Vidéos – ADAM Final Symposium

Cliquez sur l’image pour retrouver les vidéos de la conférence

Vous pouvez désormais retrouver les interventions au colloque final du projet ADAM en vidéo. Effectivement, suite à une captation vidéo, vous retrouverez sur la chaine Dailymotion dédiée au projet ADAM, la plupart des interventions qui ont eu lieu les 2 et 3 octobre 2014 à Mines ParisTech.


You can now watch the different talks of the ADAM final symposium online. All of the conference’s presentation were filmed, and part of the debates is now available on our Dailymotion chanel.



There you will find the presentations of:

Here is the introduction by Cécile Méadel (CSI Mines ParisTech) and two keynote:

ADAM project final symposium – Introduction… par projetADAM

ADAM final Symposium – Keynote #2 Niva Elkin… par projetADAM

ADAM final Symposium – Keynote #5 Geert Lovinck… par projetADAM


>>> see more here:

François Huguet

PhD student in Communication Studies at the Codesign Lab & Media Studies at Telecom ParisTech. Supervisor: Annie Gentès / Co-supervisor: Jérôme Denis

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Production entre pairs, argent et valeur

Le numéro 4 du Journal of Peer Production, sur le thème de l’argent et de la valeur, vient d’être publié. Il est coordonné par Nathaniel Tkacz, Nicolas Mendoza et moi même, et inclut deux contributions par des membres du projet ADAM. Alexandre Mallard, Cécile Méadel et moi explorons le rôle performatif de la connaissance experte dans la construction d’une « confiance distribuée » pour le système de monnaie électronique décentralisé Bitcoin, tandis que Primavera De Filippi, en collaboration avec Miguel Said Vieira de l’université de São Paulo, propose un système de licences plus adaptée à l’économie des communs.

La totalité du numéro est librement disponible ici. Quelques extraits de l’introduction:

« Peer production has often been described as a ‘third mode of production’, irreducible to State or market imperatives. The creation and organisation of peer projects allegedly take place without ‘managerial commands’ or ‘price signals’, without recourse to bureaucratic apparatuses or the logic of competitive markets. Instead, and mimicking the technical architectures upon which many peer projects are based, production is described as non-hierarchical and decentralised. Group dynamics are also commonly described as ‘flat’ and this is captured, of course, in the very notion of the ‘peer’. When tested against the realities of actual projects, however, such early conceptions of peer production are, at best, in need of further elaboration and qualification. At worst, they were always off the mark. Hierarchies persist in peer production, as does competition and market-like arrangements. But perhaps it is the qualities of these new hierarchies and competitive forms that is novel. After all, liberal democracies, dictatorships, corporations, local sports clubs, and families all have their hierarchies but none is reducible to the others.

In the context of earlier understandings of peer production, the question of value and even more of currency has been rather marginal. This issue of the Journal of Peer Production (JoPP) demonstrates that theories and practices of value and currency are moving into the foreground. There has been a veritable explosion of experiments with currency and also a continuing metrics creep in many peer projects and beyond. More fundamentally, though, the question of value and how it circulates through a collective body is central to any mature theory of social organisation. In sociological and economic thought, the historical distinction between ‘values’ and ‘value’ split the non- or at least less-easily-calculable with the seemingly cold and objective world of calculation and universal commensurability. This ‘old settlement’, which never really held, nevertheless helped demarcate the economic from the social. But the intensification and extension of computational processes, manifested most clearly in the rise of big data, has lead to a proliferation of bottom-up procedures to formalise (social) values, rendering them easily calculable and lending order to the decentralised world of peers, but without necessarily replicating capitalistic calculations of value. […]

In this issue we seek to advance the exploration and understanding of how the themes of value and currency intersect peer production. This objective presented a double challenge for the contributors and for us as editors. Indeed, the scholarly articles included in this issue have attempted to provide analytical and theoretically grounded investigations of a world that is, on the one hand, often developing more quickly than the academic publication process can account for in a timely way, and on the other hand, mostly shaped by expert-practitioners. At the same time, these contributions seek to engage not only with scholars of related issues within the academic community, but also with practitioners themselves — who, on their end, have demonstrated a strong interest in this dialogue, as the invited comments section shows. »

Francesca Musiani

Chercheuse postdoctorale, MINES ParisTech Yahoo! Fellow in Residence, Georgetown University

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Call for Papers, Final Symposium of the ADAM project

Call for Papers, Final Symposium of the ADAM project

October 2-3, 2014, MINES ParisTech (Paris, France)


« Reclaiming the Internet » with distributed architectures:

rights, technologies, practices, innovation

The research program ADAM (Distributed Architectures and Multimedia Applications, (1) studies the technical, political, social, socio-cultural and legal implications of distributed network architectures. This term indicates a type of network bearing several features: a network made of multiple computing units, capable to achieve its objective by sharing resources and tasks, able to tolerate the failure of individual nodes and thus not subjected to single points of failure, and able to scale flexibly. Beyond this simplified operational definition, the choice, by developers and engineers of Internet-based services, to develop these architectures instead of today’s widespread centralized models, has several implications for the daily use of online services and for the rights of Internet users.

The final symposium of the ADAM project, open to disciplines as varied as science and technology studies, information and communication sciences, economics, law and network engineering, aims at investigating these implications in terms of a central issue. With the increasingly evident centralization of the Internet and the surveillance excesses it appears to allow, what are the place and the role of the (re-) decentralisation of networks’ technical architectures – at a time when infringements upon privacy and pervasive surveillance practices are often embedded in these architectures? Are distribution and decentralization of network architectures the ways, as Philippe Aigrain suggests (2), to “reclaim” Internet services – instruments of ‘technical governance’ able to reconnect with the original organisation of cyberspace?

Papers presented at the symposium may focus on one or more of the following four axes, although we welcome proposals that do not fully subscribe to them.

  • Back to the origins”? Past and present of distributed architectures. The initial Internet model called for a decentralised and symmetrical organisation – in terms of bandwidth usage, but also of contacts, user relations and machine-to-machine communication. In the 1990s, the commercial explosion of the Internet brings about important changes, exposing the shortcomings – for the network’s usability and its very functioning – of a model presupposing the active cooperation of all network members. Today, in a world of Internet services where fluxes and data converge towards a few giants, experimentations with distributed architectures are seen as a “return to the origins”. But is it really about the dominance of an organizational principle at different times in history – or is there a co-existence of different levels of resource centralisation, hierarchy of powers, and cooperation among Internet users over time? Are we indeed witnessing a “war of the worlds” of which the recent tensions around surveillance are the most recent illustration?
  • (Re-) decentralisation, a sustainable alternative for the Internet ‘ecology’? The technical features of distributed architectures (direct connections, resistance to failure) and their ability to support the emergence of organisational, social and legal principles (privacy, security, recognition of rights) offer new paths of exploration and preservation of the Internet’s balance. At the same time, the road towards decentralisation is far from linear. The users behind the P2P nodes can assemble in collectives that are very varied in nature, complexity and underlying motivations. This variety may be dependent upon modes of aggregation, visibility devices, types of communication tools and envisaged business models (as well as the difficulty of identifying sustainable ones). Having programmed the infrastructures with the idea that the most part of users’ online activities consist in downloading data and information from clusters of servers, network access providers raise economic objections to P2P models. Finally, developers-turned-entrepreneurs themselves often need to revisit the choice of decentralisation, because of unexpected user practices, the impossibility of making distributed technology “easy” for the public, or the seductive simplicity of centralized infrastructures and economic models.
  • Decentralisation and distribution of skills, rights, control. How does distributed architecture redefine user skills, rights, capacities to control? How can law support user practices and their diversity, instead of countering them? The decentralisation of Internet services raises several issues at the crossroads of law and technology. What are the differences if compared to centralized architectures, non-modifiable by users, where data are stored on clusters of servers exclusively controlled by service providers? From the viewpoint of user empowerment, what are the consequences of introducing encryption, file fragmentation, sharing of disk space in the technical architecture? While “first-generation” P2P networks have affected copyright first and foremost, decentralised Internet-based service prompt us to investigate issues like the redefinition of notions such as creator and distributor, the responsibility of technical intermediaries, the ‘embeddedness’ of law into technical devices.
  • What are the communicational models at stake in decentralised infrastructures and architectures? Distributed Internet services have transformed and transform today the ways in which actors make sense of their communicational capacities and their responsibilities in information sharing. User empowerment, prompted by several P2P services – increasingly mobile, self-configurable and flexible – open innovative perspectives for infrastructures of communication, their functions and their mediation capacities among actors. In what ways does this evolution transform data and communication channels? What are the representations of the values subtending these architectures and the relations among their participants, vis-à-vis other Internet services, but also within the spheres of conception, discussion and circulation of these objects? What are the new forms of contribution and what do they enable in terms of pedagogical practices and shared literacies? Finally, in which ways do distributed infrastructures relate to the notion of ‘informational common good’?

We invite paper proposals in French and/or English, in the form of a 500 to 800 word abstract sent to the address Key dates:

  • Deadline for the sending of abstracts: May 15, 2014 (Please note that the submission deadline for abstracts has been extended to June 5, 2014)
  • Notifications of acceptance sent by the Program Committee: June 6, 2014
  • Deadline for full papers: September 15, 2014
  • ADAM final symposium: October 2-3, 2014

We envisage a collective publication originating from the conference and are looking into different possibilities (edited book or special issue of a journal).

