Time is up

In yesterday’s blog I suggested that by responding in the way it did to the arrival of the GDPR, ICANN, in effect, pressed the self-destruct button. ICANN is now set on a path which will eventually lead to its abolition or radical reform. The process will be long, painful and fraught, with many scares, twists and turns.  What comes out the other end need not, in every respect, be as good as what we have now.  But the ball is already rolling.

ICANN did what it did because it could do no other. It is thoroughly dominated by vested interests willing to slow down or obstruct potential changes to the status  quo  if they believe the changes threaten their profitability.  If change is, nevertheless, eventually to be forced upon them they will find a way to live with it but they would like that day to be as far distant as possible. Meanwhile bank balances continue to expand.

This strategy has been remarkably successful up to now.  To get away with it ICANN, the powers within it and their ideological fellow-travellers have relied on six key factors:

  1.  A willingness to portray and project themselves as defenders and champions of free speech, artistic expression and civil rights, fighting on behalf of “the little guy”, “the oppressed, unpopular  or misunderstood minority”,  “the  political dissident”,  the “whistleblower”,  warding off the improper,  even evil, predations of  national Governments, the police and security services.
  2. A willingness to project themselves as a wilful and determined engine of economic growth and technological innovation.
  3. Which in turn feeds on and encourages a belief that if Governments step into  any part of the internet space to regulate it high tech companies will not invest and this will harm national prosperity and impede human progress in various indeterminate ways
  4. The very real practical and political difficulties of getting  heterogeneous and geographically distant national Governments and  international institutions to agree on almost anything.
  5. A willingness to encourage and exploit the idea that the technical complexities of the internet  are immense. This intimidates  and scares off a great many politicians and civil servants in the Governments  and international institutions referred to above.
  6. It has a similar effect on mainstream journalists who would otherwise be a reliable ally in exposing cant and hypocrisy. Look how much (rare) effort went into getting Cambridge Analytica into the public domain. Any story that seems nerdy and remote will struggle to capture an editor’s attention and comprehension.

Yet the dominant forces within ICANN are businesses who sell domain names or derive income from their sale. It is not a very complicated idea.

The parallels with what has been happening within the UK over the  past few years are striking but, having written several blogs where the phrase ” drinking in the Last Chance Saloon” has appeared it was no surprise to hear the Secretary of State say in a Tweet,  “the era of asking nicely is over.” Matt Hancock, for it was he, was across all the  UK newspapers and current affairs programmes this morning promising legislation.  See the full announcement here.

The devil will be in the detail but the ball is already rolling. Where have I heard that before?


About John Carr

John Carr is one of the world's leading authorities on children's and young people's use of digital technologies. He is Senior Technical Adviser to Bangkok-based global NGO ECPAT International and is Secretary of the UK's Children's Charities' Coalition on Internet Safety. John is now or has formerly been an Adviser to the Council of Europe, the UN (ITU), the EU and UNICEF. John has advised many of the world's largest technology companies on online child safety. John's skill as a writer has also been widely recognised. http://johncarrcv.blogspot.com
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