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Who Controls the Internet?: Illusions of a Borderless World [Paperback]

by Jack Goldsmith, Tim Wu
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)

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Book Description

June 30, 2008 0195340647 978-0195340648
Is the Internet erasing national borders? Will the future of the Net be set by Internet engineers, rogue programmers, the United Nations, or powerful countries? Who's really in control of what's happening on the Net?
In this provocative new book, Jack Goldsmith and Tim Wu tell the fascinating story of the Internet's challenge to governmental rule in the 1990s, and the ensuing battles with governments around the world. It's a book about the fate of one idea--that the Internet might liberate us forever from government, borders, and even our physical selves. We learn of Google's struggles with the French government and Yahoo's capitulation to the Chinese regime; of how the European Union sets privacy standards on the Net for the entire world; and of eBay's struggles with fraud and how it slowly learned to trust the FBI. In a decade of events the original vision is uprooted, as governments time and time again assert their power to direct the future of the Internet. The destiny of the Internet over the next decades, argue Goldsmith and Wu, will reflect the interests of powerful nations and the conflicts within and between them.
While acknowledging the many attractions of the earliest visions of the Internet, the authors describe the new order, and speaking to both its surprising virtues and unavoidable vices. Far from destroying the Internet, the experience of the last decade has lead to a quiet rediscovery of some of the oldest functions and justifications for territorial government. While territorial governments have unavoidable problems, it has proven hard to replace what legitimacy governments have, and harder yet to replace the system of rule of law that controls the unchecked evils of anarchy. While the Net will change some of the ways that territorial states govern, it will not diminish the oldest and most fundamental roles of government and challenges of governance.
Well written and filled with fascinating examples, including colorful portraits of many key players in Internet history, this is a work that is bound to stir heated debate in the cyberspace community.

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Is the Internet truly "flattening" the modern world? Will national boundaries crumble beneath the ever-increasing volume of Internet traffic? Goldsmith and Wu, both professors of law (Goldsmith at Harvard, Wu at Columbia), think not, and they present an impressive array of evidence in their favor. The authors argue national governments will continue to maintain their sovereignty in the age of the Internet, largely because of economics: e-businesses-even giants such as Yahoo, Google and eBay-need governmental support in order to function. When Yahoo, an American company, was tried in French court for facilitating the auctioning of Nazi paraphernalia in violation of French law, the company was eventually forced to comply with local laws or risk losing the ability to operate in France. As eBay grew into an Internet powerhouse, its "feedback" system could not keep up with cunning con artists, so it hired hundreds of fraud prevention specialists (known as "eBay cops"). Goldsmith and Wu begin with an overview of the Internet's early days, replete with anecdotes and key historical chapters that will be unknown to many readers, but their book quickly introduces its main contention: that existing international law has the power to control the Internet, a conclusion web pundits, cyberlaw specialists and courts across the globe will inevitably challenge. Wu's and Goldsmith's account of the power struggle between the Utopian roots of the Internet and the hegemony of national governments is a timely chronicle of a history still very much in the works.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


"Jack Goldsmith and Tim Wu, two of America's leading scholars of cyberspace, have written an engaging, fluent first draft of Internet history.... Beautifully written and intricately argued, the book is likely to become a classic of Internet politics and policy." --Patti Waldmeir, Los Angeles Times

"A timely look at the ways that governments make themselves felt in cyberspace. Goldsmith and Wu cover a range of controversies, from domain-name disputes to online poker and porn to political censorship. Their judgments are well worth attending."--David Robinson, Wall Street Journal

"Goldsmith and Wu have written a concise, compact, and highly readable book canvassing more than their basic question of 'who controls the internet?'. It is a sweeping review of all of the key concerns of internet history, lore and law over the last 20 years."--Melbourne University Law Review

"In the 1990s the Internet was greeted as the New New Thing: It would erase national borders, give rise to communal societies that invented their own rules, undermine the power of governments. In this splendidly argued book, Jack Goldsmith and Tim Wu explain why these early assumptions were mostly wrong: The Internet turns out to illustrate the enduring importance of Old Old Things, such as law and national power and business logic. By turns provocative and colorful, this is an essential read for anyone who cares about the relationship between technology and globalization."--Sebastian Mallaby, Editorial Writer and Columnist, The Washington Post

"It is time that America learn an important lesson about the Internet--that however cyber the space is, it is also real, and subject to real space governments. This is the very best work to make this fundamental point. Goldsmith and Wu have made understandable and accessible an argument political culture should have realized a decade ago." --Lawrence Lessig, author of Code and Free Culture

