The Tragedy of the Internet Commons


A similar behaviour that can be used to describe a computer networks is “routing” where each routing computer tries to send data via the fastest route causing that route to slow down and crowded, an example to illustrate how a routing works is what happens on highways if everyone takes the express lane.The property of the internet its implementation and protocols are a consequence of bottom-up independent decision making by implementers operating an autonomous system that make up the internet.

In identifying the parameters and characteristics of the internet, the feasibility of growing internet capacity to meet demands and needs is a significant factor. The investment required to achieve this growth have come from many sources, but largely from the private sector. One of the areas I see being chewed up at an alarming speed is privacy – a vital aspect of a personal commons. We spend hours filtering out junk email, updating personnel and worrying about stolen identity. In the physical world, law protects ones privacy and the cost of gaining access to us is high. Physical spying is expensive, but in the virtual world, we here fear property rights, few laws to protect us and spying is almost free.

This is not to say the internet is without overuse because it can be congested. In the past the commons of concern existed in physical space, but many of the commons we now value exist in virtual space and can be exploited almost instantly giving an easy way to get there and everything changes. Like overgrazing of public lands or over fishing of the seas, the digital space will continue to be exploited and that is why it needs to be regulated.



3 Responses to “The Tragedy of the Internet Commons”

  1. bay222013 Says:

    It is true that privacy online is a concern and many has become victims of this saga. Facebook is one social media that exposes people to the core. Just think about a long lost friend and go and Facebook. One is likely to find him/her, married status, any children, including ages, gender, and number, educational and professional achievements, friends they associate with among others. We do not always quantify the staggering amount of information others can learn about us on these social network until we start to search on someone else. Another privacy dilemma online is child pornography and bullying which has claimed the lives of your teenagers in terms of suicide. It is sad to know that most people rely on virtual friendship to the detriment of true relationship, and so in time of need, such friends can not give valued and personalised advice as they hardly know their ‘so called friend’. I am gland politicians are prevailing on internet providers to filter some of these messages people receive online, to protect everyone and the youth in particular.

  2. peterezekiel Says:

    This is an interesting post, but it has left me confused. What is the tragedy of the internet commons to you?

    Initially you mention the infrastructure of the internet and issues of access, comparing the internet traffic to a congested highway. I understand this and see this as an issue of development – better infrastructure is needed. Particularly in the more remote parts of our world where access to the wide range of information the internet can provide could be beneficial.

    However, I am not sure I understand your point around privacy as a tragedy of the commons.

    In creating virtual commons online spaces where people can come together and share resources, we have opened ourselves up to a new range of dangers and as the comment above shows, these have very serious implications in the real world.

    Certainly organisations, governments and criminals are all exploiting the lack of regulation and the naivety of internet users. Personal information is at risk. I think the key to this is better education. Those that are using the internet need to understand what it is and how to protect themselves from the risks. And there is certainly a place for better enforcement, particularly around issues of protecting children and other vulnerable users.

    However, to me, privacy is an issue whether online or in the physical world. But my privacy is not a common resource that can be used up – it is mine.

  3. u0950028 Says:

    The point is that while the commons created by the internet need not be bounded, it is a shared environment that must be protected for the benefits of its users. if there is a potential tragedy here, it will be that the internet becomes too unsafe for reliable use. it seems to me of vital importance to fend off such an outcome so the benefit of this commons can be realized by all of humanity.

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