In Brussels on Friday, an esteemed panel of experts got together to discuss the challenge of improving ICANN’s accountability. It’s just too bad nobody from ICANN came by to hear it.
Co-sponsored by the Washington-based Technology Policy Institute and the Brussels-based Center for European Policy Studies, the panel focused on ICANN accountability. Four of the panelists –Shawn Gunnarson, Milton Mueller, Lawrence White, and Tom Lenard –have published proposals for new accountability mechanisms.
While their prescriptions varied widely, the panelists were remarkably similar in their diagnoses – namely, that ICANN has yet to meet the fundamental challenge of making its board and staff accountable and answerable to the community that it is intended to serve.
It’s a message that’s been delivered to ICANN many times before, from many different stakeholders, but one that the staff and board of ICANN don’t want to hear.
With the Accountability and Transparency Review now underway, the ICANN community gets another chance to make its collective voice heard about the accountability issue. But as panelist Milton Mueller pointed out, sometimes voice isn’t enough.
Quoting from his 2009 paper, Mueller contends that ICANN has effectively substituted “voice” for other, more impactful mechanisms of accountability.
As members of the ICANN community we routinely voice our concerns, but when it comes to implementing real change, or holding the organization to account for its decisions, we’re left on the outside, looking in.
Hundreds of us devote substantial time and resources following the ICANN world-wide tour of meetings. We take weeks away from our day-jobs and families to participate in the “bottom-up” process that’s theoretically driving DNS policy. And we desperately want to believe that our participation makes a difference.
But a substantial number of stakeholders are questioning whether their participation really matters. While ICANN’s board and management may not mind if there are fewer stakeholders going to the microphones during public comment periods, the organization must know that it’s credibility depends on stakeholders believing they have an impact on the process.
In meetings between ICANN’s Government Advisory Committee (GAC) and the Accountability Review team yesterday, government representatives wondered why ICANN isn’t requesting their advice more often, and gave examples where GAC advice wasn’t duly considered in Board decisions.
There’s a common-sense saying, "Don’t moon the giant." Alienating nongovernmental stakeholders is one thing, but ICANN is risking its very existence if influential governments feel alienated or ignored. That’s because governments have options other than ICANN. They can turn to other venues where their voice is law, such as the United Nations and ITU. If that happens, we’ll find out how tenuous ICANN’s grasp on authority really is.
In Today’s opening ceremony, CEO Rod Beckstrom said that ICANN invited the voices of stakeholders who might be critical:
By bringing in diverse and even contradictory voices, we are driving toward even greater innovation and openness and laying the path for the Internet of tomorrow.
But when one is disagreeing with proposals being pushed by ICANN staff and management, just having a voice isn’t nearly enough.
Now is a critical time for online commerce as policymakers assess their approaches to privacy. And as NetChoice says in our comments filed today, now is the perfect time for the Department of Commerce to be more involved in privacy issues.
What? We’re calling for more government involvement in a politically charged issue? Yes, and here’s why it’s an appropriate response to the Commerce Dept’s Notice of Inquiry.Read More
There’s a bill moving in California (SB 1361) that restricts how social networking sites display the personal information of 13 to 17 yr olds. It’s billed as a privacy bill and at first glance seems relatively harmless — after all, kids don’t need to be broadcasting their contact information, right? Maybe. It all depends.
It depends on the situation, obviously. We teach our kids to recognize risky situations and to react appropriately.
But whether or not teens are at risk by publishing their telephone numbers is not the threshold question here. The law presumes such and I’m not aware of any specific findings offered in testimony about the bill.Read More
Over the past year, OSTWG (which includes NetChoice members AOL, News Corp, and Yahoo) has discussed online safety research and debated the best policies. Our goal was to build a record for our final report to Congress. The report is complete and available on the NTIA website, and I’m proud to say that it’s a tremendously informative review of the current state of online safety.
But a report is only as good as what decision-makers do with it. Again and again child safety experts get together. Again and again education (not regulation) is a primary solution for online safety. Yet policymakers have largely ignored that recommendation. Will this time be any different? Let’s hope so.Read More
For the past month, online companies have considered the privacy legislation discussion draft from Rep. Boucher and Stearns. The legislation is a broad attempt to set privacy defaults for the collection, use and sharing of information on the Internet.