"Jack Goldsmith and Tim Wu are among the most creative and provocative legal scholars of their generation. In this surprising, unsentimental, and ultimately optimistic book, they reject romantic abstractions about the globalizing and transformative power of the Internet. National laws, traditions, and customs are just as important in controlling cyberspace as they are in real space, they argue. And that's a good thing because decentralized control can encourage freedom, diversity, and self-determination. Combining realism with idealism, Who Controls the Internet? offers an adult manifesto for the future of freedom in an interconnected world." --Jeffrey Rosen, author of The Naked Crowd

"Jack Goldsmith and Tim Wu have written an informative, engaging and provocative book that will undoubtedly challenge most people's preconceptions of the Internet. This is the most important book about the politics of the Internet since Lawrence Lessig's Code." --Daniel W. Drezner, University of Chicago and danieldrezner.com

"A major contribution to literature about the internet....an excellent addition to academic law libraries as well as other academic, firm, or large county libraries with collections that emphasize cyber law, intellectual property, digital copyright, and international law."--Law Library Journal

"Goldsmith and Wu have written a concise, compact, and....an highly readable book canvassing more than their basicas question of 'who controls the internet?'. It is a sweeping review of all of the key concerns of internet history, lore, and law over the last 20 years."--Melbourne University Law Review

Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (June 30, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195340647
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195340648
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.2 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #486,186 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Why the bordered Internet is necessary June 23, 2006
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
"Who Controls the Internet?" by Jack Goldsmith and Tim Wu offers a clear-eyed assessment of the struggle to control the Internet. Starting with a discussion of the early vision of a borderless global community, the authors present some of the most prominent individuals, ideas and movements that have played key roles in developing the Internet as we know it today. As Law Professors at Harvard and Columbia, respectively, Mr. Goldsmith and Mr. Wu adroitly assert the important role of government in maintaining Internet law and order while skillfully debunking the claims of techno-utopianism that have been espoused by popular but misinformed theorists such as Thomas Friedman.

The book has three sections. Part One is "The Internet Revolution". The authors discuss the early days of the Internet through the 1990s, when Julian Dibbell and John Perry Barlow articulated a libertarian vision that gained wide currency in the public imagination. The Electronic Frontier Foundation worked to protect the Internet from regulation in the belief that a free online community might unite people and melt government away. However, Jon Postel's attempt to assert control over the root naming and numbering system in 1998 was short-lived, as the U.S. government flexed its power in order to protect its national defense and business interests.

Part Two is "Government Strikes Back". Users in different places with widely varying cultures and preferences want information presented in their local language and context, the authors explain. Governments use a number of techniques to pressure or control local intermediaries to restrict Internet content that a majority of its citizens find unacceptable, such as the sale of Nazi paraphenelia in France.
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33 of 40 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I was very disappointed with this book after seeing all of the high reviews here, and reading the description for the book. I thought I was going to be reading an in-depth analysis of the technical, legal, and political means by which governments control, censor, and surveil the Internet, what the sociopolitical effects of this are, and how people around the world are resisting invasion of privacy and deprivation of autonomy.

Instead, I discovered that it was actually a poorly reasoned apology for government surveillance, censorship, and control of the Internet. Bringing out those trusty old substitutes for rational analysis and debate -- child porn, Nazi hate speech, and computer fraudsters -- Wu and Goldsmith repeatedly attempt to show us how grateful we should be for our governments "protecting" us from "villains", and how we were all so "naive" for thinking that we wanted to be able to have a democratic, uncensored electronic communications medium, and how silly we were for thinking that we would actually be allowed to have one.

They discuss issues within inane framings such as "uninhibited debate vs. order", and talk about how it's great that governments are censoring and monitoring the public, because that's what people need to keep them safe from all of those Nazis and child pornographers. They of course, superficially touch upon the Chinese surveillance state, and how in *extreme* and *rare* situations like China, government surveillance, censorship, and control might *possibly* lead to political repression -- but other than that, they keep on the velvet gloves, hardly discussing government violations of liberty and privacy, and not touching at all upon the extensive surveillance apparatus in the United States or Great Britain.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Understand the complexity of the Internet January 15, 2007
Jack and Tim made one thing dramatically clear: The Internet is no lawless enclave in our world. Their journey from the very beginning to the modern Internet is full of clear examples and anecdotes describing the "rude awakening" of idealists and patient people who participated in the development of the globe-consuming web.

