25th Anniversary Human Rights Shaping the Internet's Future

Future Thinking: Harlem Désir on Freedom of Expression Online

Last year, the Internet Society unveiled the 2017 Global Internet Report: Paths to Our Digital Future. The interactive report identifies the drivers affecting tomorrow’s Internet and their impact on Media & Society, Digital Divides, and Personal Rights & Freedoms. We interviewed two people – the new OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media and an emerging leader from Brazil, an Internet Society 25 Under 25 awardee – to hear their different perspectives on the forces shaping the Internet’s future: Harlem Désir and Paula Côrte Real.

Harlem Désir is the Operation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Representative on Freedom of the Media. Prior to his current position, Désir was French Minister of State for European Affairs, attached to the French Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development, and a member of the European Parliament for three consecutive terms from 1999 to 2014.

(You can read Paula Côrte Real’s interview here.)

The Internet Society: What could impact the future of freedom of expression online?

Harlem Désir: There is an ongoing shift under our feet which could result in a less open, global, and free Internet. A combination of factors, including legitimate security concerns in the fight against terrorism or the fight against hate speech and extremism, could lead to disproportionate restrictions on freedom of expression. It comes with a regression of democratic values in some countries and can result in a situation where more states will be shutting down, blocking sites or platforms, filtering content, and throttling access to the Internet.

Such measures are frequently undertaken with the assistance of or following pressure upon Internet intermediaries on the basis of national security or maintaining the public order. Such reasons are often not genuine or restrictions on freedom of expression online are overbroad. In addition, mass and targeted surveillance of online communications has the effect of “chilling” the online expressions of individuals, notably journalists whose communications with their sources ought to remain confidential as a matter of international and European law, as well as others, such as members of vulnerable groups including LGBTI communities. Finally, journalists, bloggers and other communicators online, particularly if they are female, are increasingly subject to online abuse and harassment, which puts pressure on them to self-censor and distorts democratic debate.

What are the responsibilities of social networks to protect/promote digital rights?

The defence and the promotion of freedom of expression on the Internet, including through social media, has become one of the most important activities of my office. All actors, including Internet intermediaries, have a responsibility to protect fundamental human rights. The distribution of and access to information depend now for most citizens on very few actors like Facebook and Google. These organizations hold a huge power of distribution of information and content. Within a few years, intermediaries have become gatekeepers to the exercise of fundamental human rights, like freedom of expression and information in the online space. Reportedly, Facebook deletes tens of thousands posts per week. This is very concerning and leads to a key question: how safe is media freedom in the hands of intermediaries, when there is limited transparency on the rules and procedures?

At minimum, Internet intermediaries, including social media companies, ought to adopt clear and transparent policies (such as terms of service and community guidelines) and information for how they will be implemented so that individuals can reasonably foresee whether their content is likely to be edited or removed or otherwise affected, or user data is likely to be collected, retained, or passed to law enforcement authorities. Furthermore, such intermediaries should also respect minimum due process guarantees by notifying users when their (the users’) content is taken down or otherwise affected, giving them opportunities to challenge such actions. Finally, Internet intermediaries should support fact-checking initiatives, in cooperation with media organisations, for instance.

How do policymakers balance “competing” rights online, such as protecting citizens, while promoting digital rights?

Policymakers should properly balance “competing” objectives online – notably, freedom of expression on the one hand, and security, equality, and the fight against hate speech on the other – just as they should do offline. This means that any restrictions on freedom of expression online should be provided by law, genuinely serve a legitimate interest, and be necessary in a democratic society. At the same time, there should be a public policy framework for pluralism and equality, the promotion of intercultural understanding by the state, as well as other actors including the media.

How do you see emerging technologies, such as IoT or AI, impacting freedom of expression

Artificial intelligence can pose formidable challenges to freedom of expression, including access to information. It poses questions pertaining to the issue of due process and transparency as we are already observing with reliance on algorithms on social media platforms.

What are your hopes for the future of the Internet? What are your fears?

My hope is that we can successfully defend a global, open and interoperable Internet, and ensure universal access to Internet. My fear is that the Internet as the greatest ever public forum for the exercise of freedom of expression and access to information will be limited and made more exclusive, depending on such factors as which state one lives, how much money one has and one’s identity. I am most fearful of threats to the principle of net neutrality and also to the rights of certain groups – women, minorities, and LGBTI individuals in particular.

What do we need to do today to ensure freedom of expression in the future?

Freedom of expression seems to be pitted against security interests and the wellbeing of our societies in how states frame public policy choices. First, we need to reject the notion that freedom of expression and human rights are detrimental to the security of our societies. I believe the opposite: freedom of expression and human rights positively contribute to security and other interests in our societies. This is also the comprehensive security concept of the OSCE since the adoption of Helsinki Final Act in 1975. We must advocate and raise public awareness of the importance of freedom of expression – for democracy, for finding the best answers to society’s most pressing challenges, for individuals’ and societies’ self-realisation. Second, we must hold states to account for imposing illegitimate and unnecessary restrictions on freedom of expression online. Third, we must urge Internet intermediaries to be more transparent about their approaches to taking down content online and also about the nature of their relationships with states.

What do you think the future of the Internet looks like? Explore the 2017 Global Internet Report: Paths to Our Digital Future to see how connectivity might transform media and societies across the globe, then choose a path to help shape tomorrow.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the Internet Society.
Photo: OSCE/Micky Kroell


25th Anniversary Human Rights Shaping the Internet's Future

Future Thinking: Paula Côrte Real on Freedom of Expression Online

Last year, the Internet Society unveiled the 2017 Global Internet Report: Paths to Our Digital Future. The interactive report identifies the drivers affecting tomorrow’s Internet and their impact on Media & Society, Digital Divides, and Personal Rights & Freedoms. We interviewed two people – the new OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media and an emerging leader from Brazil, an Internet Society 25 Under 25 awardee – to hear their different perspectives on the forces shaping the Internet’s future: Harlem Désir and Paula Côrte Real.

Paula Côrte Real is a 24-year-old Brazilian who hopes to help create a safe and secure Internet experience for Brazil’s youth through her involvement in several youth engagement programs. One of those, led by the Commission of Information Technology Law from the Brazilian Bar Association in Pernambuco, helps students learn how to protect themselves while using the Internet. It also tackles current issues such as cyberbullying and cyberstalking. To date, the project has reached approximately 2,000 public school students between the ages of 15 and 18. In 2017, she was awarded the Internet Society’s 25 under 25 award for making an impact on her community and beyond.