ADAM Project Team and Program Committee of the Symposium

Maya Bacache, Département SES, Télécom ParisTech

Danièle Bourcier, CERSA, CNRS

Primavera De Filippi, CERSA, CNRS

Isabelle Demeure, INFRES, Télécom ParisTech

Mélanie Dulong de Rosnay, ISCC, CNRS

Annie Gentès, CoDesign Lab, Télécom ParisTech

François Huguet, CoDesign Lab, Télécom ParisTech

Alexandre Mallard, CSI, MINES ParisTech

Cécile Méadel, CSI, MINES ParisTech

Francesca Musiani, CSI, MINES ParisTech

(1)  Funded by the French National Agency for Research (ANR), CONTINT (Contents and Interactions) Programme

(2)  Aigrain, P. (2010). “Declouding Freedom: Reclaiming Servers, Services and Data.” In 2020 FLOSS Roadmap (2010 Version/3rd Edition),

Francesca Musiani

Chercheuse postdoctorale, MINES ParisTech Yahoo! Fellow in Residence, Georgetown University

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Appel à communications, Colloque final ADAM

Appel à communications pour le colloque final du projet ADAM

2-3 octobre 2014, MINES ParisTech

 Logo Principal ADAM

Architectures distribuées et réappropriations de l’Internet :

droits, techniques, usages, innovation

Le programme de recherche ADAM – Architecture distribuée et applications multimédias ( (1) étudie les implications techniques, politiques, sociales, socio-culturelles et légales des architectures de réseau distribuées. Ce terme désigne un type de réseau doté d’un certain nombre de caractéristiques : un réseau composé de multiples unités de calcul, capable de réaliser son objectif en partageant ressources et tâches, tolérant la défaillance de nœuds individuels et donc sans point unique d’échec, capable de passer à l’échelle de manière souple. Au delà de cette définition technique simplifiée, le choix, de la part d’ingénieurs et concepteurs des services Internet, de développer ces architectures par rapport aux modèles centralisés très répandus aujourd’hui, a de nombreuses implications pour l’utilisation quotidienne des services en ligne, ainsi que pour les droits des internautes.

Le colloque final du programme ADAM, ouvert à des disciplines variées telles que les Science and technology studies, les sciences de l’information et de la communication, l’économie, le droit et l’ingénierie des réseaux, s’attache à explorer ces enjeux à l’aune d’une question centrale. Avec la centralisation de plus en plus affichée d’internet et les excès de surveillance qu’elle autorise, quelle place et quel rôle joue la (re-) décentralisation des architectures techniques des réseaux, en un moment historique où les atteintes à la vie privée et les pratiques de surveillance sont très souvent inscrites (embedded) dans l’architecture technique ? Les architectures de réseau distribuées et décentralisées sont-elles, comme le suggère Philippe Aigrain (2), des occasions de réappropriation des services Internet – des outils techniques et de gouvernance susceptibles de renouer avec l’organisation originelle du cyberespace ?

Les communications pourront s’articuler autour d’un ou plusieurs des quatre axes de réflexion suivants, mais ne doivent pas forcément s’y conformer.

  • Un « retour aux origines » ? Passé et présent des architectures distribuées. Le modèle initial de l’Internet suppose une organisation décentralisée et symétrique – non seulement en termes de consommation de bande passante, mais aussi en termes de contact, relation et communication entre machines. Au milieu des années 1990, l’explosion commerciale de l’Internet en change radicalement la forme, révélant bientôt les limites – du point de vue du fonctionnement du réseau et de son « usabilité » pour les internautes – d’un modèle qui présuppose une coopération active de tous les membres du réseau. Aujourd’hui, dans un monde de services Internet où les flux et les données convergent vers quelques géants, les expérimentations en matière d’architecture distribuée sont vues comme un retour aux origines. Serait-ce pertinent de considérer ces dynamiques comme co-existence générique de différents niveaux de centralisation des ressources, de hiérarchisation des pouvoirs, et de coopération des internautes plutôt que comme domination d’un principe organisationnel à différents moments de l’histoire ? A-t-on affaire à une « guerre des mondes », dont les tensions autour de la surveillance ne sont que l’illustration la plus récente ?
  • La (re-)décentralisation, une alternative durable pour l’écologie Internet ? Les caractéristiques techniques des architectures distribuées (efficacité, mise en relation directe, tolérance aux pannes) et leur capacité à promouvoir l’émergence de principes organisationnels, sociaux et légaux (sécurité, privacy, reconnaissance de droits) offrent des nouvelles pistes d’exploration et de maintien des équilibres au sein de l’écologie Internet. En même temps, la route vers la re-décentralisation est loin d’être linéaire. Selon les modalités d’agrégation, les dispositifs de mise en visibilité, les outils de communication fournis, et la nature des modèles d’affaire concernés (voir la difficulté à en envisager de durables), les usagers qui constituent les nœuds des systèmes P2P peuvent produire des collectifs très différents dans leur nature, leur extension et leur motivation à s’investir dans les systèmes distribués. Plusieurs fournisseurs d’accès au réseau, ayant programmé leurs systèmes sur l’idée que les usagers passent le plus clair de leur temps en ligne à télécharger données et informations depuis des serveurs centraux, soulèvent des objections de nature économique aux modèles P2P. Enfin, les développeurs eux-mêmes doivent parfois, lors du passage à l’entrepreneuriat, revoir leur choix de décentralisation, face à des appropriations inattendues par les utilisateurs, l’impossibilité de rendre aisée la technologie distribuée au grand public, ou encore la simplicité, séductrice pour le « contrôleur », des modèles d’affaires et des infrastructures centralisé(e)s.
  • Décentralisation et nouvelles répartitions de compétences, autorisations, droits. Comment l’architecture distribuée redéfinit-elle les compétences, la capacité de contrôle, les droits des utilisateurs ? Comment le droit peut-il accompagner les pratiques et leur diversité, au lieu de les contrer ? La décentralisation des services Internet pose de nombreuses questions au croisement entre droit et technique. Quelles sont les différences par rapport aux architectures centralisées que les utilisateurs ne peuvent pas modifier, et dans lesquelles les données sont stockées sur des serveurs centraux détenus par les fournisseurs de services? Quelles sont les implications des emplacements physiques des contenus, des types spécifiques de licences, des procédures de collecte et gestion de données ? En quoi l’introduction dans l’architecture technique d’éléments tels que l’encryptage, la fragmentation des fichiers, la mise à disposition d’espace disque, a-t-elle des conséquences pour l’encapacitation (empowerment) et la montée en compétence des utilisateurs ? Si c’est surtout le droit d’auteur qui a d’abord été chamboulé par les réseaux P2P « première génération », les services Internet décentralisés nous amènent à concentrer notre attention sur des questions telles que la redéfinition des notions de créateur et de distributeur, ou la responsabilité des intermédiaires techniques, l’inscription de l’exécution du droit dans les dispositifs techniques.
  • Quels sont les modèles communicationnels en jeu dans ces nouvelles infrastructures et architectures ? Les services internet  distribués ont transformé et transforment toujours aujourd’hui la façon dont les acteurs se représentent leurs capacités communicationnelles et leurs responsabilités dans le partage de l’information. L’encapacitation des utilisateurs ouverte par nombre de ces services peer-to-peer qui tendent de plus en plus à devenir mobiles, auto-configurables et flexibles dans leurs utilisations et dans les fonctions qu’ils offrent ouvre des perspectives innovantes sur les fonctionnalités des infrastructures de communication et leurs capacités de médiation entre des acteurs. De quelle manière cette évolution transforme-t-elle les données et les canaux d’information ? Comment les valeurs de ces architectures et les relations entre leurs participants sont-elles représentées face aux autres services internet mais également à l’intérieur des sphères où l’on conçoit, discute et fait circuler ces objets ? Quelles sont les nouvelles formes de contribution, Qu’engagent-elles des pratiques pédagogiques et de litératies partagées ? Enfin, de quelles manières ces infrastructures distribuées interrogent-elles la notion de bien commun informationnel ?

Nous sollicitons des propositions de communication en français et en anglais, sous la forme d’un résumé de 500-800 mots, à l’adresse La date limite pour l’envoi des propositions est le 5 juin 2014 et le comité de programme enverra les notifications d’acceptation au plus tard le fin juin 2014. Les articles complets devront nous parvenir au plus tard le 15 septembre 2014 (le colloque ayant lieu à Paris, le 2 et 3 octobre 2014). Des possibilités de publication collective (ouvrage ou numéro spécial d’une revue) seront envisagées par la suite.

Equipe du projet ADAM et comité de programme

Maya Bacache, Département SES, Télécom ParisTech

Danièle Bourcier, CERSA, CNRS

Primavera De Filippi, CERSA, CNRS

Isabelle Demeure, INFRES, Télécom ParisTech

Mélanie Dulong de Rosnay, ISCC, CNRS

Annie Gentès, CoDesign Lab, Télécom ParisTech

François Huguet, CoDesign Lab, Télécom ParisTech

Alexandre Mallard, CSI, MINES ParisTech

Cécile Méadel, CSI, MINES ParisTech

Francesca Musiani, CSI, MINES ParisTech

(1)  Financé par l’ANR (Programme CONTINT – Contenus et Interactions)

(2)  Aigrain, P. (2010). “Declouding Freedom: Reclaiming Servers, Services and Data.” In 2020 FLOSS Roadmap (2010 Version/3rd Edition),

Francesca Musiani

Chercheuse postdoctorale, MINES ParisTech Yahoo! Fellow in Residence, Georgetown University

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Recoudre la ville avec du sans-fil : dispositifs d’encapacitation des publics et discours d’infrastructures participatives

Huguet 3
Crédit photo (3) : Preston Rhea – Licence CC BY-SA 2.0. Montage d’un routeur (antenne) MESH-Wi-Fi installé sur un toit du quartier de MidTown à Détroit, juin 2011

Cette communication présentée lors des 3èmes journées doctorales sur la participation et la démocratie participative du Groupement d’Intérêt Scientifique « participation du public, décision, démocratie participative » s’intéresse aux enjeux et modalités du déploiement de réseaux communautaires sans fil (et aux technologies qui lui sont associées) au sein de la ville en crise qu’est Détroit. S’appuyant sur l’analyse de certains aspects de ces pratiques économiques alternatives, elle vise à comprendre de quelle manière une forme d’infrastructure de communication décentralisée illustre le lien entre crise économique et renforcement de pratiques de reliance mises en place par la société civile d’une ville en crise.

