geert lovink on Wed, 11 Jul 2001 17:33:39 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> What is "Internet accountability"?

[My first read of the outcome of the Markle Internet research is an
ambiguous (US) audience, dazed and confused over where this medium is
heading. They are praising complexity, it is said. Yes, we want
self-regulation, but we also want more government involvement. A bit of
everything. Sound like third way Euros, a middle of the road consensus
policy, Internet corporatism, with all parties sitting on the round table,
talking through the issues in a rational matter, hiding their 'real'
interests. Who's table are we talking about here? As classic political
theory on agenda building tells us it is important to carefully study who is
defining the terms, such a "Internet accountability." One things seems
certain: the dominance of cyber libertarianism over the Internet discourse
seems a thing of the past. I will do another try to download the .pdf
document later on. The Markle servers might be overloaded. One thing stroke
me in the readings of the articles below is that the international dimension
of the Net seems to be left out in this study. OK. It's a US audience study.
Anyway. It is remarkable that there is no reference to the fact that the
'global' Internet and the US American part of the Internet might be two
different things. Perhaps they are not? /geert]

Press release from the Markle Foundation:

Markle Releases Major Study On Governing The Internet


64% of the public feels government should develop rules to protect Internet
users, even if it means some regulation; The public feels industry has a key
role to play but 58% indicates it does not want industry self-regulation
alone; 70% feels non-profits should have a significant role in making rules
for Internet

Study shows American public wants reliable and predictable problem solving
mechanisms for their online life

July 10, 2001, Washington, DC - At a time of intense debate over key
Internet policy issues, ranging from antitrust to privacy regulation, open
access and taxation of online commerce, a new body of opinion research
sponsored by the Markle Foundation shows that the American public wants a
broad range of perspectives and interests involved in decisions about the
Internet. Although the public has an overwhelmingly favorable view of the
medium, about half of the public also views the Internet as a "source of
worry" due to an array of concerns - ranging from on-line pornography and
violence, to privacy violations, to unresponsive providers and lack of
trustworthiness of online information. But in looking for solutions, they
want to go beyond such black and white choices as "government regulation" or
"industry self-regulation" to fashion approaches that involve government,
industry, technical experts, non-profit organizations and the public itself.

In an innovative and extended research effort that included telephone and
on-line polling and focus groups of the general public and Internet experts,
the Markle Foundation research found that 63 percent of all Americans, and a
remarkable 83 percent of those who go on-line have a positive view of the
Internet. The research finds that the public identifies the Internet
primarily as a source of information - with 45 percent saying their dominant
image of the Internet is that of a "library" as opposed to 17 percent who
compare it to a "shopping mall" or "banking and investment office."

Yet, despite the Internet's popularity, nearly half of all Americans (45
percent) see the Internet as a source of worry, and 70 percent of the public
says, "you have to question most things you read on the Internet." By a
margin of 54-36 percent, the public believes it does not enjoy the same
rights and protections on-line than it has in the off-line world, and 59
percent say they don't know who they would turn to if they had a problem
on-line. "The Internet is an increasingly important part of the lives of the
American people," said ZoŽ Baird, President of the Markle Foundation, at a
press conference at the National Press Club. "This research shows that they
have an appreciation for the complexities involved in tackling the critical
questions that will affect decisions about the Internet. They want the full
range of voices and interests to be heard - from the private sector and
government, to non-profit organizations and the public itself."

By a 60-37 percent margin, the public says that "rules for governing the
Internet should be mostly developed and enforced by organizations other than
the government, such as Internet related companies and non-profit groups."
But by 58-35 percent, the public indicates that it does not want to rely on
industry self-regulation alone. Although it is skeptical about government,
it still sees a clear place for government - by 64-32 percent (57 to 35 in a
retest in June 2001) - "government should develop rules to protect people
when they are on the Internet, even if it requires some regulation of the
Internet." This desire for a government role stems, in part, from the public
's wish for "institutions with teeth" which can also include effective
private sector solutions, such as the role of credit card companies in
protecting the consumer against fraud and defective merchandise.

The public also values the involvement of non-profit organizations. When
asked to rate how much of a role ten different groups or institutions should
have in making rules for the Internet, the public gives the most favorable
ratings to non-profit organizations, with 70 percent feeling positively
about non-profits having a significant role. More than half, 55 percent,
says the public itself should have a significant voice, even though the
public has doubts about its own lack of expertise on these issues.

More generally, the public appears to look to its off-line experiences in
setting its expectations and hopes for the Internet. Some of the most
frequently mentioned shortcomings of the Internet were the lack of a real
person and a real place to go to when the public encounters problems. On the
hotly debated issue of Internet taxation, a clear majority (60-34%) believes
that on-line purchases should be taxed the same as off-line items.