(You can read Harlem Désir’s interview here.)

The Internet Society: What could impact the future of freedom of expression online?

Paula Côrte Real: As the Internet evolves and more and more people go online, it becomes increasingly tricky to protect and preserve freedom of expression online. What I fear most is people not being able or willing to express themselves online because of fears of surveillance and related censorship. Surveillance has a chilling effect on what people say online. Another concern I have is related to hate speech and a tendency to justify hate speech with the right to freedom of expression.

I believe the Internet is a mirror of society. Everything we experience offline, including the problems, we also have online. At the same time, we also have to remember that people are more likely to be aggressive when they are hiding behind a keyboard and a screen. We can’t blame the Internet or some platform for hate speech and other challenges online as it derives from offline contexts. Therefore, instead of tackling hate speech and other infringements of human rights in an online context alone, I think we have to address the root causes of the problem.

What are the responsibilities of social networks to protect/promote digital rights?

This is a complicated question, as we can’t say platforms don’t have any responsibility. They need to create a safe environment for their users and they sometimes try to do this with their terms of service. Most importantly, especially where fake news is concerned, I think we should work on building users’ media literacy and critical thinking skills. We have to make sure that people learn to check their sources and to be more critical about what they read and spread online. But this is difficult to achieve as even people with a formal education sometimes have a hard time identifying fake news. And in a developing country context, it’s also difficult to convince governments to spend money on developing these skills when there are other interests, priorities and difficulties.

How do policymakers balance “competing” rights online, such as protecting citizens while promoting digital rights?

In Brazil we managed this quite well with the Marco Civil [da Internet], which is basically a digital civil rights law. It was initially proposed in response to a proposed cybercrime bill, which would have criminalized certain simple online activities. I really think this is a good approach because you can’t just start criminalizing online activities without enabling rights and educating citizens if you want to realize the positive potential of the Internet for rights and freedom.  On the other hand, we have had some problems applying the law. It requires a change of mindset – also by judges – to understand that we now live in an information society in which we are all connected. But we’ll get there, I hope.

How do you see emerging technologies, such as IoT or AI, impacting freedom of expression?

I’m not a pessimist, but I think we need to be aware of what can happen to our freedoms because of new technologies. Again, these technologies will only reflect what we see in society in any case. The nature of AI and other technologies depends on the data we use to code and create it. Issues related to gender discrimination, violence, and other biases will be copied in algorithms that enable the technology. If you just use algorithms to reproduce what is in society, you will just reinforce every little problem that we already have. New technology might therefore offer a lot of benefits, but only if we use the tools in the right way. We need to make sure technologies like AI are being built and used for good purposes and not bad.

What are your hopes for the future of the Internet? What are your fears?

My biggest hope is that we will use the Internet and technology for good to ensure that people can shape their own futures. That people will be provided with the required skills to use technology for good; to understand how the Internet can help them and improve their lives and improve things around them. I am happy to see so many projects of my new friends in the Internet Society’s 25 under 25 focused on social entrepreneurship. This makes me hopeful that we as young leaders can really work on shaping the future and improving people’s lives through technology.

My biggest fear is that technology will evolve in a way that only makes digital divides bigger. Not only in terms of access and getting more people online, but also in terms of creating an even bigger gap between developed and developing countries. I fear that the people who don’t have the necessary rights and skills to fully benefit from technology will be left even further behind. As the world evolves and technology becomes more central to societies, people who aren’t part of it will fall further behind. Even if people have access to the Internet but they don’t have the relevant skills, they will fall behind.

What do we need to do today to ensure freedom of expression in the future?

If I was to do just one thing, it would be to work on guaranteeing that people feel safe when they use the Internet and be able to trust it – especially women.

What do you think the future of the Internet looks like? Explore the 2017 Global Internet Report: Paths to Our Digital Future to see how connectivity might transform media and societies across the globe, then choose a path to help shape tomorrow.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the Internet Society.
Photo: Tsutsumida Pictures

25th Anniversary About Internet Society

Reflections on the Internet’s Past

Earlier this year, as part of the Internet Society’s 25th anniversary celebration, we asked you to share your memories of the early Internet. As we look forward to the new year, it’s fun to read through the stories and look back at where we started.

One of the earliest memories was from Stanford University.

I got my first Arpanet email account in 1978.

[By 1985] All the graduate students and professors had accounts, and there was a campus Ethernet, Macs were being integrated into the network via AppleTalk (print and file sharing services)… Also, beyond email we had ftp servers that served shareware and USENET to help with sysadmin problems. Much of the networking software and hardware was developed on campus, including the AppleTalk gateways (Kinetics) and routers (early Cisco protoypes).

There was also this dose of funny reality from nearly ten thousand kilometers away, in Moscow:

I had remote data connection more than 26 years ago, in 1991. We had so called dial up modem connection via telephone PSTN pre-analogue PBX- the step-by-step switch.

It was toooooo extremely long.

Another member shared this memory from INET ’93 San Francisco:

…among the papers and presentations one which drew the largest crowd was the presentation on the World Wide Web by Tim Berners-Lee et al. This was the first large scale demonstration of WWW anywhere I believe and prior to its rapid adoption. It drew the biggest crowd – and I do remember a number of comments that it would never take off because it was too slow!

At about the same time – and in spite of the slow speed – early web documentation was undertaken.

I created a “Navigating the Internet” course book… I specifically remember the one page I had on what we would come to call simply the “Web”. It talked about how you had to telnet to and then could navigate around the screen by pressing the number that appeared next to each “link”… I had a small screenshot of what the screen looked like.

But a connected world was much more than novelty. For those in remote regions, it was an affordable way to connect to others – and offered a glimpse into how this emerging technology could transform communities.

1996. This new fangled thing called electronic mail. That island was Rarotonga, the capital of the Cook Islands, a place you’ve never heard of. The email service was run out of the corner office of an electrical store, with the ESP (Email Service Provider) making an overseas call to the nearest ISP, in New Zealand 3,100 kilometres to the south west. Oh, how we looked forward to that once-a-day upload and download of email packets!

