Telecom San Frontières, Internet With Borders

Most of the so-called early Internet evangelists proclaimed that the World Wide Web would develop into a global community-based resource, freely available to all users irrespective of where they were in the world. Instead, several recent events have highlighted how the Web is increasingly being segmented by national borders by Web site owners.

1) A couple of weeks ago, the New York Times blocked users from the UK (presumably based on their IP address) accessing its site to read an article about the ongoing investigations into the alleged plot to blow up planes bound for the US over the Atlantic.  For good reason.  The NYT wanted to ensure that its reporting was not deemed to be 'in contempt of court' in the UK. Under English law, the defense counsel can claim that media reporting before or during the trial may have influenced the jury.  This contrasts to high profile trails in the US such as O J Simpson or Michael Jackson that are simultaneously played out in the tabloid media.

2) Collaboration for commercial gain between Internet companies and authoritarian governments, most notably Google in China. As I understand it, Google has agreed to remove all references to web sites or subject categories in its search results, presumably as required by the Chinese government. Since search engine algorithms are kept highly secret, it's anyone's guess as to whether this same collaboration might be applied by search engines elsewhere.

3) National pricing and product offers. The most high profile site Apple iTunes.  Like most online retailing sites, iTunes directs users to a country-based versions of its download sites. Each national front page highlights content and rankings in local language. iTunes also charges different prices for the same music downloads dependent on which country site you access the track from: .com US$0.99 (Euro 0.78); .de Euro 0.99; .co.uk £0.79 (Euro 1.16).

As we increasingly move towards the Web 2.0 model, and individual users rather than Web site owners post most of the content online, this trend is likely to be accentuated further. If for example you are browsing other user's online profiles at Myspace, you are more likely to be interested in people located near to you. Having said that, an old school friend of mine met his now wife in a Yahoo! chatroom. He lived in Brighton on the English south coast - she was a Texan gal (sic) from Fort Worth.

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