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The Internet As We Know

Note: Links for community initiatives, projects, discussion, articles on meshnet are listed at the end of this post.

Internet (இணையம்) as you know is defined as "network of networks". These networks are setup by users and communities. But inter-connecting these networks across street, cities, state, countries and the world are done by corporations. The corporation could be either a public corporation (driven by Government like BSNL in India) or private corporation (driven by private interests for profit, like Airtel, Reliance, Tata, etc.).

Corporations who inter-connect these simple networks to global network are called Internet Service Providers (ISPs). There are also small scale ISPs who depend on the large corporations for lines and cover only smaller area (for example ACT in Bangalore & Chennai).

The purpose of creating a network is to communicate. This communication could be anything from simple text message, real time chats, VOIP calls, sharing pictures, videos (or) any digital content. So if I have a network in my place and you have a network in your place, it is based on our interests to decide what to share between ourselves.

The problem with the Internet starts here. I have understood 3 major flaws with the current network,

  1. Censorship
  2. Mass Surveillance
  3. Violation of Net Neutrality

Problem 1 (Censorship)

As I already pointed out above, "it is based on our interests to decide what to share between ourselves" in a network. Since the ISPs are inter-connecting the networks, they automatically gain a power to decide whether to allow data from one network to reach the other network or not. If I send you anything and you are not able to receive only from me or some specific person, there is a lot of possibility that either the ISP that you are connected to or the ISP that I am connected to is censoring communication, thus preventing us from communicating.

Not just that, if you are not able to access any website which you have previously visited and you still know it is accessible from other parts of the world, then you can be very sure that your ISP is censoring you from accessing that website (or) content.

When ISPs can do censorship, how does this statement of "it is based on our interests to decide what to share between ourselves" is true anymore?

This problem can be overcome by using tunnels like VPN, TOR, I2P, Psiphon, etc., But this doesn't remove the porblem. These are just an workaround. The problems still exist.

Problem 2 (Mass Surveillance)

When we already have censorship, it's very clear that ISPs can also inspect or read what we are sending to others & the vice-versa (they can also read what we receive). We think our communications are happening only between ourselves, but since ISPs are in the middle of you and me, it means whatever we send & receive is also visible to the ISPs.

If ISPs can listen and continuously monitor our communications they can also store it permanently in their servers. This is also true with proprietary web platforms like Facebook, Google, Amazon, etc., This is violation of an user's privacy.

Privacy means whoever owns the data should decide when, where and to whom they should reveal that data (i.e the control is with the user). If ISPs (or) the proprietary platform can gain access to these data which you are actually sending it to your friend or relatives this is what we call surveillance. Instead of targeting suspicious users, if everyone are targetted then we call it as mass surveillance and this is a potential threat to Democrarcy.

Imagine a country or a world where everything you do, wherever you go, whoever you meet is monitored or surveilled, would you be the same? Won't the sense of someone monitoring affect your thought process? or how you do things? Is that really you? Are we trying to build a society based on fear instead of mutual consent?

There goes a famous dialogue from the movie V for Vendetta

People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.

By monitoring (or) surveilling the institutions are enforcing obedience into our minds. Most of us won't even bother to point out the mistakes of institutions, there would be no freedom of speech. Everything will boil down to self-censorship.

Obviously, like the previous case we can overcome this by protecting our online communications with the use of mathematics & encryption. The problem with the current Internet is that encryption & decryption are not embedded into the design, rather they have become the burden for the users.

Problem 3 (Violation of Net Neutrality)

We have seen this a lot in our country. We have seen how Facebook along with Reliance & Airtel tried to build a walled garden in the name of Free basics (Internet.org) & Airtel Zero. The strategy they followed is termed as differential pricing / zero rating (i.e charging differently for different services like messenger, VOIP, etc., (or) allowing only certain sites registered with them for free).

Most important thing to note here is how these mega-corporations tried to manipulate and mislead the people through their platforms. In fact, TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) has condemned their act as "Platform Abuse".

The above 3 problems are fair enough to destroy the democratic nature and therefore curtain the freedom of the Internet.

Now that we have identified the problems with the Internet, we need to think about solving these problems and to come up with a network design which will not have these problems in first place. People around the world are already into the research of designing such networks. It's called Mesh Networks. There are various communities online, especially the darknetplan subreddit on reddit.com, the hyperboria community and more.

Articles

  1. It's time to take mesh networks seriously - Wired.com
  2. Meshnet activists rebuilding the Internet from Scratch

Discussions & Resources

  1. Problems with the Centralized Architecture
  2. FSFTN Discussion Forum on Meshnet
  3. Free The Network - Documentary on Meshnet
  4. Introduction to meshnet - p2pfoundation.net
  5. Mesh Guide - Wireless Africa
  6. Wireless Networking in the developing world
  7. Darknetplan - Mesh community on Reddit.com

Community Initiatives & Projects

  1. The Free Network Foundation
  2. Guifi.net - Largest mesh network operating from Spain
  3. Freifunk - free radio networks group operating from Germany
  4. Project Byzantium - A live GNU/Linux distribution to create Ad-hoc mesh
  5. OpenWRT - Linux distribution for embedded devices
  6. DDWRT - Fork of OpenWRT
  7. LibreCMC - Libre Embedded GNU/Linux distribution
  8. Rumble - Off the grid, Delay Tolerant Networking
  9. Commotion Wireless Mesh
  10. Metamesh
  11. Seattle Meshnet
  12. NewYork Meshnet
  13. Portland Meshnet

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