How the iPhone is killing the 'Net

Oxford professor argues in new book that shift from PCs to appliances, appalling cybersecurity will slow innovation

Zittrain cites three ways that manufacturers can control tethered appliances: preemption, meaning that they can design against particular uses; specific injunction, meaning they can remotely change the product in response to legal action such as a court order; or surveillance, meaning they can use the appliance to provide information about the end user to the manufacturer. Zittrain points out that the FBI can eavesdrop on any automobile with an OnStar navigation system just as it can turn a cell phone into a microphone. Similarly, makers of digital video recording systems can cause a feature to self-destruct if required to do so in a patent infringement law suit.

Web 2.0 threat

Zittrain sees similar threats with software-as-a-service Web sites, which he says are less generative than original PC software. With these Web 2.0 applications, PCs become dumb terminals merely running the Web browser, while all the functionality and data is hosted by the service provider. The end user has no control over changes made to the application. For example, Google could cancel its GoogleMaps service at any time, which would affect many mapping applications that were built on this service.

"The key move to watch is a sea change in control over the endpoint: lock down the device, and network censorship and control can be extraordinarily reinforced,'' he warns.

As an alternative to tethered appliances and Web 2.0 sites, Zittrain offers up the community-oriented approach of Wikipedia for solving the cybersecurity dilemma. In Chapter 6, Zittrain offers a glowing review of Wikipedia, from its humble origins to its success as one of the Internet's most popular Web sites. What Zittrain likes about Wikipedia is that it has few rules, it has a transparent process for editing articles, it fosters discussion, and it has a core of dedicated participants.

"Wikipedia rejects straightforward democracy, favoring discussion and consensus over outright voting, thereby sidestepping the kinds of ballot-stuffing that can take place in a digital environment," Zittrain says. He favors the self-governance model of Wikipedia along with the fact that it fosters "netizenship.''

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