Comparing The Internet’s Arrival To Cars

In a nutshell, we still have a way to go when it comes to knowing what there is to know about the Internet.


In the course of interviewing technologists for my articles, I am lucky to frequently speak with fascinating people. Recently, one of those people was Cees Links, CEO of GreenPeak Technologies, who was kind enough to speak with me even though he had just been released from hospital where he’d spent two weeks following a bad bicycle crash.

He piqued my interest when he compared the arrival of the Internet, now about 25 years old, with the arrival of the automobile. “The first cars saw the light about 200 years ago and it took 100 to 125 years before things like the car I/O was more or less standardized. With this I mean where is the steering wheel, where are the pedals, what are the roles of the pedals, but also it took quite a while before we had rules, regulations and laws in place. It took quite a while before we had insurances in place and the requirements for driver licenses. What is really happening is that we as mankind [create new things] and it’s something that we all like but in the early days we all have to get used to how to deal with it in a safe and secure way — and these things are not implemented overnight. In that way we are looking at the Internet, it’s kind of a new toy for mankind; it’s beautiful – it provides access to information at your fingertips.”

He joked that the current generation of students have pity on us because we had to study without wikipedia and without the internet, but to put it in perspective, along with the arrival of the internet, which is great, of course also the bad side of mankind reveals itself and there are a lot of people who see the internet as an opportunity for abuse in any way, shape or form, so it requires security. What we need to do, what we need to learn in the meantime is: what is the Internet; what are the security risks; how do we manage the security risks; when people have trespassed how do we bring them to court because there are no laws. So, there is a very interesting fabric around Internet and security/privacy where mankind is learning how to deal with it. What happens is the same thing that happens in traffic: there are accidents and there are casualties, and that’s what we are seeing today.”

Links also pointed to a recent report that discussed the number of things that go wrong in the Internet, compared to the growth of the Internet, and it basically shows that the Internet is getting more secure all the time.

But back to the parallel with cars. He said it took one or two generations before mankind could get their arms around the concept of a car, so in some sense, our understanding of the Internet is evolving.

Along with this are the legal issues surrounding the private and protected use of the Internet. While there are a few Acts that are meant to protect privacy, I think many people would argue they are regularly violated. Links continued, “In many Western countries, physical mail is secret, by law. But that law has not been transferred to email, and now you can see where the tricky part starts. The governments are the biggest culprits in reading emails that are supposed to be confidential.”

He added a final interesting point. “If you want to read somebody’s letter, you need a warrant. If you want to enter somebody’s house, you need a warrant. The governments today, there are no privacy laws that tell our own government, if you want to enter my computer, you need a warrant — these laws are just not in place. That’s one of the side effects of what Edward Snowden has been able to show us — there is no privacy and security because government, under the flag of anti-terrorism, has no interest in protecting civilians under the flag of, ‘If you’re an honest person, you don’t need protection.’ We are learning every day about how to deal with this new concept of this thing called the Internet.”