Cook Islanders were early adopters, getting email services months, years ahead of family and friends in New Zealand, our closest trading and cultural partner. Not so much because we loved technology, especially, more because faxes were a minimum of USD$2 a page, at a time when people barely earnt that an hour. Phone calls overseas cost that much a minute, and more. By comparison, a 20 cent charge per email was an absolute bargain.

A member from Cameroon shared the exuberant, “I still remember my first PING!”

I began using the Internet in 2000 and I was very intrigued by the email system and the Web… I remember spending half of my allowance in cyber cafés, checking out all I could on the Internet.

I never stopped learning online!

Want to learn more about the early days of the Internet? Explore the Internet Society’s History of the Internet.

In 2016, the Internet Society launched an initiative to identify the uncertainties and factors that will shape the future of the Internet. Explore the 2017 Internet Society Global Internet Report: Paths to Our Digital Future.

Image ©Tsutsumida Pictures

25th Anniversary Growing the Internet Women in Tech

Let’s Make the Internet Safe for All

Imagine you’re at the starting line of a race, excited about the opportunity that awaits you when you complete the course. The starting pistol is fired and you try to take off, but instead of soaring with the other runners, you stumble. You look down to see that someone has slashed your shoelaces. As you crouch down to try to fix them, you see the others gain distance ahead of you.

This is the reality for many women who use the Internet. The technology is the same and its potential is the same for men and women. But when women go online, there are barriers to access and safety that men do not experience. While men might worry about identity theft or a virus, women – along with trans and non-binary users – are navigating a minefield of sexualized harassment, whether they’re on a dating site, gaming, or using social media. The sexual violence women are exposed to in the physical world translates to the online space.
According to a 2017 survey from Pew Research Center, women and men experience and view online harassment very differently. The survey found that, while 41 percent of Americans have experienced online harassment, women experience sexualized harassment at much higher rates than men. Women are also more likely to report that the emotional impact of the harassment is more damaging, and to view online harassment as a serious issue. Seventy percent of women said they thought online harassment was a major problem while only 54 percent of men said the same.

Meanwhile, a 2016 study out of Australia found that harassment of women was becoming “an established norm in our digital society,” especially for young women. Seventy-six percent of women under the age of 30 reported that they had experienced abuse online, with the harassment ranging from unwanted contact, trolling, cyberbullying, sexual harassment, and rape and death threats. This risk is increased for women and trans people of color, who are subject to racialized harassment on top of the genders abuse.

That reality is reflected in the way women are innovating online. One need only look at the Internet Society’s 25 Under 25 awardees – young people who are using the Internet to make a positive impact on their communities and the world – to see that innovation. While many of the young men’s projects tackle problems like fake news, stampedes, or traffic accidents – worthy and important, for sure – many of the women’s projects focus on making digital and physical spaces safe and equitable for people marginalized by gender. There are projects fighting revenge porn, teaching girls to code, providing sexual health information, and connecting women to healthcare.

“I was a victim of online harassment, receiving kidnapping and rape threats,” says Linda Patiño, a 25 Under 25 awardee who uses information and communications technology to promote gender equality and Internet safety in Colombia. She began this work after her own experiences, when she realized that other women likely didn’t have the tools or knowledge to respond to digital violence. “I entered this world so other girls know they are not alone. We are creating things to help them get through this,” she says. Paula Côrte Real, a 25 Under 25 awardee whose work in Brazil helps educate young people about the dangers of revenge porn and digital harassment, says that the responsibility for safety of users should be shared by the platforms themselves. “Terms of use are so huge that people are unable to comprehend them,” she says. “We need to be teach users how they can protect themselves while they’re online. We should empower the user.”

The innovations women are making in digital spaces are often overlooked or downplayed in favor of flashier projects, but it’s worth recognizing that many of these changemakers are using technology to solve the problems they face — often rooted in their marginalized gender — and that their work is just as important.

The Internet Futures Report touched on this reality, too. The Digital Divides are evident not only in the way women use the Internet, but in whether they’re even granted access to it in certain places, and how safe they are to navigate it once they’re online. “Boys have privilege more than girls,” says Kate Ekanem, a 25 Under 25 awardee who provides online literacy to young girls in Nigeria. “I started talking to other girls, our brothers were preferred, we were less human. I was 18 and I started to teach girls how to code, I trained myself. When I sit at my computer, I feel so powerful.”

Kate’s story demonstrates something extraordinary: Access begets access. The girls who are learning to code from her will be the next generation’s changemakers.

When women have a voice at all stages – from policy to design to implementation to content creation – we can start to see a world in which the Internet is truly open to all.

Want to make a difference? Join SIG Women, which aims to “promote a global neutral space that works towards the involvement of women in technology and contributes to reducing the gender gap in the field.”

Got a great idea to close tech’s gender gap? Apply for funding through Beyond The Net.

Celebrate some of the brilliant and gutsy women who are making the Internet a safer and more trusted place.

25th Anniversary

The Future Is Limitless

In September 2017, the Internet Society celebrated its 25th anniversary in Los Angeles. Here are the stories of some who are using the Internet to shape tomorrow. 

“I made my first computer program at 18 and it felt like I had a new superpower.”

To get to the buzzing banquet hall where Akah Harvey N stands, filled with Internet pioneers, visionaries, and trailblazers, requires navigating the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) Athletics Hall of Fame. Glass cases featuring old sequined spirit uniforms and uniforms worn by Jackie Robinson (the first athlete to letter in four sports at the university) line the way to the room where people from around the world are seated at tables, excitedly chatting away.

Harvey N is at the front of the room, speaking into the microphone like he belongs there. And that’s because he does. The 25-year-old from Cameroon is in Los Angeles, California to be recognized as one of the Internet Society’s 25 Under 25 – young people who are using the Internet as a force for good. Harvey N and his team of engineers developed Traveler, an app that can predict and detect motor vehicle accidents. Along with providing real time information on how a car is driving, the app can connect to emergency response services in the case of an accident. He’s an honored guest alongside some of the biggest names in the history of the Internet, people he’s never met before today and who are being inducted into the Internet Hall of Fame.

For perhaps the very first time, the past and future of the Internet are in one room.