Basée sur une ethnographie de trois mois au sein des groupes mettant en place ces réseaux (entre mai et juillet 2013), ce travail tache de montrer de quelle manière des individus s’emparent de la question du rapport à l’infrastructures et aux compétences techniques nécessaires lorsqu’on les manipule pour embrayer de véritables processus de participation citoyenne (puissance d’agir ou empowerment) au sein d’écologies technologiques et infrastructurelles particulières (les réseaux MESH).

Au croisement des Sciences & Technologies Studies (STS), de la sociologie et des sciences de l’information et de la communication, nous questionnons ici les publics, les lieux, les tactiques et les micropolitiques (Woolgar, 1999 ; Barry, 2001) d’une « plateforme logicielle » de création de réseau MESH (le logiciel Commotion) et son déploiement au sein de la ville de Détroit.

Huguet François_Article Détroit sans fil_ACTES_JD GIS DP 2013

Huguet François, “For an ethnography of the Community Wireless MESH networks: Bottom-up innovation(s) for urban resilience ? (Digital) practices and means to transform the City of Detroit


This talk examines the issues and the sociopolitical aspects of what we call “digital bottom-up practices” which aim to create new forms of solidarities while strengthening communities across the crisis-city of Detroit (we are focusing on the deployments of the Community Wireless MESH networks using the commotion software in this city). Based on a three months fieldwork and observation within groups implementing these networks (2013, May – July), this work try to show how a networking principle, in this case, the decentralized architecture and the use of CWNs, is able to suggest a new type of democracy, a new type of relation to the public services infrastructure, to the media, to community organizing, to the fact of communication and to engagement and participation.

Today, after fundamental and empirical work both in Sciences and Technology Studies and also in Humanities and Social Sciences, it seems that we are witnessing a particular movement within the discourse on policy-making technical objects. Consequently, this movement illustrates the transition of these communication infrastructures from a « political » speech implied [Winner, 1986] into something « assumed » and claimed. And this movement is embodied in Detroit, specifically in its grass-roots processing practices based on the (distributed) digital justice principles which illustrate the « fact to live the web » differently as well as the growing of a decentralized, bottom-up economy which is one of the vectors of the empowerment of users-citizens and necessary to citizen emancipation.

François Huguet

PhD student in Communication Studies at the Codesign Lab & Media Studies at Telecom ParisTech. Supervisor: Annie Gentès / Co-supervisor: Jérôme Denis

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Histoire d’un ‘cloud P2P’

Alors que de nouveaux acteurs tels que Bitcloud et Maidsafe se présentent avec des solutions P2P sur la scène très peuplée du cloud, voici mon dernier article pour l’Internet Policy Review, qui raconte l’histoire d’un ‘cloud P2P’ d’il y a quelques années.


Decentralised internet governance: the case of a ‘peer-to-peer cloud’

13 February 2014

The architecture of a networked system is its underlying technical structure – its logical and structural layout. In my last article for the Internet Policy Review (Musiani, 2013a), I have built upon the work of several authors in science and technology studies, economics, law and computer science (e.g. Star, 1999; van Schewick, 2010; Elkin-Koren, 2006; Agre, 2003) to discuss the idea of network architecture as internet governance. I have suggested that, by changing the design of the networks subtending internet-based services and the global internet itself, the politics of the network of networks are affected – the balance of rights between users and providers, the capacity of online communities to engage in open and direct interaction, the fair competition between actors of the internet market.

This article retraces the early stages of development of a ‘peer-to-peer cloud’ storage service, Drizzle, with the aim of providing an example of decentralised network architecture as internet governance ‘in practice’. More specifically, the paper sheds light on how changes in the architectural design of networked services affect the circulation, storage and privacy of data, as well as the rights and responsibilities exerted by different actors on them. This article does not mean to be a compendium of the implications of the decentralisation option in building a cloud platform, which entails a number of technical complications as well as advantages, including how to ensure the reliability and redundancy of data, and the soundness of the encryption mechanism. However, the privacy-related design choices described here are some of the many possible ways to illustrate the extent to which changes in network architecture are, indeed, changes to network governance.

Decentralising the cloud

In early 2007, when Drizzle first sees the light, the industry of online data storage – a service allowing users to store, save and share data on one or several terminals connected to the internet – has “never felt better” (Guerrini, 2010). Google, Amazon, Microsoft and Oracle, to name but a few, propose their storage platforms, each with its specificities and one common denominator: the ‘cloud’. According to this model, the service provider is in charge of both the physical infrastructure and the software. Thus, the service provider hosts applications and data at once – in a location, and according to modalities, unknown or at best ambiguous to the user (Mowbray, 2009). The so-called ‘server farms’ proliferate, to support and manage this increasing remoteness of data from users and users’ terminals.

In this context, Drizzle1, a small start-up founded by two developers and computer programmers who we will call Dietrich and Kurt, makes an unusual foundational decision: its cloud storage platform will mainly be composed – alongside more ‘classical’ data centres – of portions of the users’ hard disks, directly linked in a peer-to-peer, decentralised network architecture (Schollmeier, 2001; Taylor & Harrison, 2009). This choice entails a number of peculiar features. On the one hand, the implementation of a technical process defined as “encrypted fragmentation”2, which consists in encrypting locally – on the user’s computer, and by means of a previously installed Drizzle P2P client – the content that will be stored. The content is then divided into fragments, duplicated to ensure redundancy, and spread out to the network. In return, users need to accept to ‘pool’ – put at the disposal of other users and their computers – the computational and material resources necessary for the operations related to the storage of content. As the service’s terms of use point out:

“The user acknowledges that Drizzle may use processor, bandwidth and hard disk (or other storage media) of his computer for the purpose of storing, encrypting, caching and serving data that has been stored in Drizzle by the user or any other users. The user can specify the extent to which local resources are used in the settings of the Drizzle client software. The amount of resources the user is allowed to use in Drizzle depends on the amount of local resources the user is contributing to Drizzle.”

The interdependent and egalitarian model subtending the platform will allow its users to barter their local disk space with an equivalent space in the decentralised cloud, thereby improving the quality of this storage space, which will become permanently available and accessible. By shaping their decentralised storage service, the developers of Drizzle carry on a double experimentation: with the frontier between centralisation and decentralisation, and with sharing modalities that blend peer-to-peer, social networking and the cloud.

Peer-to-peer storage: the cloud meets privacy by design

“In 2007, it was all starting to get social,” Dietrich recalls three years later. Indeed, social media, Facebook and Twitter in particular, were at that moment entering the daily life of millions of internet users in an increasingly pervasive way. Drizzle’s first steps are taken in a community of research and development that tries to counter the social media “explosion” by developing P2P systems as an alternative to a variety of internet-based services, including social networks,  structured in a centralised manner (Le Fessant, 2009; Musiani, 2010a; Musiani, 2010b).

In 2007, Facebook had been in existence for three years. Millions of users had taken part in it, thereby contributing to the massive success of these Web-based services that allow individuals to build a public or semi-public profile within a system, define a list of other users with whom to interact, and see/browse the list of their and others’ connections made in ‘public mode’ within the system (Boyd & Ellison, 2007). In parallel to their spectacular growth, social networks raise vibrant discussions and controversies, both within the expert community and among the general public. The ways in which social networking service providers leverage personal information and user data remains controversial, since they sometimes mean allowing external applications to access them, while on other occasions they pursue direct commercial purposes (Boyd, 2008). The rise of the so-called cloud does nothing to mitigate the impression of risk for informed users, as applications and data are increasingly hosted in locations and ways unknown or at best ambiguous. User exposure on social networking sites and on cloud-based services positions privacy, more than ever, at the foreground of discussions.

In this context, several developers – including Drizzle’s – identify in a peer-to-peer type of network architecture a possible way of approaching the protection of personal data privacy with a different angle: through the relocation and “re-appropriation” of data within the terminals of users, who would be able to host their own profiles and the information they contain (see also Moglen, 2010; Aigrain, 2010, 2011).

As in the development of Drizzle, a conception of privacy and confidentiality of personal data, which is conceived of and enforced via technical means – called privacy by design (Cavoukian, 2010; Schaar, 2010), is at work. This conceptualisation of privacy is defined by means of the constraints and the opportunities linked to the treatment and the location of data, according to the different moments and the variety of operations taking place within the system. In particular, the confidentiality of data (personal data as well as the content stored in the P2P cloud) is defined by a peculiar role and enhanced features attributed to the password that identifies the user vis-à-vis the network, and by the implementation of the resource allocation system on which Drizzle is based.

Password and user responsibility

In Dietrich’s intentions, the role of the user-selected and user–generated password for the Drizzle system should have “stri[cken] the user as soon as he had access to the system for the very first time.” Indeed, the virtual form that is served to users upon subscription may come as a surprise: it informs that

“We do not know your password as it never leaves your computer. Please, do not forget your password and use, if needed, your password hint.”