Last Friday, NetChoice submitted our comments to Rep. Boucher and Stearns.
While there are some aspects of the bill to like (eg. no private right of action), we’re worried that the bill does too much, too soon, to set opt-in or opt-out defaults. We explored in our previous post why flexibility in setting user defaults is important for continued social network innovation.Read More
Companies often promote a consistent and reliable customer experience. KLM touts itself as “the reliable airline” while Michelin touts its dependability “because so much is riding on your tires.” And now we have Yahoo, who announced that it will be increasing the social networking functionality in Yahoo Mail. Yahoo has the ability to promote consistency in determining user defaults for sharing information.
But social networking is a product much different than most – it is participatory. Passengers can’t fly airplanes and drivers don’t design tire tread, but social networking users control what and with whom they share information.Read More
Amid much anticipation, Facebook unveiled its new privacy controls today. It’s a good move for Facebook to clear-up confusion about who can see what I’ve shared on my pages. They’ve made it easier to be sure that only my friends can see my photos, comments, or activities.
It’s also a good move to let users turn-off sharing of information with third party applications hosted on Facebook. (Now, what I’d really like is an easier way to turn-off all messages from my friends using Farmville. Hopefully that’s in the works.)
Facebook is making these moves partly to placate a handful of professional privacy critics, as we described on our post this week. But as with most moves made in reaction to critics, there’s a chance Facebook might have moved too far.Read More
In his op-ed today, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg promised further changes to give users better control of privacy settings. It’s a clear signal that Facebook is seeking to meet user privacy preferences while still attracting enough ad revenue to keep the site free for everyone. But will these signals even be heard above all the noise made by Facebook’s critics?
Radio engineers speak in terms of signal-to-noise ratio when they want to measure usable signals against a background of useless static. There’s been a lot of noise over Facebook recently, driven by a feeding frenzy of technology bloggers and journalists.
Their hyperbole hit a high note when some equated Facebook’s privacy drill to BP’s giant oil spill, while others wrote articles (or op-eds? It’s so hard to tell sometimes) that insult Facebook employees and impugn their motives. Just when you think nothing could rival the noise of Washington’s echo chamber, the technology pundits show us how a real shout-down is supposed to work.
All this noise threatens to overwhelm any music Facebook is trying to make. Facebook is a lot like the conductor of a symphony orchestra of users, advertisers, developers, and publishers. It has to attract users with features and a growing network of friends and groups, while respecting their privacy preferences. Facebook must also get advertisers to pay enough to make the service free to users. They also help entrepreneurs to develop and host new applications. And recently the Facebook symphony added a new section for content publishers serving customized news, which just might be the lifeline that mainstream media is looking for.
Now, Facebook isn’t a NetChoice member, but it’s obvious I’m a big fan of the site. I’ve also watched other game-changing web platforms – like Google– go through similar challenges when they modified privacy settings on new services. And as a Facebook user, I like granular control over what I share with whom, but I’ll admit that it’s confusing how they’ve mapped my old preferences to the new settings.
Still, I’m glad to see that Facebook leadership sees the importance of telegraphing their actions and responding to user concerns. But this exercise is obviously not entirely about signals of user concern. After all, 400 million users have already signaled that they are pretty comfortable with Facebook.
The noise we hear now is instigated in large part by ‘Chicken Little’ critics who earn their funding and prestige by scaring the living bits out of the general public. In one telling statement, Jeff Chester of the Center for Digital Democracy actually thanked Facebook for helping to boost contributions to his organization.
Even Senators with a love for the limelight have jumped on the bandwagon by telling Facebook how to manage a service it gives us for free. But I think we can all agree that management by a Congressional Committee is the fastest way to suck innovation and competitiveness out of one of America’s fastest growing industries.
Feeding frenzy and opportunism aside, I hope that Facebook comes out of this episode with a better understanding of how to listen and interact with its loyal user community when changes occur. That’s good, since there will inevitably be more changes ahead for social networking business models.
While Facebook is trying to conduct a complex symphony among users, advertisers, developers, and publishers, we shouldn’t let positive signals be drowned out by privacy cat-calls coming from critics in the audience.