This is the 25th anniversary celebration of the Internet Society, and a bridging of generations of changemakers. For perhaps the very first time, the past and future of the Internet are in one room. On one end of the spectrum are the people who created the technology we use today, the nitty gritty building blocks required to make the Internet work. At the other end are the young people like Harvey N, who are taking that technology out into the world and using it to create change in ways its originators never could have imagined.

The Internet Society has brought these two groups of people together – gathered them from all over the world – to paint a full picture of this technology that we use every day. The people who are passionate about the technology itself get to meet the people who are passionate about what that technology is capable of doing. In a very real way, these people who changed the world get to see just how much – to have a tangible understanding and vision of the impact their work has had on the current generation of people who are using it.

It is not often that the entire history of anything is in a room together.

What these two groups have in common is a vision of the world in which anything is possible, an ability to move beyond what exists and to imagine what could be.  They share an enthusiasm for a world with boundless possibilities, one where they see a problem and envision a solution. And they all had the wherewithal to make it happen.

It is not often that the entire history of anything is in a room together. It is special. Everyone here understands this and the electric chatter that fills the room makes it clear. The other thing that is clear: people are at the center of this infinite web of networks and routers and fiber optic cables. People built this network from nothing and now they are expanding it at lightning speed.

The Internet Hall of Fame was started by the Internet Society in 2012. It is a virtual museum that recognizes the pioneers of the Internet, the people who brought this indispensable technology to life. The thing about the Internet is that most everyone knows that email is routed using domain names, but most people would be hard pressed to tell you whose idea it was in the first place. The answer, attendees to this year’s Internet Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony learned, is Craig Partridge, who described his experience as “being the guy who found a bug and, therefore, was tasked with trying to fix it.” Partridge expressed a humility heard often at our anniversary gathering, and one that was essential to the early days of the Internet. Dr. Douglas Van Houweling, 2014 Internet Hall of Fame inductee, described it by saying, “We figured out that you could get a lot accomplished if you didn’t care about taking credit.”

From its inception, the Internet has been about community. It’s been about people from all over the world working together to build something bigger than themselves. When he got up to the podium to give his induction speech, innovator Alan Emtage, who conceived and implemented Archie – the first search engine – said it was a conscious decision not to patent it because it would inhibit people’s ability to develop the technology further. “It was done in the spirit of collaboration,” he said. “Without that spirit of altruism, the Internet would not exist.”

…the spirit of altruism that led to creditless collaboration to build the Internet can all-too-easily become an erasure of history.

While accepting his Lifetime Achievement Award, Steve Crocker shared that the first slogan for the ARPANET – a precursor to what we know as the Internet today – was “a network to bring people together.” That spirit has continued today, as the 25 Under 25 use the technology to bridge gaps, make change, and build community. But as the Internet has become mainstream, reaching over 50% penetration worldwide, the spirit of altruism that led to creditless collaboration to build the Internet can all-too-easily become an erasure of history. That’s where the Internet Hall of Fame comes in, giving credit where credit is due and providing a catalogue of the trailblazers of the technology that changed the world and built a society.

In Los Angeles, where the Internet Hall of Fame and 25 Under 25 award ceremonies took place, that history came face-to-face with the future. Ash Ball, a 25 Under 25-er from Australia was all-too-aware of the fact that he was among the greats. “I’ve only experienced the world with the Internet,” the 23-year-old who has launched an anti-cyberbullying youth movement said. “The job I get to do every day is because you created a platform that allows kindness and change to flourish.”

The Internet Society was created in 1992 by Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn with the express purpose of fostering collaboration, facilitating the technical evolution of the Internet, and educating and advocating on its behalf. At the time, says Cerf, the scientific field no longer wanted to use funds on Internet research. But these pioneers recognized that it was technology worthy of and requiring documentation and tracking.

When the Internet Society was started, its founders would have had no way of knowing what the organization would accomplish, or where the Internet would one day go. But creation of anything is like that; you unleash an idea into the world and then let go of control over what others do with it. The pioneers of the Internet did envision it as a way for networks of computers – and people – to communicate with each other. But could they have foreseen the kinds of social networks and global communication structures that users and developers would one day implement? Who could have?

“The Internet has always surprised us in its application,” says Dr. Leonard Kleinrock, Distinguished Professor of Computer Science at the UCLA School of Engineering and Applied Science, one of the pioneers of the Internet, and a member of the Internet Hall of Fame.

“You don’t realize just how subversive some of this stuff was.”

Despite the fact that these young people use the Internet in various capacities every day – from coding and building apps to creating economic platforms and providing educational materials – many of them did not know the history of these networks. Their trip to Los Angeles allowed them to be honored for the incredible work they are doing in their own communities, but also gave them the opportunity to meet the people who came before them.

The technology developed underground, simply because people were passionate about it. The Internet was not spearheaded by large institutions; instead, it was young visionaries who saw the potential for these networks of communication to exist. “You don’t realize just how subversive some of this stuff was,” said Emtage. “We did not get support, the powers that be did not understand. A lot of this work was done under the radar until it got to the point that they couldn’t stop it anymore.”

But Kleinrock argues that’s still the case. He says that most new technology is pioneered by underground communities in dark corners of the Internet. A good example of this, he says, is blockchain technology. It’s an example of how the people who seek to use the Internet for good can do lots of great work, but there will always be people who want to use that technology for nefarious purposes. What matters is whether that technology can be reclaimed, and the good parts of the technological advances be applied to wider applications.

Radwa Hamed Soliman, one of the honorable mention recipients for the 25 Under 25, acknowledged this when she spoke. The Egyptian is providing sustainable employment opportunities for refugees through her platform, Planet Home. Speaking to the room full of visionaries, she said, “You’ve been fighting the resistance to change for 25 years. It’s a constant.” But she also thanked the people who came before for “creating something that dropped borders.”


“The digital divide is evolving.”

The Internet Society continues to explore the places where borders still exist. It launched the 2017 Internet Society Global Internet Report: Paths to Our Digital Future during the 25th anniversary celebration. The interactive report examines how the global Internet community views the key forces of change that will drive the future evolution of the Internet. One of those key forces is the “digital divide” – the people and places where access is limited. These divides are not easy to fix. For example, in a remote county without an Internet connection, simply installing a connection will not fix the divide. Because there also exists a gap in terms of technology literacy, understanding of how to use systems, and how to utilize the technology once access is established.