The status of the password is thus negotiated, beyond its usual meaning of unique identifier vis-à-vis the system, to define, detail and legitimise the process of local encryption and decryption of data within the Drizzle system. This feature comes to symbolise the specificity of Drizzle’s promise of security and privacy as well as users’ trust, as it becomes the symbol and the graphical representation of the ‘local’ dimension of the encryption process – as it never leaves the computer of the user who created it. The operations, for the most part automatically managed, that are linked to the protection of personal data are thus hosted on the terminals of users. Indeed, this entails a modification of the user’s role within the service’s architecture: node among equal nodes, it becomes a server itself, instead of a starting point and a final point for operations that are otherwise conducted on another machine or group of machines.

Through the attribution of this status to the password, the developers of Drizzle are also proposing an alternative to the balance between the rights exerted by users on their own data and the rights acquired by the service provider on these same data – a balance that is usually heavily bent on the provider’s side. However, this reconfiguration in the balance of rights comes with a trade-off. As the password stays with the user and is not sent to the servers controlled by the firm, the latter cannot retrieve the password if needed. Thus, users do not only see their privacy reinforced, but at the same time and for the same reasons, the responsibility for their actions is augmented – while the service provider renounces to some of its control on the content that circulates thanks to the service it manages. The meaning of this ‘renunciation’, Dietrich explains, is double: on the one hand, the Drizzle team wishes to make it evident, almost translate into a specific object the user can easily relate to, the ‘obscure’ and unfamiliar process of client-side encryption, which is an ongoing source of controversies and perplexities. On the other hand, it is also a matter of Drizzle’s business model: the more the firm knows about its users, the more it is mandatory for it to submit the users to regular surveillance and control – and this requires an investment of material resources and time that, in its first phases of existence, the firm does not have:

“If we can know what is in your account, starting with your password, we have heightened obligations to police the content and to make sure nobody can eavesdrop on the traffic.”

Data privacy and resource allocation

Another aspect that contributes to define rights and responsibilities is the detailing of the conditions for allocation and management of the computational resources provided by the different computers participating in the system.

As briefly described above, the choice to decentralise the platform makes it necessary, due to the very particular status of the resources used by the system, to detail several aspects in the terms of use: the role of computers belonging to users, the types of resources that Drizzle is able to use, their purpose. It also becomes necessary to detail the extent to which users are able to decide – and communicate to their P2P client, thus to the system – the maximum quantity of local resources that the rest of the network/storage system can use. However, it is also necessary to define the articulation between the availability of resources and the different operations to which these resources will be destined to within the system.

The articulation of these two aspects has important implications for the confidentiality of data circulating in the system (both personal information and content stored by users). Several users, giving feedback to the developers in the early stages of the system, warn that the resource allocation process could be framed as a possible ‘surveillance’ or ‘monitoring’ of these resources, in a way that can potentially be highly automatised, invasive, privacy-threatening.

After a discussion between these concerned users and the developers, via the Drizzle forum, two modifications were applied to the terms of use: while the general terms now state that “resources are allocated and monitored in accordance with the Privacy Policy,” the privacy policy itself details the extent of automation and pervasiveness of the system that allocates and monitors resources:

“In order to ensure a fair allocation of resources within Drizzle, various data about the computers participating in the Drizzle network is collected. This data includes their IP addresses, disposability and the amount of resources they are contributing (e.g. bandwidth, memory). […] Drizzle keeps track of how much storage space you have used and earned […] Drizzle collects statistical information for the purposes of monitoring, debugging and improving the system. This includes automatically generated problem, performance, network analysis and general usage reports, as well as logs of the connections and queries made to Drizzle’s servers (including the involved IP addresses), as well as analytical data about the usage of the Drizzle website. However, none of this data contains information from your private or shared files.”

Thus, the correct functioning of the allocation system indeed implies the gathering of several pieces of information concerning the material, computational and memory resources pooled by each participating computer. The pooling of the storage equipment (i.e., users’ local resources, made available by each of them) is necessary for the system to work; however, it is not meant to imply an intrusion in the stored content itself, which remains protected by the local safeguard of the password and the encryption of content. The collection of information, the developers of Drizzle affirm, has the purpose of automatically computing the storage space made available by each user – and, as we have analysed elsewhere (Musiani, 2013b), of establishing the extent to which each user can reclaim her place in the ‘P2P cloud’, an equivalent storage space in the network of participating users.


The development of Drizzle’s ‘peer-to-peer cloud’ allows to observe how changes in the architectural design of networked services affect data circulation, storage and privacy – and in doing so, reconfigure the articulation of the ‘locality’ and the ‘centrality’ in the network (Akrich, 1989: 39), suggesting a model of decentralised governance “by architectural design” for the service.

Ultimately, decentralising the cloud leads to a reformulation and ‘re-balancing’ of the relationship between the user and the service provider. The local, client-side encryption of data first, and its fragmentation afterwards – both operations conducted within the P2P client installed by the user, and entirely taking place on his terminal – are proposed by Drizzle as evidence that the firm, in its own words, “does not even have the technical means” to betray the trust of users.

In particular, this conception of privacy by design takes shape around the password, that remains locally stored in the user’s P2P client and unknown to the service provider. In doing so, it becomes a form of disengagement of the service provider with respect to security issues, its ‘auto-release’ from responsibility: a detail whose importance may seem small at first, but eventually leads to changes in the forms of technical solidarity (Dodier, 1995) established between users and service provider.

For the purpose of this article, I have focused in particular on aspects such as the strengthening of privacy by design and the increase in responsibility attributed to the user, arguably among the “positive” aspects of a peer-to-peer cloud. However, it should be pointed out that an important part of the decentralisation choice made by the Drizzle team has involved assessing its possible downsides: reliability and redundancy of data, slow downloading performances, soundness of the encryption mechanism, and – no less important – the perception of these issues by users. A heated discussion among developers, and between developers and some pioneer users, also occurred on the topic of the ‘legality’ of the system, especially in jurisdictions such as that of the United States. All of these are complex issues and most of them could not be accounted for here – it has been done in a much more detailed manner elsewhere (Musiani, 2013: 123-173), by analysing, with tools derived from the field of science and technology studies (STS), a number of socio-technical controversies related to the development of the platform. However, the privacy-related dynamics provided here are a few of the several possible ways to flesh out the extent to which changes in network architecture are, indeed, changes in network governance.

The example of Drizzle has illustrated in practice the implications of ‘architectures as governance’ we had introduced in the previous article: the repartition of competences and responsibilities between service providers, content producers, users and network operators; the articulation between the individual and the collective; the shaping of user rights and ‘community’ norms; the definition of ‘contributor’ in internet-based services. In light of Edward Snowden’s leaks about certain surveillance practices by the US National Security Agency, the potential of architectural choices – choices that would make the internet less centralised and more distributed – as a means of de facto privacy advocacy and promotion of decentralised governance has never been more evident. The goal, as The New Yorker recently reported, “isn’t to end surveillance, but to make it harder to do en masse” (Kopstein, 2013).


Agre, P. (2003). “Peer-to-Peer and the Promise of Internet Equality.” Communications of the ACM, 46 (2): 39-42.

Aigrain, P. (2010). “Declouding Freedom: Reclaiming Servers, Services and Data.” In 2020 FLOSS Roadmap (2010 Version/3rd Edition),

Aigrain, P. (2011). “Another Narrative. Addressing Research Challenges and Other Open Issues session.” PARADISO Conference, Brussels, 7–9 Sept. 2011.

Akrich, M. (1989). “De la position relative des localités. Systèmes électriques et réseaux socio-politiques.” Cahiers du Centre d’Études pour l’Emploi, 32 : 117-166.

Boyd, D. (2008). “Facebook’s Privacy Trainwreck: Exposure, Invasion, and Social Convergence.” Convergence, 14 (1).

Boyd, D. & Ellison, N. (2007). “Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship.” Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13 (1).

Callon, M., Lascoumes, P. & Barthe, Y. (2001). Agir dans un monde incertain. Essai sur la démocratie technique, Paris: Seuil.

Cavoukian, A. (eds., 2010). Special Issue: Privacy by Design: The Next Generation in the Evolution of Privacy. Identity in the Information Society, 3(2).

Dodier, N. (1995). Les Hommes et les Machines. La conscience collective dans les sociétés technicisées. Paris: Métailié.

Elkin-Koren, N. (2006). “Making Technology Visible: Liability of Internet Service Providers for Peer-to-Peer Traffic.” New York University Journal of Legislation & Public Policy, 9 (15), 15-76.

Guerrini, Y. (2010). “Wuala : le P2P comme solution de stockage.”

Kopstein, J. (2013). “The mission to de-centralize the Internet.” The New Yorker, 13 December 2013,

Le Fessant, F. (2009). “Les réseaux sociaux au secours des réseaux pair-à-pair.” Défense nationale et sécurité collective, 3 : 29-35.

Moglen, E. (2010). “Freedom in the Cloud: Software Freedom, Privacy and Security for Web 2.0 and Cloud Computing.” Keynote, ISOC Meeting, New York Branch, 5 February 2010.

Mowbray, M. (2009). “The Fog over the Grimpen Mire: Cloud Computing and the Law.” SCRIPTed, 6(1): 132-146.

Musiani, F. (2013a). “Network architecture as internet governance.” Internet Policy Review, 24 October 2013,

Musiani, F. (2013b). Nains sans géants. Architecture décentralisée et services Internet. Paris : Presses des Mines.

