tv The Communicators James Ball The Tangled Web We Weave CSPAN December 12, 2020 6:30pm-7:01pm EST
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book to our future overlords. what do you mean by that? >> i felt i ought to had my bet. we have a new internet era ringing people more power, ai on the rise. eyeing the next generation nervously. i thought i would like to get in with whoever is about to take over. because it feels like someone as. >> who is that someone? >> i think the danger of the internet in the series point i've been trying to make with the book is, it seems to keep creating new people with immense power. whether that is marked zuckerberg or earlier, bill gates, we keep looking at billionaires and telling their individual stories, how they founded a company, how they came to have 2 billion users, whatever it is. we do not look at this technology that keeps creating monopolies.
that keeps creating the biggest essences in the world, all five of the world's biggest publicly listed companies now are tech companies. and we do not sort of go, how come the internet, this thing where we were told going to equalize us and connect us, how come it keeps creating these really powerful companies? and really powerful individuals? and so, some of this book was trying to look at the mechanics of it, the engineering, the finances. and go, if the internet is the technology of the when he first century, if it is going to shape the rest of our lives for everyone living now, why does it keep doing this? should we do something about that? >> you break your book down into three sections. history, the money men, and the melee. let's start with the history. remind us what happened in 1969? i find it wild that the internet celebrated its 50th
birthday. to some of us, that all seems really old. to some of us it will seem quite young. like most of us really, were not on the internet until the late 1990's. it was nerdy technology that began as a project to connect u.s. universities. it was funded by the u.s. department of defense. it was entirely this government and economic creation. it was not some big utopian, we will save the world by doing this. it was a project to make it a bit easier to share computer time, in an era where computers were the size of the room, cost more than a house, and there were a few hundred in the world. so, building it was left to these grad students. so, most of the people who were there when the internet was first turned on when they first
sampled it, are still alive. you can talk to them about it. but the internet was born as the sort of technology trying to make it easier to share computing. now, the slight ulterior motive the department of defense had, to fund it, was, they were looking for networking technologies, that were secure and reliable, so they could send messages, and the cold war, if disasters happened. so the ultimate version of that would be, if you are looking at command and control of your nuclear weapons, and you want to avoid a nuclear war, you want to be able to say, hey, even if you strike us first, we will be able to launch all of our missiles at you. that is the thing that guarantees mutually assured destruction, which was the doctrine of the time. and this new networking technology, the internet relies on to this day, was an idea called packet switching.
instead of just following one route, how phone calls worked how the previous networks worked whatever you are sending got broken up into lots of little pieces. each could take any route, any cable, between the source and destination, and get reassembled in their. so it was way more reliable, this new technology. to test this unproven thing on something important like nukes first. so what grew into the internet was called arpanet, was this effort to find a low stakes place, to try what could be an incredibly important technology. so the technological development that changed the world, was kind of a byproduct of something else.
>> james ball, arpa stands for that advance research projects agency, a department of the defense department. used to the terms arpa, darpa, and arpanet. can we use those interchangeably? >> arpa and darpa of the same agency, two different names. it is the same body looking at the same stuff. quite a lot of cool inventions have come through arpa. it is also the one suspected of trying to do mind control, trying to look into artificial intelligence. people say you have aliens behind there. the cool thing is with arpa and darpa, is they researched cool stuff.
arpanet was an early version of the internet that connected first two, then four universities, then 20 campuses. eventually it grew into the thousands, and started to pick up the name we know it by now, the internet. >> i learned in your book the first email message sent on the internet was, lo "lo", from ucla to stanford. >> yes, it was not going long distance. sounds dramatic, like something gandalf would say, like, 'lo and behold'. that was not what they were trying to say. the guys building this network were pragmatic. email was not built yet. as they were sending the message, people were on the phone to each other. why would you message by a computer? they were trying to type the word 'login', so they could, from ucla, log into the computer at stanford.
it seems sensible, but as many of us know when you try new technology, it never works the first time. they had come up with this clever thing that, when the computer is sending the message, guess what command you are sending? there can only be one command, that sent the respite all at once. so, the second they typed the 'g' for 'login', it sent the 'gin' all at once. no one told the computer at the other end to expect three characters at once, so it crash and had to be restarted, which took hours. so the first message, they left for history, they wanted it to be login. it ended up being more dramatic than that. that's good. >> in "the tangled web we
weave," you go on to talk about who developed the so-called pipes. >> the cable guys are the cable guys, i think we are all familiar with the fact that you get a bill each month for your cable tv if you still have it, you get a bill each month for the phone and a bill each month for the internet. this is the complicated mess of things. it came as the internet moved from a network just for government agencies and universities and started letting businesses on first and then just regular people on there. people often think that messages bounce through space or satellites, but the truth is almost all of it, even if you are getting the internet on your mobile phone or wi-fi, comes from fiber-optic cables, and they are pretty tiny. the cables that made the backbone of the internet go across the atlantic and pacific, and they are about the width of
hosepipes. they are owned by private telecom companies. this means that inevitably with telecom companies, this whole hidden world of billing. there are companies that specialize just in the cables between countries. there are companies that specialize in owning cables across america that are really critical to the infrastructure. then there are local companies who may own the last few miles of cables to your house. working out how much traffic is going and what is made. these guys have a ton of their own interests. if you go from using the internet just to send an emailer to a week to watching netflix in hd all the time, they are doing a lot more work and transmitting
more data and may paying more money. they kind of want to say, shouldn't it cost more for netflix? surely they should have to pay me for making me do this extra work. or should video count as a different kind of traffic to the rest of it? this gets even more complicated when the cable companies are the same ones that provide your television. they are, for very low cost, helping rivals that would undercut them do so for high-margin businesses. this is where we end up with rules like net neutrality, because people try to protect the idea on the internet that all traffic should be treated the same. because otherwise, there are a lot of different vested interests that might want to say you can have a basic internet package.