“The digital divide is evolving,” says Sally Wentworth, Vice President of Global Policy at the Internet Society. “We still have gaps in access, but other kinds of divides are starting to emerge – people who have access but don’t have the skills to leverage access, people who have access but don’t have economic opportunities to do anything with that access, a security divide of people who have resources or skills to protect themselves online and those who do not.”

But we know that we cannot bridge these divides on our own. And that’s where many of the young changemakers come in. A common theme among their projects is utilizing the Internet to bridge economic or educational gaps within their communities. For example, Asha Abbas started an online platform called AuraTeen where teenagers in her native Tanzania can access information about sexual health. Jazmin Fallas Barr is helping lift families in her hometown of Desamparados, Costa Rica out of poverty with the web-based marketplace she created for local women to sell their crafts. And Kate Ekanem is teaching girls to code, working to close the gender gap in Nigeria. “When I sit down at my computer, I just feel so powerful,” she says.

Behind these projects are real people who have been helped by the vision and innovation these young folks have created. Abbas’ AuraTeen draws hundreds of people to its seminars and hopes to reach 100,000 girls in the next five years. Ekanem has trained thousands of girls to code and has touched the lives of over 5,000 girls in Nigeria, giving them access to life-changing skills that can provide them with autonomy and independence that they might otherwise not be able to achieve.

These are people who have done extraordinary things…You can, too.

Both Abbas and Ekanem are people who looked to their own lives and saw a gap in services for people like them, so they created what they needed. The same thing can be said for each one of the 25 Under 25; taken together, their works have impacted perhaps millions of people around the world. Each day, their work and the work of countless others multiplies itself in a widening circle of lives touched – and lives changed.

Their stories show an unwavering commitment to solving an identified problem and a passion for using the Internet to shape tomorrow in their communities. This is the same commitment that motivated young innovators, pioneers, and connectors to imagine the Internet more than 40 years ago.

The Internet is and always has been a platform that gives everyday people the ability to respond to challenges in their own communities. Anyone who wants to can take the future into their own hands and Shape Tomorrow, just like the 25 Under 25 have. These are people who have done extraordinary things, but they are no different than anyone else. They are people who wanted to make the world a better place, and they did. You can, too.

The democratization of power and platform is one aspect of the Internet that makes it capable of producing large-scale change. Ensuring that everyone in all global communities has access to that platform is crucial – so is maintaining an Internet that allows anyone to use it. This means closing the divides to access, making sure that the Internet remains open and secure, and closing the gender gap.

“I think women should be empowered and given tools they can use to support themselves,” says Fallas Kerr. She’s doing her part to ensure that’s the case. She says, “I have big dreams. People said to me, ‘You can’t do it.’ But I believe I can, and you can, too.”

If there was one theme that stood out at the Internet Society’s 25th Anniversary celebration, it is the more things change, the more they stay the same. While accepting his Lifetime Achievement Award, Crocker described the early days of the Internet as “a field of dreams.” For the next generation of innovators, it still is.

It is up to each one of us to decide what kind of impact we want to have on the world, and we can use the Internet to get there. The future is limitless.

“This thing called the Internet gets more special the more I learn about it,” 17-year-old Nilay Kulkarni from India said. The self-taught programmer used his skills to build a program to prevent human stampedes, a common risk in his home country.  “What I want to know is where this is going. It really is going to be mindblowing.”

Ready to use the Internet to change the world? Learn what you can do!

All photos ©Tsutsumida Pictures

25th Anniversary Economy Events

What will it take? Building a future so the Internet brings opportunity to Europe.

Wondering how the Internet will impact your future in Europe? You’re not the only one.

We are only beginning to understand the full value that the Internet can bring to tomorrow’s world.

So how can we make certain the Internet of the tomorrow will help to do things like create jobs, ensure every citizen has access to municipal services, and close the divide between urban and rural areas?

A series of global talks now known as the Internet Society’s Regional Internet Development Dialogues are intended to help answer those questions and more.

The next one is in Brussels, Europe on November 7th 2017 and you’re invited:

Internet of Opportunity: Will the Internet Benefit all Europeans?

By bringing together people from very different backgrounds, these dialogues are meant to create a way for people to hear views and opinions outside of their comfort zone – and also to build understanding and unexpected partnerships.

The full day event, which is open to everyone who feels they have a stake in the Internet’s future, will bring together policy and decision makers, business leaders, and Europeans who want to make sure people can build a prosperous future.

Now is your chance to tell some of Europe’s leading decision makers how you would use the Internet to build a stronger digital economy.

Join us at the 2017 European Regional Internet and Development Dialogue.

Here’s how.

In Person

Tuesday, 07 November 2017
09:00 – 18:30
CEPS Conference Room
Place du Congrès 1 – 1000 Brussels



There’s no doubt about it, the Internet will promote drastic shifts across all sectors of the future Internet economy. All parts of society – from local communities to education systems, healthcare, and public services – will have to adapt to the pace of change. How that happens is up to each of us.

Help us Shape Tomorrow and create a digital future where humanity is at the centre of Europe’s digital future.

Read the CEPS paper that will be launched and debated at RIDD.

25th Anniversary Artificial Intelligence Internet of Things (IoT)

How Governments Can Be Smart about Artificial Intelligence

The French MP and Fields medal award winner, Cédric Villani, officially auditioned Constance Bommelaer de Leusse, the Internet Society’s Senior Director, Global Internet Policy, last Monday on national strategies for the future of artificial intelligence (AI). In addition, the Internet Society was asked to send written comments, which are reprinted here.

Practical AI successes, computational programs that actually achieved intelligent behavior, were soon assimilated into whatever application domain they were found to be useful […] Once in use, successful AI systems were simply considered valuable automatic helpers.”

Pamela McCorduck, Machines Who Think: A Personal Inquiry into the History and Prospects of Artificial Intelligence

AI is not new, nor is it magic. It’s about algorithms.

“Intelligent” technology is already everywhere – such as spam filters or systems used by banks to monitor unusual activity and detect fraud – and it has been for some time. What is new and creating a lot of interest from governments stems from recent successes in a subfield of AI known as “machine learning,” which has spurred the rapid deployment of AI into new fields and applications. It is the result of a potent mix of data availability, increased computer power and algorithmic innovation that, if well harnessed, could double economic growth rates by 2035.

