networks (TANs) and their role in global political movements like anti-war, anti-globalization, and the environmental movement, professor Cogburn’s book provides a timely adaption of the concept, using it to contextualize an increasingly important array of civil society and non-state actors and their impact on the field of Internet governance.

Watch the entire discussion here.


Internet Governance Lab organizes symposium on Internet governance research methods

Texas A&M professor Sandra Braman presents at symposium on Internet governance research methods.

The Internet Governance Lab hosted a group of scholars on Monday to lay the groundwork for a forthcoming first-of-its-kind book focused on Internet Governance research methods.

Following introductory remarks by AU Dean Jim Goldgeier, contributors engaged in a lively discussion covering a wide range of methods and approaches to studying Internet governance. Participants included Laura DeNardis, Nanette Levinson, and Derrick Cogburn of the Internet Governance Lab, Sandra Braman of Texas A&M, Asvatha Babu of American University’s School of International Service, Farzaneh Badiei of Georgia Tech, the University of Zurich’s Rolf Weber, Eric Jardine of Virginia Tech, Rikke Frank Jorgensen of the Danish Institute for Human Rights, Maya Aguilar of American University, Francesca Musiani and Meryem Marzouki both of the French National Centre for Scientific Research, Ron Deibert of the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab,  American University School of Communication professor Aram Sinnreich and AU School of Communication PhD candidate Kenneth Merrill.

While the field of Internet governance continues to grow, both in its size and importance for scholars, policymakers, and IT practitioners, there exists little in the way of literature addressing the methods used to study this increasingly important subject area. Relevant methodological traditions include quantitative, qualitative, and descriptive analyses drawing on case studies, interviews, and participant observation at Internet governance fora like the International Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and the Internet Governance Forum (IGF). Meanwhile, the proliferation of large data sets, artificial intelligence, and machine learning pose novel opportunities and constraints, including important ethical implications. Highlighting this point, Ron Deibert explained the importance of reverse-engineering and hacking ICTs as a means of identifying potential threats to privacy and free expression online, a practice that can place scholars and research subjects at risk.

Additionally, the symposium addressed the extent to which many methods are inextricably intertwined with theory. Here the field of Science and Technologies Studies (STS) is instructive, as methods like Actor Network Theory (ANT) operate from a distinct epistemological standpoint that needs to be accounted for when discussing the method. To this end, part of the project will seek to trace the history of the field and identify the epistemological nodes around which these disparate methodological approaches coalesce.

Prospects for Cooperation Between Tech and Trump Complicated by Executive Orders

In the wake of President Trump’s sweeping executive order restricting entry to the US to refugees and immigrants from seven majority Muslim countries and with a nascent anti-Trump movement beginning to coalesce, tech industry executives are struggling to navigate an increasingly politicized environment, in which efforts to engage the new administration are colliding with the demands of politically active users and widespread dismay within Silicon Valley over the administration’s policies.  

Reflecting the potential impact of social media to harness popular discontent and underscoring the politically fraught position many tech CEO’s now find themselves in, the hashtag #DeleteUber began trending over the weekend after the ride-hailing app was criticized for undercutting New York City taxi drivers staging a work stoppage to protest the immigration order. Seizing on the popular backlash against Uber was the company’s chief competitor Lyft, whose co-founders Logan Green and John Zimmer announced a $1m donation to the ACLU and issued the following statement sharply criticizing the executive order:

“This weekend, Trump closed the country’s borders to refugees, immigrants, and even documented residents from around the world based on their country of origin. Banning people of a particular faith or creed, race or identity, sexuality or ethnicity, from entering the U.S. is antithetical to both Lyft’s and our nation’s core values. We stand firmly against these actions, and will not be silent on issues that threaten the values of our community.”

And Lyft was not alone. Twitter, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Netflix, and Airbnb all released statements over the weekend, ranging from judicious to vociferous. Among the more strongly-worded repudiations was Aaron Levie of the cloud company Box, who took to Twitter to write, “On every level – moral, humanitarian, economic, logical, etc – this ban is wrong and completely antithetical to the principles of America.”

Meanwhile, Google co-founder Sergei Brin was spotted at a protest at San Fransisco International Airport less than a month after Mr. Brin’s co-founder and current Alphabet CEO Larry Page was among a group of tech executives invited to Trump Tower to meet with then President-elect Trump. And while Trump’s meeting with the tech leaders was seen by many as little more than a charm offensive aimed at paving the way for future cooperation with Washington, a new report by Adam Segal of the Council on Foreign Relations provides some context for why such cooperation is necessary.

“The Silicon Valley-Washington rift has real implications for U.S. cybersecurity and foreign policy,” writes Segal, adding, “An ugly fight between the two sides makes it more difficult to share cyber threat information, counter online extremism, foster global technology standards, promote technological innovation, and maintain an open internet.”

As the report explains, the divide between Washington and U.S. tech firms began in earnest over three years ago with the Snowden revelations, which forced global platforms to reckon with an outraged public demanding greater security and privacy protections. Most notably, these new economic and reputational incentives informed Apple’s decision to make end-to-end encryption standard across the company’s products, prompting a protracted fight with law enforcement after authorities were initially unable to access the contents of a cell phone belonging to one of the San Bernardino attackers.

But if debates over encryption, privacy, and net neutrality created the rift between Silicon Valley and Washington, last week’s immigration order left a gaping chasm between the two.

Aside from the obvious constitutional concerns, the immigration restrictions are particularly worrisome for tech companies that recruit some of their top talent from abroad.

