The future of the Internet matters to everyone, whether you’ve been using IRC for 20 years or are still scared of email. So we’ve defined some terms to help you navigate the current debates about the Internet, innovation, and the fate of both.
Generative technologies: Technologies like personal computers that have the capacity to produce unprompted, user-driven change. For example, on a PC any person can write code, run that code on a variety of platforms, and share that code with anyone who might want it. In general, generative technologies are useful for performing tasks, adaptable, easy to master, permission-free, and share-able. In the name of security consumers are increasingly moving away from generative technologies like the PC and towards tethered ones like the iPhone.
Tethered technologies: Technologies that are not generative, such as the iPhone or TiVo, and that do not have the capacity to produce user-driven change. Whereas on a PC any user can write and share code in ways the manufacturer never imagined, on a tethered technology the consumer must use the product in the way specified by the manufacturer. Tethered technologies are not adaptable, nor are they accessible, nor, in some cases, are they particularly easy to master. There’s nothing wrong about these technologies in and of themselves, but as consumers increasingly move away from generative technologies towards tethered ones, the overall capacity for innovation and creation declines.
Regulability: The ability of companies or countries to control how consumers use a given product. Generative technologies are, by and large, not very regulable – it’s hard for governments or corporations to check how consumers are using the products. Tethered technologies are, in contrast, relatively easy to regulate. Companies can grant or withold access to specific features of a technology, or keep users from adapting the technology for unintended purposes. See, for example, the iBrick. Countries can prevent consumers, or tell companies to prevent consumers from using technologies in ways deemed harmful or illegal. Witness TiVo v. Echostar (pdf).
Network Neutrality: The principle that information on the Internet should not be prioritized on the basis of its sender or its destination. The crisis over net neutrality exploded in 2006 when then-AT&T CEO Ed Whitacre said he hoped to charge content providers more for prioritized quality of service. Those companies that complied would have their data sent faster and more reliably than those that didn’t. The result would have been a tiered Internet, one where only companies with a large enough start-up investment could get online reliably. Whitacre’s specific proposal came to naught, but the network neutrality debate continues today. You can learn more about it here, here, here, and here.
Herdict: A suite of applications to allow users to work together to make smart decisions about PC and Network Health. Herdict for PC Health allows users to check their computer performances relative to other computers on the network, and track potential malware and bots on the Internet. Herdict for Network Health helps users create a real-time picture of internet inaccessibility around the world, and document the causes of that inaccessibility (government censorship, malware, network failure, etc.) By harnessing the “verdict of the herd,” Herdict aims to protect PC security without sacrificing online openness.