So, governments’ reflection on what good policies should look like in this field is both relevant and timely. It’s also healthy for policymakers to organise a multistakeholder dialogue and empower their citizens to think critically about the future of AI and its impact on their professional and personal lives. In this regard, we welcome the French consultation.

Our recommendations

I had a chance to explain the principles the Internet Society believes should be at the heart of AI norms, whether driven by industry or governments:

  • Ethical considerations in deployment and design: AI system designers and builders need to apply a user-centric approach to the technology. They need to consider their collective responsibility in building AI systems that will not pose security risks to the Internet and its users.
  • Ensure interpretability of AI systems: Decisions made by an AI agent should be possible to understand, especially if they have implications for public safety or result in discriminatory practices.
  • Empower users: The public’s ability to understand AI-enabled services, and how they work, is key to ensuring trust in the technology.
  • Responsible deployment: The capacity of an AI agent to act autonomously, and to adapt its behaviour over time without human direction, calls for significant safety checks before deployment and ongoing monitoring.
  • Ensure accountability: Legal certainty and accountability has to be ensured when human agency is replaced by the decisions of AI agents.
  • Consider social and economic impacts: Stakeholders should shape an environment where AI provides socioeconomic opportunities for all.
  • Open Governance: The ability of various stakeholders, whether in civil society, government, private sector, academia or the technical community to inform and participate in the governance of AI is crucial for its safe deployment.

You can read more about how these principles translate into tangible recommendations here.

The audition organised by the French government also showed that the debate around AI is currently too narrow. So, we’d like to propose a few additional lenses to stage the debate about the future of AI in a helpful way.

Think holistically, because AI is everywhere

Current dialogues around AI usually focus on applications and services that are visible and interacting with our physical world, such as robots, self-driving cars and voice assistants. However, as our work on the Future of the Internet describes, the algorithms that structure our online experience are everywhere. The future of AI is not just about robots, but also about the algorithms that provide guidance to arrange the overwhelming amount of information from the digital world – algorithms that are intrinsic to the services we use in our everyday lives and a critical driver for the benefits that the Internet can offer.

The same algorithms are also part of systems that collect and structure information that impact how we perceive reality and make decisions in a much subtler and surprising way. They influence what we consume, what we read, our privacy, and how we behave or even vote. In effect, they place AI everywhere.

Look at AI through the Internet access lens

Another flaw in today’s AI conversation is that much of it is solely about security implications and how they could affect users’ trust in the Internet. As shown in our Future’s report, AI will also influence how you access the Internet in the very near future.

The growing size and importance of “AI-based” services, such as voice-controlled smart assistants for your home, means they are likely to become a main entry point to many of our online experiences. This could impact or exacerbate current challenges we see – including on mobile platforms – in terms of local content and access to platform-specific ecosystems for new applications and services.

Furthermore, major platforms are rapidly organising, leveraging AI through IoT to penetrate traditional industries. There isn’t a single aspect of our lives that will not be embedded in these platforms, from home automation and car infotainment to health care and heavy industries.

In the future, these AI platforms may become monopolistic walled gardens if we don’t think today about conditions to maintain competition and reasonable access to data.

Create an open and smart AI environment

To be successful and human centric, AI also needs to be inclusive. This means creating inclusive ecosystems, leveraging interdependencies between universities that can fuel business with innovation, and enabling governments to give access to qualitative and non-sensitive public data. Germany sets a good example: Its well-established multistakeholder AI ecosystem includes the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI), a multistakeholder partnership that is considered a blueprint for top-level research. Industry and Civil Sociey sit on the board of the DFKI to ensure research is application and business oriented.

Inclusiveness also means access to funding. There are many ways for governments to be useful, such as funding areas of research that are important to long term innovation.

Finally, creating a smart AI environment is about good, open and inclusive governance. Governments need to provide a regulatory framework that safeguards responsible AI, while supporting the capabilities of AI-based innovation. The benefits of AI will be highly dependent on the public’s trust in the new technology, and governments have an important role in working with all stakeholders to empower users and promote its safe deployment.

Learn more about Artificial Intelligence and explore the interactive 2017 Global Internet Report: Paths to Our Digital Future.

Take action! Send your comments on AI to Mission Villani and help shape the future.

25th Anniversary Human Rights Women in Tech

Our Fellows Speak: “The Internet of the Future is Feminist“

The Internet Society invited four fellows from Latin America to the Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa 2017, which was held 27-29 September in Johannesburg. Two of the fellows, Veronica Vera and Anais Cordova-Paez of the ISOC Ecuador Chapter, shared their focus of work related to Internet freedom.

By Veronica Vera and Anais Cordova-Paez, ISOC Ecuador Chapter

Actions online are equally important toactions offline, which is why talking about freedom in the Internet is talking about human rights. In a world that is reproducing violence in all fields we need to talk about freedom embracing women’s rights; in this point of history seeking freedom is seeking gender equality.

Can we talk about Internet freedom if we don’t think about how we want Internet to be? And what do we have to do to achieve it? This is a conversation we need to have, because violence against women is everywhere, in all dimensions. In the cyberspace, human rights defenders, activists, or any woman who speaks out loud about her rights becomes a target of abuse, cyberstalking, revenge pornography, body shaming, and all kinds of violence that make us realize why it is really important to have a discussion about the principles of the Internet so that these principles respond to our needs.

The Internet must be open, so than women could navigate everywhere they want in the cyberspace and can share information if they want about themselves without risks. Something we need to think around this is how we can manage topics like revenge pornography online without censoring all the other issues related to sex and sexuality, because when you do this you are banning information that is really important for women and girls to exercise their sexual and reproductive rights.

The Internet must be safe, but when we talk about women’s safety online we put a lot of emphasis on what we must do to protect ourselves. This is similar to what happens offline; when a woman is raped, murdered or beaten, society always asks what she did or did not do, the responsibility and debate of violence against women focuses a lot on us and it is important that we start thinking about how we can put the responsibility on society because the safety of women online and offline is not only our issue, change is a collective responsibility. We need to remember that if we can ensure women and girls safety in cyberspace, this guarantees everyone’s safety.