Although the economic downturn and the failure of many Internet start-ups
have dented the share of those who see the Internet as "an engine of
economic growth", which declined slightly from 82 percent in October 2000 to
75 percent in June 2001, there has been no significant change in the share
of the public that has a positive view of the Internet, or in the public's
views about accountability on-line.

The Markle Foundation's research, one of the broadest efforts yet conducted
on opinions regarding decisions about the Internet, was conducted by
Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, through a series of national telephone
interviews, online surveys, conventional and on-line focus groups, and
one-on-one interviews with the public and Internet experts. It was designed
to examine multiple aspects of the public's and the experts' views on the
governance of the Internet, and whether the public believes more needs to be
done to provide protections and give them greater control on-line. In turn,
it examined whom they trust to make Internet policy.

(You can download the .pdf document from


Some voices from the press:'s media grok:

What We Think About When We Think About the Net

Flash: Americans still think the Internet is pretty nifty. This is one
conclusion the press pulled out from the Markle Foundation's year-long
study, the results of which were released today. The newspapers of
record assigned reporters to the story but everybody else ignored it.
Maybe the conclusion was too upbeat for the current mood of Net gloom?

The Wall Street Journal stressed the public's view of the Internet as
an information source, not primarily as a venue for e-shopping. But
the Journal's reporters cautioned that 70 percent of those who were
asked considered information found on the Internet to be unreliable.

The New York Times and the Washington Post both wrote about Markle's
exercise of asking focus groups who should govern the Internet. The
Times led with the standouts in such a hypothetical body: the Pope,
Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey. Add Madonna or Justin Timberlake and you
might have something.

The Times and Post also mentioned the study's conclusion that
Americans favor taxing Net e-commerce transactions. This one will
result in midnight oil consumption in Washington and in state
capitals. The Times got a comment from Esther Dyson, the former chair
of ICANN, who knows a thing or two about Internet governance: "I've
found people want democracy, but they're often unwilling to do the
work." - Keith Dawson

Net Is Still Popular, But Not to Shop,1902,27780,00.html

Internet Is Valued as Information Source Rather Than for Commerce,
Study Finds

Survey About Accountability Online

Survey Shows Support for Internet Rules


  Tuesday, July 10, 2001; Page A10

Survey Shows Support for Internet Rules

By Jonathan Krim
Washington Post Staff Writer

 Americans are conflicted about the Internet, enthusiastically embracing
 it even as they worry about privacy, misinformation and sexual or violent
 content, according to a study to be released today.

 Aimed at stimulating public policy debate as the medium becomes more
 integral to daily life, the extensive survey of typical users and
 Internet experts conducted for the New York-based Markle Foundation found
 Americans concerned about their rights and wrestling with several key

 ** Although wary of government regulation for the Internet, for example,
 a majority want some rules to protect their privacy when they are online,
 and they even see a government role in such areas as Internet service
 problems and the cost of connections.

 ** By an overwhelming margin of 70 percent to 23 percent, respondents
 said they question the truthfulness of most things they read on the

 ** By a slim but growing plurality, respondents believe the Internet is
 disturbingly resistant to accountability, both on the part of individuals
 for their actions or words online and on the part of private and public
 institutions that govern its use.

 Nearly half of the Internet experts surveyed said that existing
 institutions are doing a fair or poor job of reflecting the public's

 The concerns are not scaring users away, however, and the survey reflects
 a growing sophistication about the risks of the Internet and a desire for
 more public involvement in policymaking. Yet a majority of respondents
 also said they do not know enough to participate in a meaningful way.

 "The public appears to be looking for a pluralistic model of Internet
 governance," according to a copy of the study obtained by The Washington
 Post. "They see specific strengths, but also drawbacks, to the
 involvement of the government, the private sector and non-profit

 At one point in the year-plus study, focus groups were asked to provide
 nominees for a hypothetical national commission on Internet rulemaking,
 and the array of names offered included Bill Gates of Microsoft, Oprah
 Winfrey, Interpol and the pope.

 The study also shows Americans as viewing the Internet primarily as a
 giant library rather than a place to shop or use financial services. And
 in the finding likely to stir the most political controversy, a strong 60
 percent believe it is wrong to exempt online commerce from taxation.

 Extending the federal moratorium on Internet taxes -- which expires in
 October -- has broad support on Capitol Hill. But governors are seeking
 the opportunity to develop a long-term, uniform plan that would enable
 easy Internet tax collection. Representatives of the bipartisan
 Congressional Internet Caucus will begin examining the study today.

 The more than 2,000 respondents in both random phone surveys and focus
 groups in several U.S. cities gave pointed answers on their top concerns
 and suggestions to ease the frustrations of online life.