Musiani, F. (2012). “Caring About the Plumbing: On the Importance of Architectures in Social Studies of (Peer-to-Peer) Technology.” Journal of Peer Production, 1.

Musiani, F. (2010). “Ménager le droit à la vie privée, entre anonymat et connaissance de l’identité: les débuts des réseaux sociaux en pair-à-pair.”  Terminal, 105: 107-116.

Musiani, F. (2010b). “When Social Links Are Network Links: the Dawn of Peer-to-Peer Social Networks and Its Implications for Privacy.” Observatorio, 4(3), 185-207.

Schaar, P. (2010). “Privacy by Design.” Identity in the Information Society, 3(2): 267-274.

Schollmeier, R. (2001). “A definition of peer-to-peer networking for the classification of peer-to-peer architectures and applications.” Proceedings of the First International Conference on Peer-to-Peer Computing, 27–29.

Star, S. L. (1999). “The Ethnography of Infrastructure.” American Behavioral Scientist, 43 (3): 377-391.

Taylor, I. & Harrison, A. (2009). From P2P to Web Services and Grids: Evolving Distributed Communities. Second and Expanded Edition. London: Springer-Verlag.

van Schewick, B. (2010). Internet Architecture and Innovation. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press

Vinck, D. (Ed., 2003). Everyday Engineering. An Ethnography of Design and Innovation. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.


1. The name is fictitious (‘light rain’) and recalls the fragmentation and the distribution of data in the system’s storage mechanism. The names of the developers are pseudonyms, as well. I have no direct interest in Drizzle – I use it as a case study of a possible ‘decentralisation of the cloud’.

2. Unless otherwise noted, citations are derived from in-depth interviews with the developers of Drizzle, conducted within a period of online and ‘live’ ethnography of Drizzle’s development, design and innovation process (see Vinck, 2003) between 2010 and 2011.

Francesca Musiani

Chercheuse postdoctorale, MINES ParisTech Yahoo! Fellow in Residence, Georgetown University

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Un guide aux « technologies discrètes » de la gouvernance de l’Internet

9780300181357Les lecteurs du blog ADAM pourraient être intéressés par ma note de lecture du récent livre de Laura DeNardis, The Global War for Internet Governance (en anglais), également disponible sur le site américain d’Amazon.

A Guide to the “Technologically Concealed” in Internet Governance, January 21, 2014

Book Review: Laura DeNardis (2014). The Global War for Internet Governance. New Haven, CT and London : Yale University Press.

The final draft of Laura DeNardis’s most recent book, officially released on January 14th, 2014, had most likely been finalized before Edward Snowden’s recent revelations about the pervasive surveillance implemented by the U. S. National Security Agency entered the media spotlight, which explains the absence of direct references to the controversy throughout the 300-page volume. Yet, because of the Snowden revelations and a number of other issues addressed thoroughly in this extremely important book – from WikiLeaks to the SOPA and PIPA bill projects – the exploration of Internet governance (IG) issues through a “global war” lens has never been more relevant than it is today. Information and communication technologies, the Internet first and foremost, are increasingly mobilized to serve broader economic, political and military aims, ranging from the theft of strategic data to the hijacking of industrial systems. The rise of techniques, devices and infrastructures destined to digital espionage, data collection and aggregation, tracking and surveillance is highlighted not only by the recent Snowden revelations, but also by the construction and the organization of a dedicated, increasingly widespread and lucrative market.

As an interdisciplinary scholar of Internet governance grounded in Science and Technology Studies (STS) myself, I had been very much looking forward to the release of this book, which will undoubtedly prove to be a central reference for Internet governance as an emerging field of study in the coming years. As she had already and so ably done in Protocol Politics (2009), Laura DeNardis builds on her interdisciplinary training as an information engineer and STS scholar to untangle – and richly account for – the “technologically concealed and institutionally complex ecosystem of governance” that permeates today’s Internet. In doing so, she contributes to unveil what media and policymaker accounts of Internet governance all too often cause to stay out of the public radar.

While this book is also, indirectly, a means to revisit and update the debates on “multistakeholderism”, prominent in some IG venues such as the Internet Governance Forum, the author’s main interest rests unambiguously with the “technologically concealed” and its socio-technical agency: the extent to which non-human actors (to put it in STS vocabulary) such as information intermediaries, critical Internet resources, Internet exchange points and security devices play a crucial “governance” role alongside political, national and supra-national institutions and civil society organizations. Throughout the book, Laura DeNardis explores how Internet governance takes shape in the myriad of infrastructures, devices, data fluxes and technical architectures that – discreet, often invisible, yet no less crucial – subtend and build the increasingly public and articulate “network of networks”.

The author’s conceptual framework is shaped by five core research questions: how arrangements of technical architecture are, inherently, arrangements of power and politics, which can be revealed by bringing infrastructures to the foreground; how “traditional power” structures are increasingly mobilizing Internet governance technologies as proxies for content control; how Internet governance is increasingly privatized, enacted by corporations and non-governmental entities, in areas as diverse as privacy, control of online financial flows, censorship, and copyright enforcement; how decisions implemented within technical spaces on the Internet reflect conflicts over competing sets of values, rights, policy norms, as well as ongoing negotiations of the values subtending Internet architecture; and finally, how the variety of “local Internets” and the stability of the global Internet intersect and mutually influence each other, calling for a “carefully planned global governance framework” (p.18), a luxury that the rapid pace of innovation, the impressive scaling, and the diversification of uses have almost never allowed to Internet architecture in its global era.

This five-pronged framework opens the door to Laura DeNardis’s exploration and narrative of Internet governance as an ensemble of controversies and battles over “control points”, a narrative which constitutes the remainder of the book. These control points range from the deepest layers of Internet infrastructure to the “last mile” of user access to the network; from the blocking of financial flows to the deliberate “kill-switches” of Internet-based services; from the “graduated response” termination of domestic Internet access to the attempted use of the Domain Name System for copyright enforcement purposes; from the Internet’s backbone infrastructure to the establishment of interconnection agreements; and finally, the de facto public policy role assumed by private information intermediaries in the variety of instances where they gather, collect, aggregate, select, present data to users and to other actors of the Internet value chain — thereby enacting governance over privacy, freedom of expression, cultural diversity and reputation.

The author’s training as an engineer provides the background and the tools for an exploration of Internet governance that I have described elsewhere as “not afraid of its subject of study” (Musiani, 2012): able to resist the temptation of an excessive “institutionalization” of IG, to avoid recoiling from the dense, intricate, complex, technically-grounded substrate of Internet governance power struggles, and to embrace the challenge of accounting for it in a detailed yet engaging way. While the methodological toolbox and narrative devices of STS are, unambiguously, precious instruments for the author, enabling her to achieve these objectives in a successful manner, this book is not “blatantly” STS. The vocabulary of actor-network, delegation, black boxes, co-production is there as a means, not an end in itself; the references to Geoffrey Bowker and Susan Leigh Star’s work on standards (1996), to Bruno Latour’s musings on technical mediation (1994), to Michel Callon’s sociology of translation (1986), to Tarleton Gillespie’s “politics of platforms” (2010) are tools, not enumerations of the obligatory literature review; the description of socio-technical controversies is ever-present, but weaved discreetly into the narrative.

As Jeanette Hofmann once wrote, Internet governance is a “regulative idea in flux” (2007). Indeed, the search for concepts, tools and categories to make sense of 21st century Internet governance, both as a set of practices and technologies and an academic field of study, is very much open-ended, unresolved and problematic. The conclusion of The Global War for Internet Governance ties together beautifully the variety of “stress factors” that Internet control points will likely keep on being subjected to in the immediate future: increasing international pressure to introduce additional regulation at interconnection points; greater governmental control; technology-embedded threats to privacy; reduction of anonymity and its consequences for freedom of expression; loss of platform interoperability; and finally, “creative” uses and misuses of Internet infrastructure and their impact on the Internet’s security and stability. In this sense, Laura DeNardis’s work is indeed a blueprint for an infrastructure- and architecture-based “Bill of Rights” for the Internet — and extremely interesting, required reading in order to understand more thoroughly the indispensible “backstage” of today’s highly-mediatized Internet politics.


Bowker, Geoffrey C. and Susan Leigh Star (1996). “How Things (Actor-Net)work: Classification, Magic and the Ubiquity of Standards”, Philosophia, November 18; 1996.

Callon, Michel (1986). “Elements of a Sociology of Translation”, in John Law (ed.), Power Action and Belief: A New Sociology of Knowledge?, London: Routledge.

DeNardis, Laura (2009). Protocol Politics: The Globalization of Internet Governance. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Gillespie, Tarleton (2010). “The Politics of ‘Platforms’”, New Media and Society, 12 (3)

Hofmann, Jeanette (2007). “Internet Governance: A Regulative Idea in Flux”, in Ravi Kumar, Jain Bandamutha (eds.), Internet Governance: An Introduction, Hyderabad: The Icfai University Press, pp. 74-108.

Latour, Bruno (1994). “On Technical Mediation”, Common Knowledge, 3 (2): 29-64.

Musiani, Francesca (2012). “Caring About the Plumbing: On the Importance of Architectures in Social Studies of (Peer-to-Peer) Technology”, Journal of Peer Production, 1.


Francesca Musiani

Chercheuse postdoctorale, MINES ParisTech Yahoo! Fellow in Residence, Georgetown University

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Francesca Musiani, prix de thèse « informatique et libertés » CNIL

Francesca Musiani, l’une des coordinatrices du projet ADAM a remporté, grâce à ses travaux, le prix de la CNIL 2013. Nous tenions ici à la féliciter et à lui rappeler combien elle est un moteur au sein de notre projet de recherche.

