Jonathan Zittrain – Where do I stand?

I was asked recently about Jonathan Zittrain’s views detailed in his book The Future of the Internet. I describe his work along with others as a sort of dystopic coda to my book.  I felt that there were so many gee whizzery things in the book that there was a need to address some of the potential downsides.

Zittrain’s message is that issues such as security and privacy have led to a pressure that has led to the development of closed devices that are under the control of their manufacturer in that if you wanted to make any changes to the software and implement new applications then it has to be under the control of the manufacture.  This he states could lead to the Internet being a closed entity and the spirit of invention that gave rise to the World Wide Web being stifled.

I am an agnostic on this. For example, Apple is often cited as an example of a company that manufactures closed devices (Don’t forget they also manufacture open devices such as their laptop and desktop computers) and seem to have a liberal view of what applications to allow on their iPhone and iPad; and there are also many open devices on the market (Any PC, for example). Clearly there are major plusses in buying a closed device: better security, better privacy and better quality applications, but there are a number of authors such as Tim Wu and Zittrain who point to possible dystopic futures.

So I am waiting and seeing. The tussle between products such as the iPad and the Android-based tablet computers will, I think, clarify the issues.


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