The Internet must be accessible so women and girls around the world can have access to information about their rights without restrictions and without becoming victims of  harassment. The Internet must be participatory, so that women and girls participate in the construction of the policies that govern it.

As said at the Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa 2017, it is necessary to dialog around the Internet we want in Africa, in Latin America, and around the world, because the network that joins us could be a tool for freedom and definitely has to be the tool for communication, for network construction. In this aspect, having the opportunity to sit down, talk, listen and having a reflection on Internet freedom with diverse viewpoints empower us to create together a better future, a truly free Internet, and is a huge step to make the Internet become feminist.

The Internet must be feminist!

Visit the Internet Society’s Internet and Human Rights Resource Center and take action!

25th Anniversary Events Improving Technical Security Internet of Things (IoT) Women in Tech

“Keep those eyebrows up!” – Cybersecurity at the Global Women’s Forum

News of cyberattacks is slowly becoming a new normal. We are still at a stage where high-profile cases, like the recent attack against the American credit reporting company Equifax, in which 145.5 million users had their personal information compromised, raise eyebrows. But we need those eyebrows to stay up because we should never accept cyber threats as the new normal.

This week in Paris, hundreds of leaders met at the Women’s Forum to discuss some of the key issues that will shape the future of a world in transition, including cybersecurity. But this topic is not just a concern for the experts – it’s a concern to all men and women leading any business today.

New risks on the horizon

A recent report by the Internet Society, “Paths to Our Digital Future”, points out that now is a big moment for the Internet. The revolution we already see could accelerate in the coming years, not only due to the increasing digitalization of services and businesses, but also through the expansion of objects being connected to the Internet – the Internet of Things (IoT). By 2020 more than 20 billion “things” could be connected.

Suddenly it’s not only your computer but also your toaster or car that’s online! The convergence of the physical and the digital world promises a whole range of opportunities on the horizon. But in the interconnected communities we live in, cybersecurity becomes increasingly about personal and societal security.

Organisations are only as secure as their weakest link

What this means is that security needs to be everyone’s concern in the management chain. For leaders, cybersecurity must become a strategic priority. Business executives need to ensure that their organisations have the capacity and skills to address online threats – a challenge in itself due to the current deficit of qualified professionals. In fact, some estimates point towards a global shortage of 2 million cybersecurity professionals by 2019, with a stronger gender divide than in any other industry.

Security is not a concern that can be delegated to experts either, hoping that all will be fine. Today there is a psychological barrier among many non-experts who believe that security is something that their IT department is solely responsible for.

This narrow view misses the point that cybersecurity is dependent on a variety of actors – including individuals. The majority of cyber incidents are actually due to human error, through social engineering attacks such as email phishing to an employee, or even the accidental disclosure of private data. This means that basic security practices must be understood by non-experts as well.

Shaping a trustworthy Internet ecosystem

The ecosystem also needs to offer incentives for good behavior. Take the example of data breaches. While they are a risk to both companies and customers, the risks do not align. As we showed in our 2016 Global Internet Report, the organisations that handle customer data may be at reputational or legal risk to a data breach, but they are not likely to bear the same level of costs as the customers or users who may have their data lost or stolen in a breach.

This means we have to shape the ecosystem to better align the risks among users, manufacturers and service providers. While there are several ways to do this, such as clarifying liability laws, a key way is through better security signaling: recognizable, trusted methods for signaling levels of security so that consumers can factor it into their buying habits.

Everyone has a role to play to shape a trustworthy Internet. To secure data and online devices through their lifetimes, The Internet Society offers the Online Trust Alliance’s IoT Trust Framework. But this is only part of the solution. We need to all take into account the risk IoT insecurity poses to users, and the Internet as a whole.

Cybersecurity needs to be everyone’s concern, so keep those eyebrows up!

Watch the “Overcoming our Cyber Insecurity” session from Women’s Forum for the Economy & Society.

25th Anniversary About Internet Society Shaping the Internet's Future

The Internet Society’s 25th Anniversary and the Renewal of Commitment

Last week was a proud and memorable moment for us at the Internet Society as we celebrated our 25th anniversary in Los Angeles. In addition to the well-known Internet Hall of Fame award ceremony and the annual InterCommunity 2017 event, this year’s event also had a dialogue on topics from  the 2017 Internet Society Global Internet Report: Paths to Our Digital Future and introduced the 25 under 25 award ceremony, which celebrated inspiring and remarkable ideas and projects that young and motivated entrepreneurs in the Internet space have initiated.

I was equally, however, touched by the strong drive and energy in the Internet Society leadership and staff, whose efforts and attention to detail have been clearly visible throughout the two-day event. The joyful spirit demonstrated by the Internet Society team at the Brussels interactive node helped ensure that the 15-hour InterCommunity 2017 marathon covering 16 interactive regional nodes was truly a global conversation. Using the Internet to connect those nodes demonstrated one practical application of the Internet to run a global event with precision and high productivity. Furthermore, the positive mood at Brussels appeared to be quite contagious as reflected by the celebrations that took place in at least another 55 celebrations nodes across the globe.

Past, present and future

To me, the anniversary celebration had three major pillars. The Internet Hall of Fame was an opportunity to look back to the past and revisit some of the remarkable work of individuals who contributed to building and advancing the Internet during its early stages. This group of veterans can teach us a lot about the struggles and challenges they faced and overcame to make the Internet what it is today.

The second part was on the present as can be deducted from the interactive and engaging discussions in the various nodes that took place in dozens of countries across the globe. Much of the discussions revolved around regional and local issues that are also connected to global aspects of the Internet. The increasing importance the Internet as a driver of development and progress was emphasised along with the central role that the Internet Society should continue to play in promoting an Internet that is accessible, affordable and works for the benefit of everyone.

The third part dealt with the future and this is where the Internet Society’s Paths to Our Digital Future report reflects upon what many see as challenges and opportunities going forward from Artificial Intelligence to Internet of Things and from increasing concerns about privacy and ethical challenges to the emergence of disruptive technologies built on the Internet such as blockchains and cryptocurrencies. Additionally, the 25 under 25 awardees presented to us a glimpse of how the future may be improved using the Internet for the good of society.