Encore bravo Francesca!

Le 5ème Prix de thèse Informatique et Libertés est attribué à Francesca Musiani pour ses travaux sur les architectures pair-à-pair (P2P)

Le jury du Prix de thèse Informatique et Libertés, présidé par M. Jean-Marie Cotteret, membre de la CNIL (Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertés), a attribué le 5ème prix Informatique et Libertés à Francesca Musiani pour sa thèse intitulée « Nains sans géants. Architecture décentralisée et services Internet ».

Le 5ème prix Informatique et Libertés de la CNIL, qui récompense les travaux de doctorants de 3e cycle et intéressant la protection des données personnelles, a été attribué à Francesca Musiani, postdoctorante au Centre de Sociologie de l’Innovation à MINES ParisTech et affiliée au Berkman Center for Internet and Society de l’Université de Harvard (Etats-Unis).

Le prix récompense ses travaux consacrés à l’exploration du développement des architectures pair-à-pair (P2P). L’objectif de cette thèse est très ambitieux puisqu’il s’agit d’étudier le développement des architectures P2P sous des angles très différents:

  • L’angle technique : les contraintes introduites par ce type d’architectures et les avantages qu’elles apportent ;
  • L’angle juridique : les incidences de ces choix architecturaux sur des obligations légales, notamment en matière de protection de la vie privée et de la propriété intellectuelle ;
  • L’angle économique : les difficultés à développer des modèles d’affaire capables de concurrencer les acteurs dominants qui reposent sur des architectures centralisées ;
  • L’angle sociologique : les interactions entre parties prenantes (notamment développeurs et utilisateurs), la sociologie de l’innovation.

Le Prix de thèse « informatique et libertés » incite au développement des recherches universitaires concernant la protection de la vie privée et des données personnelles. Ce prix s’adresse à de très nombreuses disciplines telles que les sciences humaines, le droit, les sciences politiques, l’économie mais aussi les disciplines technologiques, de l’innovation et du design.

François Huguet

PhD student in Communication Studies at the Codesign Lab & Media Studies at Telecom ParisTech. Supervisor: Annie Gentès / Co-supervisor: Jérôme Denis

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Pour une ethnographie des réseaux sans fil communautaires: Implémenter des technologies décentralisées pour agir contre la crise à Détroit

Article originellement paru sur la revue Urbanités (géographie et urbanisme) pour leur dossier «  »Crises en ville, villes en crises »

Speramus Meliora, Resurget Cineribus1


Ville sauvage Vs. Village sauvage du capitalisme mondialisé

Le jeudi 18 juillet 2013, la ville américaine de Détroit se déclarait officiellement en faillite et présentait publiquement les chiffres vertigineux de sa dette : 18,5 milliards de dollars2. Depuis lors, les défilés de statistiques font croire à un lieu d’apocalypse et d’abandon. La ville a été placée sous le joug d’un administrateur judiciaire et le gouvernement républicain de l’État du Michigan exerce dorénavant un poids politico-économique massif sur la ville démocrate qu’est Détroit. Les institutions municipales doivent rendre compte à une entité nommée par le gouverneur fédéral Rick Snyder en mars 2013 et sont dépossédées de la plupart de leurs compétences. Motor City, ancien fleuron industriel du Midwest américain, fait dorénavant pâle figure et semble être un lieu improbable pour une quelconque reprise. Passée de 1 849 568 habitants en 1950 à 713 777 en 20103, Détroit illustre un nombre important de phénomènes urbains caractéristiques de certaines localités américaines: shrinking cities, white flight, gentrification, dévitalisation progressive des villes-centres, ghettoïsation, ségrégation socio-spatiale4, etc.

Dustin Cable - Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service - University of Virginia.  Cartographie de la ville de Détroit et visualisation des origines ethniques de ses habitants: points bleus = populations blanches ; point verts = populations afro-américaines ; points rouges = asiatiques. La délimitation que l’on observe ici correspond à 8 Mile Road, frontière administrative de la municipalité et début des banlieues aisées qui ceinturent la ville.  Extrait de VANHEMERT, K. [26 août 2013], The Best Map Ever Made of America’s Racial Segregation []

Dustin Cable – Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service – University of Virginia.
Cartographie de la ville de Détroit et visualisation des origines ethniques de ses habitants: points bleus = populations blanches ; point verts = populations afro-américaines ; points rouges = asiatiques. La délimitation que l’on observe ici correspond à 8 Mile Road, frontière administrative de la municipalité et début des banlieues aisées qui ceinturent la ville.
Extrait de VANHEMERT, K. [26 août 2013], The Best Map Ever Made of America’s Racial Segregation.

Detroit Free Press – University of Detroit Mercy. Extrait de STAES, J.A. [12 août 2012], Comparing Detroit To Other Cities? Look At The Map! []

Detroit Free Press – University of Detroit Mercy.
Extrait de STAES, J.A. [12 août 2012], Comparing Detroit To Other Cities? Look At The Map!

Combinée à une gestion des dépenses publiques calamiteuse, à l’écroulement de l’industrie automobile et à une corruption longtemps installée à la tête du pouvoir municipal, l’image de la ville semble coller parfaitement à la polysémie du mot « crise ». À Détroit, cette dernière est à la fois économique, politique, sociale et systémique. Pourtant, au sein de cette situation qui ne s’explique pas seulement par les phénomènes évoqués précédemment5 mais surtout par plus de soixante années de déclin socio-économique d’un modèle de ville particulier (Sugrue, 1996), Détroit recèle d’un nombre important de stratégies et de pratiques économiques alternatives qui correspondent à « l’adaptation spontanée des modes de vie des gens aux contraintes et aux opportunités émanant de la crise » (Castells, 2012). Plus que d’autres métropoles ouvrières noires américaines (telles que Baltimore), Détroit compte de nombreuses initiatives économiques, culturelles et sociotechniques qui se revendiquent comme autant de moyens pour s’extirper de la situation de crise urbaine (Gallagher, 2013). Le Paris du Midwest américain est effectivement aujourd’hui réputé pour son attitude « faites-le vous mêmes » (« Do It Yourself ») et ses initiatives d’agriculture urbaine à grande échelle. Mais ces projets socio-agricoles côtoient d’autres initiatives telles que des banques alimentaires coopératives ou bien encore des projets d’associations à but non lucratif qui réinventent ce que nous désignons en France par Éducation Populaire et que les acteurs de ces groupes nomment « community organizing » ou « transformative work ». Après les années glorieuses du fordisme suivies, dès 1960, des ravages de la désindustrialisation, les citoyens de Détroit semblent dépendre aujourd’hui de leur propre ingéniosité pour subvenir à leurs besoins.

Ce mouvement préfigure selon nous une voie intéressante à étudier lorsque l’on aborde la notion de crise et de résilience urbaine6, une économie locale post-industrielle fondée sur l’entraide, le partage mais aussi et surtout sur un nouveau rapport aux infrastructures publiques et privées (télécommunications, transports, éducation, gestion des déchets, etc.). La ville comporte également un nombre important d’événements, de pratiques particulières et de lieux dédiés à l’innovation numérique. Un des axes de développement de sa politique de revitalisation urbaine concerne d’ailleurs l’économie digitale et les industries créatives7.

Au centre de toutes ces initiatives à la fois civiques, technico-économiques et socio-culturelles, une idée fixe : construire des modèles, des projets et des infrastructures8 horizontales (Egyedi & Mehos, 2012), autonomes et décentralisées ; penser un modèle urbain différent, conçu et pris en charge par la participation des citoyens et leur « puissance d’agir » (Proulx, 2012).

S’appuyant sur l’analyse de certains aspects de ces pratiques économiques alternatives, notre recherche vise à comprendre de quelle manière une forme d’infrastructure de communication locale et autonome, les réseaux MESH en l’occurrence (ou réseaux communautaires sans fil9), illustre le lien entre crise économique et apparition ou renforcement de pratiques mises en place par la société civile de Détroit. Dans ce cadre, nous enquêtons sur les communautés mettant en place ce genre de réseaux locaux, sur leurs dynamiques, leurs ambitions, leurs différents projets et de ce fait, sur l’apparition d’une forme de média particulière (Gentès, 2013) dont les aspects politiques sont revendiqués intrinsèquement. Cet article présentera des extraits d’entretiens menés avec différentes personnes engagées dans les déploiements de ces réseaux communautaires sans fil. Nous présenterons ici des extraits d’interviews sous une forme assez « brute » où la notion de « crise » est abordée et où des moyens et/ou des pratiques d’échapper à ce concept sont mentionnés (interviews menés entre mai et juillet 2013). Il s’agit d’extraits d’un « carnet ethnographique » où se mêlent témoignages et analyses brèves dans lequel nous décrivons le plus simplement possible l’histoire et l’écosystème de ces réseaux sans fil et de ces différents acteurs. Il s’agit ici de donner à voir une « photographie » de certains projets techno-médiatiques propres à cette ville en crise. D’une manière plus globale, notre recherche vise à montrer comment ces initiatives mettent en lumière des questionnements relatifs à la matérialité des réseaux de communication existants et aux rôles que jouent les usagers dans l’organisation et l’entretien d’un réseau social numérique (Proulx, 2012), d’une infrastructure de communication. Notre recherche vise également à comprendre de quelles manières ces discours sur les réseaux de télécommunications décentralisés et autonomes appréhendent la notion de co-construction autour des savoirs et ce que Bernard Stiegler appelle l’ère économique de la contribution (Stiegler, 2008). En dehors des termes de « crise », de « catastrophe » et de « faillite », cet article veut présenter des projets innovants et certains détails du contexte dans lequel ces pratiques alternatives se développent. Il souhaite restituer une parole riche et complexe, celle de groupes de citoyens, pivots locaux de la participation civique et qui tendent à être considérés par certains comme les acteurs de la revitalisation urbaine américaine10. Communautés de citoyens qui s’appuient désormais sur les Nouvelles Technologies de l’Information et de la Communication (NTIC) pour penser non plus un modèle urbain Top-Down (vertical, penser du haut pour le bas), mais une ville horizontale ; irréductibles groupes d’individus qui conçoivent Motor City non plus comme une « ville sauvage » mais comme le « village sauvage du capitalisme mondialisé »11 qui souffre depuis de nombreuses années des conséquences de l’écroulement d’une industrie orientée seulement sur l’automobile, des atermoiements d’un capitalisme destructeur et d’un trop plein de commentateurs mal informés.

