What if the netizens had a social security number ?

Photo by Avi Richards / Unsplash

Internet is a small reflection into multiple personalities that could exist when humans are exposed to different environments. That being said, a recent thought I had initiated a train of thought: what if we restarted the way internet is accessed and everyone is given a social security - an identification which acts as a gateway to use any/all services and how would that work ? There are multiple assumptions that shape the scenarios when relaxed, dramatically change the internet as we see it.

Assuming we can build a fresh, new internet and assign every person on earth a unique number - their own key to the internet and all of it's infinite knowledge, how would the internet be structured ? This encompasses the democracy of the internet, it's safeguards, it's limits and most importantly, it's governance and sustainability over a long period of time. As far as my knowledge limitations go, I broadly see three huge problems - 1) Control, 2) Laws and 3) Infrastructure.

1) Who controls the new internet?

Well, this is by far the only question that matters. All other issues are only a consequence of mishaps/invasions that can happen are an aftermath of mis-governance - similar to the answer to the question: would you chose power, money or fame? Power gets you everything! Back to the do-over scenario, there's no exact answer. While there could be a case for democracy, at the end of the day democracy is only as good as the worst apple in the society. This is clear in most modern societies as a lot of countries around the world still face a lot of issues while being democratic, with power being abused by wielding internet as the ruler's whip. A UN for the internet is a good place to begin with maybe, since there are fundamental laws for the internet which every country must adhere to , similar to fundamental human rights everyone is entitled to regardless of the nationality. One could argue that this leads to leaders of countries having a final say over internet access which excludes all of their citizens, with the people having no say in the matter. Even in blockchains, the 51 percent attack is an example where democracy can be misused.

From a different perspective, a fixed set of people sounds appealing, but with proper verification and regulation protocols with ethical oversight, this could be a good solution.  

2) Laws - Definition, Jurisdiction and Decision

This brings us to the next topic: Laws. While some fundamental laws can be established for Internet, internet crosses borders. The judicial system varies state to state, let alone country to country. All countries(and states if it's a country-state government system) must agree to be bound by an international rule of law and it's outlets of justice, as opposed to their own. This is an invitation to people yelling about lack of a power grab and control over the outcomes, etc.

3) Infrastructure

Infrastructure has been a long standing bottleneck for small companies to compete with the big tech giants. Let's take Google Drive for example - Google houses some of the biggest data centers in the world - from large scale storage to compute, they have it all. Imagine being a new player in cloud storage, only to compete with the likes of Google, yikes! But, money is the solution to that, which ironically is the solution to a lot of things according to people these days. But when I say infrastructure, I mean software infrastructure. If cloud storage is meant to be turned into a business, open source protocols must ONLY be used in this new internet world. That means the only control you have is how users interact with your service and the scale of your infrastructure. The core software protocols that dictate the privacy, security must be standard. On the flipside, this makes business that much more demanding, because the fighting ground is now slightly levelled.

While storage and storage privacy is only a small section of the internet, there larger take is the push towards open set of protocols - security, compliance, etc. that is up for scrutiny and therefore, improvement for the greater good.

After all these, is it still feasible?

Probably not, because fundamentally, the internet community is susceptible to some of the flaws we have as a society in this modern world - discrimination, money/power imbalance, lack of co-ordination/co-operation living with foreign communities. At a base level, it's these issues that actually matter.

Vaibhav Balloli

Vaibhav Balloli

Ph.D. student at University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
Ann Arbor, MI, USA