On Wednesday Twitter joined Lyft and others, donating over $1m to the ACLU to help fight the immigration order, while the messaging platform Viber announced it would provide free international calls to the seven countries affected by the executive order. Also on Wednesday, the Hill cited several cybersecurity researchers who are declining to work with law enforcement until the immigration order is revoked.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg reported that an open letter expressing concern over Trump’s immigration policies was circulating through Silicon Valley and beyond, including among CEOs on Wall Street and in the manufacturing, energy, and consumer goods sectors.

Whether or not the combined weight of an overwhelming majority of the tech community is enough to sway the administration’s thinking on immigration (or anything for that matter) remains to be seen. Regardless, critical issues like stepping up cyberdefense, curbing data localization, and protecting a free and open Internet will require some degree of cooperation between Tech and Trump, a prospect that, at the moment, is difficult to imagine.

FTC complaint highlights growing threats from Internet-connected toys

For years the Internet of things (IoT) has consistently been cited as one of the next big issues looming on the tech policy horizon. With a recent complaint filed by a group of privacy and consumer protection groups at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) highlighting risks posed to children by Internet-connected toys, it seems the IoT’s time has come.

According to the complaint filed in December by a coalition of privacy and consumer groups, the My Friend Cayla and i-Que Intelligent Robot dolls, manufactured by U.S.-based Genesis Toys, eavesdrop on children by “recording and collecting the private conversations of young children without any limitations on collection, use, or disclosure of this personal information.” The complaint also charges Massachusetts-based voice recognition company Nuance Communications, which stores and processes the audio conversations, with using the data to market products and services to children as well as selling the data to third-parties for behavioral marketing purposes.

The dolls, which are available widely in the U.S. and abroad, instruct customers to download a mobile application that allows parents to listen and communicate with the child. But as the Norwegian Consumer Council discovered, following an in-depth legal and technical analysis of Internet-connected toys, the bluetooth enabled toys also allow strangers to covertly eavesdrop on children, creating “a substantial risk of harm because children may be subject to predatory stalking or physical danger.”

In particular, the complaint argues that the companies are in violation of FTC regulations and the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which regulates the collection of children’s personal information by online service operators. Here the privacy groups charge Genesis Toys with failing to provide adequate notice to parents regarding the collection and transmission of children’s audio conversations; failing to obtain consent for recording and collecting conversations; deceiving parents and children as to the nature of the recordings; and failing to comply with deletion and data retention regulations.

“With the growing Internet of Things, American consumers face unprecedented levels of surveillance in their most private spaces, and young children are uniquely vulnerable to these invasive practices,“ said Claire T. Gartland, Director, EPIC Consumer Privacy Project. “The FTC has an obligation here to step in and safeguard the privacy of young children against toys that spy and companies that exploit their very voices for corporate gain.”

But with an incoming president who vowed during the campaign to “cut regulations by 75%,” consumer advocacy groups are drawing on coordinated international consensus in an effort to establish norms regarding the IoT and children. “While it is unclear how the new Trump administration will handle any regulatory issues, we do have a tradition in the U.S. of protecting children from unfair and manipulative practices in the digital environment,” explains Kathryn Montgomery, Professor and Chair of the Communication Studies Department at American University (currently on sabbatical), adding that these protections include COPPA, “a law that has been in place for nearly a decade and that government and industry alike have embraced and continue to support.”

And of course it is not just children that are susceptible to violations of privacy and security at the hands of the ever-expanding IoT market. AU and the Center for Digital Democracy released a major study last month, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, on the privacy and consumer protection concerns raised by the proliferation of health and fitness wearables.    

This comes on the heels of a massive distributed denial of service attack in October that harnessed an army of hacked internet-connected devices, including baby monitors, cameras, and routers, to flood the servers of Dyn Research, a DNS service that provides domain name resolution services for a host of Internet services, disrupting and in some cases halting Internet traffic on such services as Google Maps, Facebook, and Twitter. As The New York Times wrote following the attack, “It is too early to determine who was behind Friday’s attacks, but it is this type of attack that has election officials concerned. They are worried that an attack could keep citizens from submitting votes.”


Content Rules?! Jan. 18 Panel Discussion on Algorithms and Newsfeeds

The New York City and Washington DC Chapters of the Internet Society, in partnership with the Internet Governance Lab at American University, invite you to attend:

Content Rules?! Newsfeeds, Algorithms, Content Moderation, and Ethics
Wednesday, January 18, 2017 from 6:00 PM – 8:30 PM

A joint panel discussion in New York City and Washington DC on January 18, 2017 at 6:00 PM, hosted by the New York and Washington, DC Chapters of the Internet Society in partnership with the Internet Governance Lab at American University. In Washington, DC, the event will take place in the School of Communication’s McKinley Building in the second floor theater.

Click here to register to attend in Washington, DC
Click here to register to attend in New York

As online content evolves it plays an increasingly important role in society. Newsfeeds, search results, and other social content intermediate news and information, influence business decisions, and shape opinions. Platforms, such as Facebook, Google, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Reddit deliver the content that shapes public opinion and behavior.

The current controversy over fake news has made this an issue of public concern.

Our panel will address the technical and ethical questions raised by the social, political, and economic impact of the increasing prominence of these algorithmically negotiated information spaces, including:

*   Should these platforms be considered public spaces?
*   What are the impacts of (algorithmically) moderated content?
*   Should the public have a right to see and know the algorithms being used to moderate and control content?
*   At what point do we consider private platforms as media?

Washington, DC

Charles Lewis – Professor, American University

Jessa Lingel – Assistant Professor, Annenberg School of Communications

Andrew Bridges, Partner, Fenwick & West LLP

New York

Gilad Lotan – Head of Data Science @buzzfeed

Bill Grueskin – Dean of Academic Affairs, Professor of Journalism, Columbia University

Arthi Murugesan – Lead Data Scientist at Grubhub

Register to attend

Click here to register to attend in Washington, DC
Click here to register to attend in New York