if you want to use social media, that costs extra, if you want to use email, that's an extra $.99 per month. so working out what is fair and what actually works in our interests, you've really got a lot of powerful, rich vested interests at each other's throats. >> at what point did the internet become commercial? you talk about money men as well in your book. >> there was essentially a bit of the big bang in the 1990's which coincided with a huge financial big bang. part of it was because of a british guy, tim berners-lee, who was working out of cern, the swiss lab that now has the large hadron collider. he was working on something he called the world wide web, that gave us webpages as we know
today, and html and all of the things we might have heard of. he put it to his supervisor in the lab in 1989 and he sort of says, what do you think of this? the supervisor wrote, it is vague but interesting. which i think is one of the better understatements of scientific advancement. this made the internet way more usable, it gave us more of what we think of as the internet now, webpages, social networks built off of it. apps are not quite the web but look like it. it made it usable, and the rules changed so it was easier to get
on the internet as a home user or commercial user. we went from about one million users of the internet in 1990 two being a worldwide thing, maybe a bit geeky but most people were thinking they should get an internet connection or they have one. certainly countries like the u.s. or u.k., by about 2000. you have this growing network. by the mid-1990's, people started to see some potential in it. one of the earliest companies we can look at as an internet company would be something like amazon, came around in the mid-1990's, and by about 1996 and 1997 was showing some potential. people were seeing you could make some money through this and get some connections. and then of course we had the first dot-com boom. you would say i could do anything on the internet and have this amazing valuation. nothing like uber or amazon is worth now.
people started to take it seriously as a new technology because it could come at a very low cost, connect to every customer either in the u.s. or the world, possibly with no distribution if your product was online, or if you have a high stream sites. once we saw the potential, the internet was never going back to be this niche, idealistic place. >> you write in your book that if you visit the new york times website, nine ad companies are immediately tracking you. >> yeah, the model of the internet is kind of scary. i think we know a little bit that it is based on access, which is guessing who we are and following us.
you feel like if you go to cnn.com, cnn gets to see what you are doing. if you go to facebook.com, facebook gets to see what you are doing. in practice, each of the sites has trackers for five or 10 or 20 ad networks they can follow you wherever you visit. they get a really detailed picture of who you are and they will show you adverts based on that. what is a problem for advertisers on that is it used to be once upon a time, if you wanted to advertise to a new york times reader, you would have to advertise in the new york times. now it might be you go to ilovecats.com, and it can see you went to the new york times
earlier in the day and it can show you a high value, fancy advert on a cheaper website. this is creepy for us because it means we are getting way more follows than we think we are. every website indirectly is exposing you to hundreds and hundreds of different people who can track you, every, single click. it's also worrying for the people who make the contacts. you are no longer the best place to target your readers. people can try to track you, see you are someone in a desirable target market, and let's say you look at the property section of website, you might get high value property adverts. but then they can advertise in cheaper places, and so the rewards for quality are broken
by the internet. but because it makes a lot of money for tech companies, is not really in their interest to fix it. >> you quote a frank eliasson as saying "let's face it, everybody's been trying to own the internet in some way." >> yes, frank was a comcast exec. i think he is right to say it. this is the 21st century, the digital version of the gold rush, the wild west. what is worrying this time, whether it is gold or oil, the commodity this time is us -- our lives, data and attention. bad things tend to happen when you commoditize human beings. it doesn't mean we should be talking about shutting down the internet or saying all advertising is bad or the technology is bad, but if we
create an economy where you can become the world's most valuable company just by tracking people enough and keeping them online, on websites or apps you own enough, that is some bad incentive. it means that their incentives are for us to hand over everything about our identities for commercialization, and to spend as many hours a day looking at their properties as possible. that's how you end up with things like infinite scroll, how you end up with variable consumer protections, and how you end up in the strains position where we are constantly told the data we generate from our actions and lives is so valuable that the companies become the top ones in the world from nowhere in less than 20 years. where is our share of that? we don't all agree that is
something we should give away for free. the pace of technology has gotten ahead of that, i think. >> given the lack of privacy in our current communications systems on the internet, have you changed your behavior? i am in the strange position, i used to work at wiki links, it worked on the chelsea manning disclosures, and i worked on snowden's revelations about the nsa's powers. which means i gave up on my own privacy a long time ago. but i don't think most people should. generally, i don't think we should all build reinforcements in our basements and just obsess only about privacy.