Preston Rhea – Licence CC BY-SA 2.0. Montage d’un routeur (antenne) MESH-Wi-Fi installé sur un toit du quartier de MidTown à Détroit, juin 2011.

Preston Rhea – Licence CC BY-SA 2.0.
Montage d’un routeur (antenne) MESH-Wi-Fi installé sur un toit du quartier de MidTown à Détroit, juin 2011.

Enjeux et contexte des « connexions MESH » - A Tech Innovation in Detroit: Connect People, Not Computers (septembre 2012) [] – A Tech Innovation in Detroit: Connect People, Not Computers (septembre 2012)

La mise en place de réseaux MESH (Metro Scale Ad-hoc Network) n’est pas quelque chose de récent. Ce routage (MANET – Mobile Ad-hoc NETwork, mis au point à la fin des années 1990) est issu de la recherche militaire ; il permet de déployer un réseau de communication robuste et indépendant entre ordinateurs, téléphones ou tout autre terminal de communication en circuit fermé et/ou connecté au moins en un point à un réseau Internet et/ou GSM. Ce réseau est maillé, c’est à dire que chacun de ses nœuds peut servir de relais, de point de liaison aux autres nœuds de l’ensemble qui communiquent via ondes radios Wi-Fi. Ainsi, il peut se reconfigurer en permanence et mettre en place des communications dynamiques entre points plus ou moins mobiles (sorte de réseau bluetooth multi-utilisateurs). Jusqu’en 2011, ce type de réseau servait surtout à faire communiquer des capteurs entre eux ou bien à optimiser des zones de couverture Wi-Fi (aéroports par exemple) en réduisant les coûts d’installation de câbles, de modems, etc. En 2011, après les soulèvements arabes, cette technologie apparut alors comme une solution aux cas de censure et de coupure des télécommunications par des régimes autoritaires: l’appareillage mobile des manifestants, composé de smartphones, tablettes, ordinateurs, ainsi que de petites antennes placées sur des toits, pouvait devenir infrastructure de communication. Si chaque objet communiquant pouvait se connecter à au moins un autre objet en co-présence, on pouvait créer un réseau maillé indépendant, autonome et mouvant presque impossible à couper ou à censurer étant donné son caractère spontané, local et décentralisé (ne dépendant pas d’un serveur informatique central, d’une infrastructure globale comme les emblématiques réseaux sociaux Facebook et Twitter). L’Open Technology Initiative (OTI), groupe de travail de la New America Foundation12, think-tank basée à Washington DC, présenta à ce moment là un logiciel de réseautage MESH multi-plateforme baptisé Commotion13 (COMmunity Open Technology Information Online Network). Baptisé dans un premier temps « Internet in a Suitcase », ce projet reçut en 2011 une aide conséquente du département d’État américain. Ces deux principales zones de test et de déploiement sont Détroit et New York (plus précisément le quartier isolé de Red Hook à Brooklyn). Cette technologie n’a donc pas été déployée en priorité au Moyen Orient mais plutôt dans des villes en « crise » aux États Unis (selon ses créateurs, elle n’était pas assez « stable » pour ne pas être utilisée à l’insu des militants libéraux arabes).

À Détroit, l’Open Technology Initiative (OTI) travaille conjointement avec Allied Media Project14, association à but non lucratif, organisatrice de la Allied Media Conference et porteuse d’un nombre important de projets allant de l’éducation aux technologies numériques (vidéo, son, graphisme, programmation électronique, etc.) à la formation de Digital Stewards pour les quartiers de la ville ; projets ayant en commun la promotion de la notion de Digital Justice et une stratégie de revitalisation urbaine horizontale. Ces Digital Stewards, sortes de médiateurs, régisseurs-socioculturels bénévoles, suivent des cours hebdomadaires pendant six mois et mettent au point un projet de revitalisation socio-économique de leurs quartiers via les technologies numériques. Pour intégrer cette formation, ils doivent présenter un projet de développement qui sera approfondi et appuyé par l’expertise de divers intervenants. Nous avons suivi trois de ces groupes (promotion 2013) ayant décidé de déployer des réseaux MESH dans les quartiers où ils résident et ce dans différents buts. L’un de ces groupes, celui du projet ECOSphere basé dans le nord-ouest de la ville et conduit par trois membres de l’association Modern Evolution, considère ce projet d’une façon bien particulière. Les extraits que nous présentons dans cet article sont tous issus des entretiens que nous avons menés avec ces trois personnes. Pour eux, créer un réseau MESH est un prétexte permettant d’envisager une nouvelle forme d’écosystème économique pour la ville de Détroit, un moyen de sortir de la crise de cette ville qu’ils nomment de leurs propres mots « Ground zero » :

Enquêté: Je disais qu’à Modern Evolution, notre boulot consiste à construire des ponts entre toutes les initiatives qui existent déjà, à les doubler, les répliquer […] Avant de parler de viabilité économique, nous avons besoin d’un écosystème numérique. C’est pour cela que nous commençons par le Wi-Fi. Les personnes doivent être connectées. C’est la nouvelle économie […] et la clé, c’est l’accès.

 […] Nous voulons faire une communauté sans fil tous ensemble […] désormais, nous amenons le modèle décentralisé aux gens.

[…] Désormais le Wi-Fi est partout sauf où ? Dans les quartiers chauds, tu vois ce que je veux dire ?

Dans ces premiers extraits, il n’est pas question d’applications ou de services particuliers portés par le réseau communautaire sans fil créé à l’issu de la formation (si ce n’est fournir un accès à Internet via leur infrastructure de communication, via leur réseau MESH). Pour le groupe de Modern Evolution établir un réseau communautaire c’est pourvoir au besoin de connexion dans leur quartier qui est très peu équipé en accès à Internet, c’est partager ce dernier avec d’autres personnes, d’autres habitants du quartier, du block (éloigné de Midtown, zone de revitalisation urbaine prioritaire). Pourtant, contrairement à l’East Side de la ville, peu habité et composé majoritairement de terrains vagues et de maisons abandonnées ; le quartier où se déploie leur projet baptisé ECOSphere (North West Side) possède une densité d’habitation assez importante. Il s’agit des anciens lotissements des agents de maîtrise des usines automobiles Ford. Malgré cette densité, il n’y a que très peu d’accès à Internet, les coûts d’installation et de mise en service d’une connexion étant très élevés. La solution qu’ils essaient donc d’implémenter tâche de contourner ces coûts élevés et de faire comprendre qu’un modèle de partage peut se penser aussi sur d’autres domaines et à d’autres niveaux (sécurité, transport, éducation, tri des déchets, circuit courts alimentaires, etc.), qu’il fait partie des composantes d’un levier de développement socio-économique original:

Enquêté: […] Nous pensions qu’il s’agissait là d’une idée géniale : commencer à rassembler les gens à la manière d’un collecteur de fonds sympathique. Il faut commencer à mettre en commun, de sorte que nous puissions payer notre facture Internet ensemble. Et, si on le fait avec la facture Internet, on pourrait peut être le faire avec notre facture d’électricité ? Tu vois, ça peut éveiller l’intérêt pour ce genre de solutions de financement créatives. En fait, on touche là au principal enjeu de notre projet : l’idéologie. 


 Si on pouvait installer des antennes en utilisant de l’énergie solaire ou d’autres formes de systèmes énergétiques ; on n’aurait pas à utiliser l’électricité d’un tiers et on serait indépendants.  Avec le MESH, la seule chose dont on ait besoin c’est d’électricité pour faire parler l’antenne à un autre routeur, connecté au réseau.


 John s’occupe des questions énergétiques, Heru des questions technologiques, moi je m’occupe des financements. Et notre synergie vient de là. Nous nous aidons les uns les autres, et grâce à cela, des solutions intéressantes surgissent.

Créer un réseau communautaire sans fil peut donc apparaître comme un prétexte pour engager des personnes vers des formes d’actions civiques et sociopolitiques qui concernent les infrastructures et les services de la ville (qui sont en piteux état : police et pompiers à effectifs réduits, réseaux de transports et systèmes électriques défaillants, mauvais ramassage des ordures, etc.). Ces réseaux, issus des formations menées par Allied Media et OTI, sont les éléments constitutifs d’un programme de Digital Stewardship, de citoyens relais (médiateurs en technologie numérique) pour les quartiers marginalisés d’une ville particulière, lieu d’écroulement de l’American way of life. Mais on pourrait aussi voir dans le développement de ces technologies une pratique économique alternative au service d’une sorte de résilience urbaine. En effet, conjuguée aux autres pratiques alternatives (notamment agricoles), ces formations et ces projets d’infrastructure et de participation active des citoyens deviennent des moyens de cicatrisation citadine, des réponses au vide laissé par la municipalité en faillite et autant d’opportunités pour les organisations communautaires à but non lucratif de tester des modèles urbains alternatifs. De cette « crise », de ces cendres et du lieu que les membres du projet ECOSphere – Modern Evolution nomment eux mêmes « Ground zero » devrait pouvoir émerger un nouveau rapport à la ville ; une résilience tout à la fois civique et technologique qui refondrait la citadinité de Détroit et poserait les premières pierres d’une cité plus coopérative où participation et engagement du citoyen seraient plus importants. Les infrastructures de communication dont il est ici question visent à construire un modèle civique de ce type et à faire prendre conscience des comportements qu’il exige.