 Topping the list of concerns are pornography and violence, protecting
 children, and ensuring individual privacy. Among the top suggestions for
 improvement is a 24-hour, toll-free number providing help with online
 problems, consumer complaints and privacy issues. Users also favor
 privacy policies that are "opt-in," meaning that they have to actively
 direct a site to capture personal information, as opposed to "opt-out,"
 in which such data is collected unless users specifically ask that it not

 The Markle study is unique among surveys of its kind in its focus on how
 Internet public policy should develop. And many of the respondents,
 especially Internet experts, worry that such policymaking won't be

 "Ultimately, most of the experts expect that major changes in rules and
 institutions for online accountability are unlikely to change until some
 kind of disaster occurs," the report says. Officials of the Markle
 Foundation, which studies and provides grants on the social impact of
 technology, declined to comment until its formal release.


  July 10, 2001



 If the American public could elect a governing body for the Internet,
 candidates would include the Pope, William H. Gates, Oprah Winfrey,
 teachers, ex-hackers and "regular folks," according to the first major
 study of public attitudes about accountability on the Internet, to be
 released today by the Markle Foundation, a nonprofit group that focuses
 on public policy and technology.

 The ever-expanding citizenry of the Internet -- 63 percent of American
 adults now go online, up from 39 percent in 1998, according to the
 report -- is not likely to have that opportunity anytime soon. But
 Markle's yearlong inquiry found that Americans would like to have
 significantly more say into the rules that govern the Internet. Not only
 that, but they would like a variety of people and institutions to pitch
 in, and members of focus groups suggested a range of participants in a
 hypothetical national commission.

 "There is a strong desire on the part of the public to have their values
 respected as the technology developed and some markers laid out as to
 what those values are," Markle's president, ZoŽ Baird, said. "People are
 looking for more democratic decision-making in a medium that has such
 widespread consequences for our personal and civic lives."

 That may mean finding a way to wield public influence in decisions about
 privacy, the quality of information and consumer protection, power now
 typically left to business executives and technologists who design
 software, Ms. Baird said, because in many ways, technology has replaced
 government as the main regulator of online behavior.

 Markle's study, which included telephone and online polling and focus
 groups of the public and of Internet experts, found enormous enthusiasm
 for the Internet, with 83 percent of those who use it having a positive
 view and 79 percent saying it had made their lives easier.

 But the zeal was tempered by the view of about half of those surveyed
 that the Internet is a "source of worry" because of concerns that include
 pornography, privacy violations and poor connection speeds. Fifty-nine
 percent of those polled said they did not know who they would turn to if
 they had a problem.

 Many focus-group participants wished for the equivalent of the safety net
 that exists for credit card fraud, a phone number they can call when
 their card is stolen or there is a billing error. Seventy percent said
 users have to question what they read on the Internet, and more than
 half -- 54 percent -- said they did not believe they had the same rights
 and protections online as off.

 To some extent, the frustrations are a reflection of the impersonal
 nature of the Internet. It is hard to imagine a single help line for the
 myriad problems one can encounter. Among the experts on the focus groups,
 a common view was that individual rights carried over to the Internet,
 but that traditional safeguards, like the ability to size up a store by
 its location and appearance, do not exist.

 The desire to make the Internet more closely mirror the world off- line
 was underscored by the response to the much-debated issue of taxation,
 where 60 percent said that online purchases should be taxed, despite the
 efforts of some lawmakers and Web sites to keep the Internet tax free.

 Still, the sharp frustrations amid the general embrace of the Internet
 raise the concern that the medium may not live up to its potential unless
 the public has a sense of more control over its choices, Ms. Baird said.
 Although 60 percent of those surveyed said rules for governing the
 Internet should be mostly developed and enforced by the private sector,
 64 percent also said that "government should develop rules to protect
 people" on the Internet.

 Ms. Baird, who has been working with standards-making bodies and world
 governments to establish forums in which companies, governments,
 nonprofit groups and public representatives could be heard on questions
 of Internet policy, said the report reinforced the need to build that
 constituency before an "online oil spill" alienates the public.

 But not everyone agrees that the Internet needs more regulation. Esther
 Dyson, the former chairman of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names
 and Numbers, or Icann, the agency that controls the Internet address
 system, said that users, and not a governing body, could better govern
 the Internet through which Web sites they visit and what goods they buy.

 "I've found people want democracy, but they're often unwilling to do the
 work, whether it's looking at voting records or taking the most basic
 measures to protect their own privacy," said Ms. Dyson, who serves on a
 committee that is trying to increase public representation in Icann.
 "Frankly sometimes you don't need democracy, you need a market where
 people understand what's being offered and choose what they want."

 Still, both positions could be heard in the response of a young focus-
 group participant from Syosset, N.Y., when asked who should make the
 rules that govern the Internet. "We should," the participant said. "The

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