Law in the Internet Society

What I Expect from Networks

Before I can look to improve the networks I use every day, it is necessary to have a better idea of my expectations for those networks. I look at the issues constituting the majority of my network use: e-mail, chat, browsing and purchasing. While the internet is used for a multitude of purposes beyond this scope, it is neither useful nor appropriate to discuss expectations I do not hold.

E-mail Security

The underlying expectation I have for e-mail security is for it to be at least as good as snail mail. Electronic forms of communication have been replacing the older “dated” forms, but there is very little publicity about the security of those communications. While we could expect greater security for these electronic messages, I expect network servers to provide protection that is at least as good as the protection of mail. When a message is sent, this requires restricting that message’s access to the targeted recipient. Additionally, only the original message, and not multiple copies, should be on the server. Once received, it is the recipient’s prerogative to do what he wishes with that message, be it copy it, send it to others, or delete it. This puts the sender at the mercy of the recipient, but such is the case with any message in recordable form. If the recipient chooses to delete the message, it should be a permanent delete. Servers should not continue to store these messages after they have been “deleted”. Complications will always arise whenever discussing standards across different mediums, but the implementation of these expectations does not seem unreasonable.

Chat Security

The same expectations in e-mail security apply to chat security, with some additions. One of the main issues once again is the true ability to delete. The ability to stop something from being stored is an essential issue to security. Beyond the measures for e-mail, chatting needs further security because it is a live feedback system. Analogous to phone conversations, chats can easily be tapped. Chats are even more vulnerable because of the number of individuals who can intercept these messages and the nature of these chats, which necessarily consist of recorded transcripts. This makes the ability to delete essential. Even with the ability to delete, chats are susceptible because the past of a conversation can be retroactively observed. Rather than an entity that flags keywords only being able to record once a keyword is observed, these keywords can be trolled for and the entity can begin recording the present part of the conversation while looking back at the rest of the conversation (available because of the nature of chats). Additional danger arises from the significant amount of time that is often present between messages, a direct result of the flexibility to resume discussions because a provided transcript exists. As we worry about the government’s ability to force phone providers to give access to phone lines, we should be more worried about the access to chat lines. The first step is the ability to delete, but we must also demand our networks allow us to connect to each other in ways that do not permit such easy access to third-party observers.


Shopping at proprietary websites, I expect my transactions, which may really only be my credit card number, to be secure. Besides this aspect, I expect the least amount of privacy on these websites. Many of these websites I log into, letting them know I am there, effectively allowing them to focus their advertisements more efficiently by suggesting “things I might like”. These websites log what I buy, as well as what I look at, but I am usually less concerned about these sites selling my information because of these sites’ selfish desires to know more about their customers than their competitors. What I should be worried about, and previously had not been, is not the information of what I buy (as there is already a credit card receipt trail for most purchases), but the information of how I shop (timing of purchases, comparisons made, etc.). While not signing into the site only when purchasing should alleviate the security issue of this information, such is only the case when browsing is anonymous.


I have come to expect my browsing being tracked when on proprietary websites, as well as on searching websites (Google knows what I am looking for better than I do). However, even this tracking, which is only the proverbial tip of the iceberg, seems unacceptable. It habituates individuals to being tracked, and stifles the concerns that should be raised. The tracking of browsing is alarming because of the storage of all of this information. It is not just the live short-term memory that Google bases its predictions on, but my entire history.

This history is a representation of me, and can be sold as a commodity. If information about me is being sold, I expect to be able to control this sale. As the uproar over the sale of telephone numbers demonstrates, if individuals were aware of the use of and the information contained in their “digital trails” there would be significant public upheaval.

The level of protection we must therefore expect is true anonymity while browsing. The networks can consider all of their users as one browser, at least until individuals actively sign out of their anonymous mode, making the network's browsing data reflect the average user. This still allows users to get the “convenience” of some sites knowing their identity, but makes it an active choice. This anonymity of browsing will prevent the knowledge of our digital habits falling into the hands of a party we have not agreed to give access.


Looking at my expectations, the main issue seems to be anonymity. This can partly be solved through anonymizing proxies, but because individuals are not aware of the digital trail they leave, the anonymity should be the default with the revealing of an individual’s identification requiring an active decision. With the availability of so much personal information present on the internet, a step towards anonymity holds great value for all internet users.



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r2 - 12 Dec 2008 - 01:23:54 - MattDavisRatner
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