The United Nations will this week talk about how the internet could be better run, but grabbing the wheel remains off the agenda despite US fears.
Fifteen-hundred delegates will head to Azerbaijan to chat about the web and how to ensure it best serves the world's population. The talks will include questions on how, and if, content can be controlled, the future of journalism, and if the spread of the internet impacts intellectual-property rights.
Popular perception is that the internet runs itself, and is best left free from governmental control, but in fact governments are intimately involved in the management of the internet not least because of their own reliance on it. Although the annual Internet Governance Forum has no decision-making capacity it enables everyone involved to exchange experiences and discuss what works best.
Content filtering is a prime example; few companies subscribe to the US model of unlimited free speech. In the UK, for example, most fixed ISPs use the Internet Watch Foundation to block the worst of the worst, and mobile broadband providers block access to pornography until one's age is proven. Many countries worry what unrestricted access to knowledge, as well as the darkest corners of the web, will do to their population.
Another hot topic this year is journalism: what it is and if it needs to be protected in some way. The use of Twitter to spread fake photos of Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath, and a string of lies about power supplies traced to a Republican political consultant having a laugh, demonstrates how citizen journalism can go wrong - but whether anything can be done about it is one of the issues to be discussed.
The IGF is just a talking shop, but one that is available in theory to all even if they can't make it to Azerbaijan: the site should be streaming video from tomorrow until the end of the week, but at time of writing, it has crashed. ®