We are all in this together

By following the conversations that took place on Twitter last week regarding the Internet Society’s 25th anniversary celebration and the work it is doing particularly after the recent Internet censorship attempts in Spain’s Catalonia region, we can see how central the Internet Society is to addressing ongoing challenges. I extracted over 37,000 tweets to see that last week’s most used hashtag – as can be shown in the below word cloud – and apart from those to do with the Internet Society’s 25th anniversary was #KeepItOn, which is basically a reference to the Internet Society’s efforts to oppose attempts to restrict Internet access in Catalonia, as demonstrated through the official statement released last week, or elsewhere for that matter.

The most frequently used Twitter hashtags associated with the anniversary


Those calls in support of the Internet Society’s bringing up this issue seem to have come mostly from Catalonia itself though there were also calls from other parts of the world as shown from the location word map below.

Locations of Twitter users who used #KeepItOn in connection to the Internet Society


Twitter users from Lahore, Istanbul, Nepal, USA, and other regions have also supported the Internet Society’s efforts to advocate for keeping the Internet open. To me, this illustrates that limiting Internet access in one part of the world is a threat to Internet everywhere. It is truly a remarkable way to demonstrate one of the phrases that was used at the 25th celebration, namely “We are in this together”.

Further reach, stronger influence

As the Internet continues to grow in importance across the globe, challenges and opportunities will also increase. In this light I believe that the 25th anniversary is an opportunity for the Internet Society to grow and make a stronger impact. It is time to move further into regions that have not yet heard about the Internet Society and its work and and to strengthen its influence in parts where it is well known, particularly in the global south where Internet growth is fastest.

It is indeed time to aggressively pursue the Internet Society’s noble mission of helping connect the unconnected and protecting the rights to access the Internet. Yet one should never abandon the Internet Society’s original mission set forth by the early Internet pioneers to enhance and develop its standards so that it remains an open, strong and resilient network of networks that serves all people no matter where they live.

As we celebrate 25 years of productivity and progress, let us as the Internet Society community, including staff, chapters, members and partners, use this opportunity to renew the commitment to fulfilling the Internet Society’s mission as well as striving to make a bigger positive impact on the world stage. With hard work and dedication, this can happen.

Image: the cake marking the 25th anniversary at the celebration at UCLA

25th Anniversary About Internet Society

Celebrating 25 Years of Advocacy

It’s been a week of jubilation: The Internet Society celebrated 25 years of advocacy for an open, globally-connected, and secure Internet with events that crisscrossed the globe. The festivities kicked off at the University of California Los Angeles campus where in 1969 the first message was sent over ARPANET – the Internet’s predecessor.

On 18 September, the 25 Under 25 award ceremony honored young people around the world for their extraordinary work. Born in the age of the Internet, these everyday heroes are passionate about using it to make a positive impact on their communities. Their projects include connecting people with disabilities to employment opportunities, using AI to identify fake news, and humanizing issues affecting refugees and the LGBT community.

Learn more about the 25 Under 25 awardees

Watch the 25 Under 25 Award Ceremony

Just a few hours later, the 2017 Internet Society Global Internet Report: Paths to Our Digital Future was launched. The interactive report, the result of in-depth interviews, roundtables, and surveys conducted in 160 countries and 21 regions around the world, offers a glimpse into how the future of the Internet might impact humanity. The report encourages you to explore paths to our digital future, asks thought-provoking “What If…” questions, and includes recommendations so that you can help shape tomorrow’s Internet for the better.

Watch the launch and panel discussion

Explore the interactive 2017 Global Internet Report: Paths to Our Digital Future

Later that day, the Internet Hall of Fame ceremony honored the visionaries who have laid the foundation for the Internet as we know it now. The 14 inductees represent 10 countries and were honored as Innovators and Global Connectors for their work pushing the boundaries of technological and social innovation.

Watch the IHOF award ceremony

The IHOF ceremony commenced the Internet Society’s global membership meeting, InterCommunity. Singapore, Beirut, Dakar, Montevideo, and other cities around the world held discussions on the critical factors that will shape the future Internet, including the key findings from the 2017 Global Internet Report. It wrapped up in Los Angeles with a closing roundtable discussion featuring public policy experts, Internet Hall of Fame inductees, and the next generation of Internet leaders.

Feeling inspired? Learn more about the Internet’s everyday heroes and how you can help to Shape Tomorrow.

25th Anniversary

Recognizing Internet visionaries, innovators, and leaders from around the world

As the Internet Society celebrates 25 years of advocacy for an open, globally-connected, and secure Internet, we are honored to recognize some of the trailblazers who have fueled the Internet’s historic growth.

On September 18, the Internet Society gathered to honor the fourth class of Internet Hall of Fame Inductees at UCLA, where nearly 50 years ago the first message was sent over the Internet’s predecessor, the ARPANET.  Over the years, the Internet has evolved thanks to the tireless efforts of individuals, including these inductees, who believed in the potential of an open Internet.

Representing 10 countries, the 14 individuals who comprise the 2017 inductee class are computer scientists, academics, inventors and authors who have advanced the Internet with key technical contributions,  fostered its global reach and increased the general public’s understanding of how it works—in turn accelerating global accessibility and usage among us all.

Ultimately, the success of the Internet depends on the people behind it, and these inductees personify the pioneering spirit of the ‘Innovators’ and ‘Global Connectors’ that have been so instrumental in bringing us this unprecedented technology. They are some of the earliest Internet evangelists and their work has been the foundation for so many of the digital innovations we see today, and for generations to come.

Whether they were instrumental in the Internet’s early design, promoting its use, or expanding its global reach, we all benefit from their commitment and foresight.

Thank you for your work….and congratulations! 

More details on the 2017 Internet Hall of Fame inductees can be found at


  • Jaap Akkerhuis (Netherlands)
  • Yvonne Marie Andrés (United States)
  • Alan Emtage (Barbados)
  • Edward Krol (United States)
  • Tracy LaQuey Parker (United States)
  • Craig Partridge (United States)

Global Connectors

  • Nabil Bukhalid (Lebanon)
  • Ira Fuchs (United States)
  • Shigeki Goto (Japan)
  • Mike Jensen (South Africa)
  • Ermanno Pietrosemoli (Venezuela)
  • Tadao Takahashi (Brazil)
  • Florencio Utreras (Chile)
  • Jianping Wu (China)