When I read that the authors come from the dry plains of law science I was sceptical if the book would be worth to read. I imagined that their approach would be as dry as the 1000 ft law books in the libraries.

But, when I opened it and started reading I first put it down after page 186, the very last page of the remarkable work. Their writing is so gripping, so light to read, that even a none-English person like me could easily understand and enjoy it.

After working with the Internet since the beginnings of the 80's I thought I knew a lot about it and how it is screwed together, but I got surprised. Their view from a complete different angle, threw light on hidden aspects I honestly never thought about. In a modern world full of economical interests and its enforcement all makes absolute sense and even dramatic events like the Napster case fall into their logical place in this big puzzle.

Every part of the book is filled with cross-references and hints to further readings. All cases and examples are deep researched and very neutral presented.

Buy it, read it and give it to a dear one.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars BORDER IS NOTHING WITHOUT CONTROL May 1, 2006
This well-written, smooth-flowing text has the capacity of keeping even the laziest reader reading without pause. Please, note that its essence does not include IT technologies like HTML, CSS, JAVA, and so on. Rather, the business of this book is based entirely on attempts (by both individuals and organisations) to bring sanity to the 'world-wild-net'!
Each argument seemed logical regardless of which side it is inclined to. At the moment, signs of change could be seen at the online horizon; yet, it may still take years (if not decades) for the holes to be completely plugged and monitored. But until when the future arrives, the Internet will remain a borderless world occupied by a flock of fly-free birds, many of which will continue to evade caging.
The chapters of this book did a good job in determining and weighing the pros and cons of effecting Internet controls. And, the most gruesome aspect is that the world wide web runs the risk of being balkanized into 'territorial waters'. And judging by Google's experience in China, this sort of control would cause professionalism to be compromised with the view of gaining market-shares.
In conclusion, there is no doubt that some measure of Internet sanity would be nice. However, absolute or high-handed governmental controls may serve to rob the Net of its flavors. Traditional online businesses would be the biggest gainer if this ever happens, whereas the biggest losers would include internet entertainment and leisure-oriented industries.
Most of the issues raised in this book are real-world. They constitute very good guiding principles. But as the Internet continues to grow and evolve, the validity of these principles may not be all that future-proof. Only time will tell. But until then, border will continue to mean nothing when control is non-existent.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting
Although this book was published in 2006 its content is still relevant. A must read for those interested in the new challenges of internet governance.
Published 25 days ago by Jorge Carrera
5.0 out of 5 stars Internet archeology at its best
Fantastic read for anyone interested in how the internet has shaped, and has been shaped by government, commerce, and the beliefs and ideology of the early internet engineers. Read more
Published 17 months ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars great internet book
explains internet economics and idealogy of interwined web of knowledge to all , up there with classic wired articles get it loaned
Published 18 months ago by baker
5.0 out of 5 stars Informative and Compelling
This wasn't the kind of book I picked up expecting a riveting page turner, but it came damn close. The thorough and fairly objective look at this legal issue was illustrated with... Read more
Published on April 24, 2011 by Law Geek
4.0 out of 5 stars WCI?
Who Controls the Internet? Illusions of a Borderless World by Jack Goldsmith and Tim Wu depicts problems posed by a truly borderless Internet. Read more
Published on March 17, 2011 by Elizabeth Rupp
4.0 out of 5 stars Review of Who Controls the Internet
The book "Who Controls the Internet? Illusions of a Borderless World" written by Jack Goldsmith and Tim Wu is a book that explains the history and problems we've come across in the... Read more
Published on March 1, 2011 by Madison
4.0 out of 5 stars Government Controlled Internet
This book did a brilliant job of giving examples on how the Internet has evolved through the years. Despite controversies, the authors show that government control is essential for... Read more
Published on February 12, 2011 by jlrodger90
4.0 out of 5 stars Exploring the Internet
In the book, Who Controls the Internet? Illusions of a Borderless World, Tim Wu and Jack Goldsmith examine the recent boom of the internet. Read more
Published on November 11, 2010 by Nathan Johnson
5.0 out of 5 stars AMAZING!!
I ordered my books one week before I start fall semester && the book came about 3 days after I ordered it && to add to it, the book is in PERFECT SHAPE for being used!! Read more
Published on August 27, 2010 by mmburchf
5.0 out of 5 stars Read this book to find why the net is dubbed 'new media'
There's a review titled "outdated - already!". What a nut.

I'm naturally skeptical of non-fictional books for their nature of appearing to be easy to write. Read more
Published on January 6, 2010 by G. Sa
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