Bioethics Blogs

What kind of internet ought we to have?

Happy internet slowdown day! Here are some apropos practical ethics questions for all to discuss as we sit patiently, waiting for the internet to load. What kind of internet ought we to have? Should sovereign nations decide for themselves what kind of internet they will have, or is this an international issue, requiring cooperation between nations? What do particular internet companies owe their competitors, and more vaguely, the internet? What right does an individual or social entity have to know about or to police the storage and usage of data about that individual or social entity? What right does an individual or corporation have to access data or restrict access to data at certain speeds?

These kinds of questions are of massive practical importance to big internet companies like Google, who finds itself embroiled in an ongoing antitrust dispute with various entities in Europe, and like American cable company Comcast, who might stand to profit from a change in current net neutrality regulations.

And yet interestingly – and unsurprisingly, I suppose, given the power of moral language – much of the debate surrounding this issue is cast in moral, rather than practical, terms. I take it that this indicates something about how much of our identity is nowadays wrapped up in various kinds of data access and data usage. Consider a recent op-ed by Sigmar Gabriel, Germany’s economic minister and vice chancellor. Gabriel discusses issues concerning data storage and data use in explicitly moral and even existential terms (i.e., “The fight for democracy in the digital age is a fight for human self-determination.”).

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.