i think what we need to do is work out where we want our own boundaries to be. there are basic things you can do -- my cat does not want privacy, he just jumped on. come on, bugs. there are basic things we can do like install an ad blocker, which are nice, they block things both ways. you don't just not see the advertisement, your information doesn't get sent to them and the first place. [laughs] sorry. >> mr. ball, you are currently with the bureau of investigative journalism. what is that? >> the bureau of investigative journalism is a not-for-profit that tries to do serious public interest journalism that is sometimes hard to do in daily newsrooms. we are kind of a british
equivalent of pro-publica, which is similar in the u.s. we look at big tech, the climate, financialization. we get into global health because with coronavirus this year, how could you not? >> you write in your book, "the tangled web we weave," "it is considered a truism in the news industry that the internet is killing journalism. >> yes, and sometimes i think that criticism is fair and sometimes i think it isn't. there are things that the internet did to journalism that damaged it that i don't think are unfair and that we should ask compensation for.
it used to be if you wanted a new car, you looked for an advert in the back of the paper. that was also true for dating or if you wanted to rent a new flat or apartment or to buy one. the internet is just better at those things. you can search, you can get reminders, you could look in a broader area. it is easier. people moved to that because it is better. that is not unfair, it's not the fault of craigslist or ebay or other places that newspaper companies did not spot the trend early enough and get in on the ground floor. the guardian actually did that quite early and ended up owning a stake in car trader, a car selling website that sold for more than $1 billion.
sometimes the news industry got hurt by the internet in ways that are sort of fair and you have to learn how to change. what is really hurting at now is that the adverts they have yet or the subscription models are so dominated by three or four big tech companies that the slice news gets is very small. and news is a public service. yes, it is a product we buy or look at, but i think a lot of us want to access society, and finding out especially how to keep local news a viable and alive for that accountability in the internet era is a problem no one has solved yet. >> and you say that policy is way behind technology. what kind of policy would you like to see? >> i think we tend to have to
move away from knee-jerk "the internet is bad" or "mark zuckerberg is bad." understands the internet. so people end up suggesting let's ban encryption because terrorists use encrypted messages without understanding the rest of us use it too. we need policymakers who understand how the internet works and get into how to deal with it. i think some of the things we really need are to look at, you know, do we honestly tax online companies the same as off-line companies? because it feels like in a lot of the world that part of the reason even a good mom and pop bookshop cannot compete with amazon is local taxes, business rates and all of that.
you don't want to punish online companies that you feel like everyone should be on the same playing field, that is basic fairness and what keeps services funded too. you also want to look at how much informed consent is there on the internet, how much ability to people have to understand what they are givin g away for free services? should there be more rules and education for that? and if we are a valuable, should we not be able to share that value? if the value comes from me and you and everyone on the internet, should it be allowed that facebook or google or other advertising companies get 100% of that value? should we look at other ways of dividing it? usually when we talk about data,
we just end up talking about privacy protections and that type of stuff. i think it goes beyond that, we need to look at how we share the pie. i think those are some of the starting areas, but there is a lot to look at and a lot to do. i tend to say the information revolution, the internet revolution is probably as big as the industrial revolution was, and the industrial revolution creates trade unions, health and safety regulations, rules around school ages, it creates public school systems in a lot of cases. you have all of this and not just antitrust. it might take us a while, but we need lots and lots of small changes on that kind of scale to properly have a society ready to be an internet economy, and information economy. >> james ball, the title of your book, "the tangled web we weave." is it significant that the rest of that quote is "when first we
practice to deceive?" >> [laughter] it couldn't possibly comment. it wasn't entirely an accident. a lot of people in the early days of the internet were well-intentioned pioneers. they were building this for a small group of people who knew technology and did not expect it to become a critical system. i think now we have a lot of people sitting atop that system, that tangled web, who have done very well out of it. certainly if they are not deceiving us, they don't want us asking any questions, and they certainly don't want us looking behind the curtain. for me, that makes it all the more important that we do. "this book has been about
trying to tell the story of the internet, of how it really works and who really benefits from that. it has been about trying to turn a story we have been told technical, is boring, is something we don't need to worry about and that we can safely ignore, into something more human." that is a quick dip into james ball's "the tangled web we weave." thank you for being our guest on c-span. >> thank you. ♪ c-span, yourching unfiltered view of government, created by america's cable television companies as a public service and brought to you today by your television provider. 8:00, we air today's rally in washington, d.c. held by women for america first, supporting president trump's court challenges to overturn the election results.
you can watch anytime on our website or listen on our free radio app. dr. anthony fauci is director of the national institute of allergy and infectious diseases. he joined a discussion on touch onand they vaccines being administered in the u.k. and the current state of testing. this event was hosted by harvard university school of public health. >> good afternoon. i'm michelle williams, dean of the faculty here at the school of public health. afternoon. i'm michelle williams, dean of the faculty here at the school of public health. it is my great pleasure to welcome to you when public health means business, chasing science to save lives with doctor anthony fauci and moderated by doctor group . our organ today is