La notion de Digital Justice défendue par Allied Media Projects, issue à la fois de la pensée de Grace Lee Boggs15, de Paulo Freire et de Saul Alinsky16 s’intègre dans cette idée de résilience, de cicatrisation urbaine. Cette justice digitale consiste à défendre quatre piliers caractéristiques dans les projets mis en place mais aussi et surtout la notion de droit fondamental à la communication (en d’autres termes, combattre la fracture numérique). Ces quatre piliers sont : le droit à l’accès (à Internet, aux NTIC), aux médias de manière générale), la participation, le partage et la coopération au sein de groupe de citoyens qu’ils nomment « communities » (habitants du même quartier et/ou personnes rassemblées autour d’un intérêt commun). Pour les personnes que nous avons interrogées, l’idée de reconstruire la vie quotidienne et les pratiques citoyennes autour de pratiques autonomes qui ne reposent pas sur les institutions financières et/ou des formes de gouvernance publique est devenue plus réaliste que le modèle traditionnel de comportement socio-économique. Les réseaux MESH sont un pas en avant vers cette idée de s’organiser en communauté autour d’un intérêt commun, en l’occurrence ici, réduire le coût de l’accès à Internet et, de ce fait, la fracture numérique, pour augmenter la participation citoyenne et l’engagement de chacun.

Enquêté: Ici, c’est le ground zero de l’Amérique, vraiment. Tu sais, cet endroit était un des plus prospères des Etats-Unis à un moment et maintenant, c’est l’un des plus pauvres. Que s’est il passé ? Il s’agit aussi d’une histoire de l’innovation et de révolution en termes de communautés, de social ; lorsque l’on regarde l’histoire, un nombre important de personnes engagées viennent de cette région qui a toujours été un melting pot composé d’ouvriers


Juste dans la communauté afro-américaine, les trois initiatives les plus « visibles » viennent d’ici. La lutte pour les Droits civiques, The Nation of Islam est née ici, the Republic of New Africa est née ici et les Black Christian Nationalists sont nés ici.


Maintenant, et si tu vas dans ces fermes urbaines, tu ne verras pas seulement une « race »  ou un seul groupe d’âge. Il y a des jeunes, des noirs, des blancs, des asiatiques, tous travaillent ensemble dans cette logique de partenariat innovante, […] c’est une chose d’aujourd’hui, pas du blabla, ce n’est pas un think tank, c’est un laboratoire à action ici.

Preston Rhea – Licence CC BY-SA 2.0. Montage d’un routeur (antenne) MESH-Wi-Fi sur une antenne de télévision. Groupe Morning Sides MESH (juin 2011).

Preston Rhea – Licence CC BY-SA 2.0. Montage d’un routeur (antenne) MESH-Wi-Fi sur une antenne de télévision. Groupe Morning Sides MESH (juin 2011).

Selon ces extraits, le caractère multiculturel, ouvrier et politique de la ville explique en partie son caractère de laboratoire techno politique défenseur de la notion de justice digitale comme moyen de palier aux effets de la crise. Y voir le modèle d’Alinsky ferait peut être bondir certains militants originaires de Motor City. Précisons que nous parlons ici des « techniques » d’organisation  qu’Alinsky17 professa tout au long de sa vie, pas forcément de son référentiel politique18. La nouveauté dans ces actions communautaires est de considérer l’infrastructure d’information créée et assurée par l’ensemble de ses « lecteurs »-« spectateurs » comme un projet participatif (« we are the networks, we are the media » déclarèrent les membres de ECOSphere lors d’un interview). S’ils ne prennent pas soin des composantes du réseau (antennes, alimentation électrique, entretien, etc.), s’ils ne s’engagent pas pour le bon fonctionnement de cet objets, alors l’infrastructure fonctionne moins bien. On peut donc qualifier ces objets comme de véritables technologies participatives, de leviers technologiques capables d’implémenter une idée du « care »19 et d’infrastructures fragiles dont il faut prendre soin. Les réseaux MESH font circuler un savoir et des pratiques culturelles spécifiques de façon décentralisée ; ils nous semblent en relation avec une forme nouvelle d’être ensemble qui se développe dans cette ville « en crise ».

De la résilience à la reliance, une nouvelle forme de communauté

En 2011, Manuel Castells, étudiant les cosmopolitismes multiples que sont les mouvements du printemps arabe, des Indignados, Occupy et Anonymous, évoquait de nouvelles formes de communauté à liens plus ou moins faibles mais hyper-connectées : « cette fois-ci les réseaux numériques pourvoient des formes flexibles et changeantes d’organisation et de débat, d’appel au secours, de distribution d’idées et d’initiatives, de décisions collectives distribuées. Les braves gens du mouvement ne sont jamais seuls, sont toujours connectés, et donc, ensemble n’ont pas peur. Leur mot d’ordre : « Tous ensemble, nous pouvons ». Pouvoir quoi ? Pour le moment, dans le discours du mou­vement, l’essentiel est de pouvoir être ensemble et, ensemble, découvrir une autre démocratie che­min faisant. » (op.cit, 2011).

De notre enquête à Détroit, nous retenons dès à présent qu’il y a dans les motivations des individus avec qui nous travaillons une volonté de renouer avec une approche ethnologique dans la politique de la ville tout comme une forte détermination à engendrer une dynamique de changement social issu des actions des citoyens et de leur puissance d’agir. L’important est là aussi de le faire ensemble, d’engager la « communauté » vers un projet plus juste pour la ville, de l’éduquer à la façon dont les différentes infrastructures fonctionnent, aux rôles qu’un utilisateur peut y jouer. « L’ambition » des déploiements de réseaux MESH à Détroit est à chercher de ce côté là, dans la création de nouvelles communautés

Enquêté: […] Nous construisions cela de façon horizontale maintenant, alors que nous parlons. Tu sais, cela ressemble beaucoup à ce que nous sommes, à nos idées […] on se rend compte aujourd’hui que nous ne sommes pas des originaux, qu’on peut se joindre à des personnes qui partagent notre vision des choses dans cette ville. C’est cela que nous avons construit au fond, c’est de cela dont il s’agit ici, c’est ça qui t’a amené ici toi et ta thèse sur les infrastructures décentralisées et horizontales…  

  notre intention dans ce projet, c’était d’apprendre, c’était d’interagir avec les autres organisations qui partagent la même idéologie que nous, puis voir ce que ça peut donner si on travaille tous ensemble à partir de la base.]  

Enquêteur : Dans la ville inversée ?

Enquêté : C’est ça ! Bienvenue dans la ville inversée !]

Le développement d’une citoyenneté active et participante via ces réseaux communautaires sans fil est un fait dans la ville en crise qu’est Détroit, nous l’avons vérifié en passant trois mois aux côtés de ces Digital Stewards, des associations qui les forment et des personnes qui développent ce logiciel de réseautage et de reliance communautaire20. Tout en étant une ville touchée de plein fouet par la faillite et une grande pauvreté, Détroit semble se transformer en exemple de cité post industrielle moderne « où les fausses promesses de consommation et de production sans limites aux dépens de la dignité humaine et du sens de communauté ont été examinées minutieusement, et finalement remplacées par des fondations plus humanistes » (Handelsman, 2011).

Les « Communities », les différentes associations d’Éducation Populaire et ces activistes des infrastructures jouent tous un rôle dans cette entreprise de ré-humanisation des infrastructures de télécommunication, d’agriculture, de transport, d’éducation, de gestion des déchets, de consommation, etc. Les pratiques de transformation fondées sur les mondes du numérique et les réseaux communautaires sans fil que nous observons dans la ville en crise qu’est Détroit illustrent un « vivre Internet » différent. Ils peuvent aussi être considérés comme des preuves du développement de l’économie de la contribution (Stiegler, 2009) vecteur de « puissance d’agir » des citoyens utilisateurs (Proulx, 2012) et nécessaire à une émancipation citoyenne. L’ethnographie des réseaux sans fils communautaires, moyens de résilience face à la crise de Détroit permet également de confirmer le fait que la concentration spatiale des classes populaires peut devenir un support d’émancipation par la « révolte et la révolution »21. Détroit a désormais son propre média supporté par sa propre infrastructure (les réseaux MESH). De ce fait, cette ville donne à réfléchir sur un système politique plus horizontal qui serait une première brique cohérente apportée à l’entreprise que l’on nomme partout « sortir de la crise » et » réengager les citoyens dans l’action civique et politique ».

En France, il faudrait peut être tout simplement se repencher sur ce que l’on met sous le terme d’Éducation Populaire et se dire que le mouvement du même nom, affaibli par l’action gouvernementale depuis de trop nombreuses années, contient lui aussi les ferments d’une citoyenneté plus juste et plus équitable. Une citoyenneté plus apte à faire face à des crises quelles qu’elles soient.

  1. Du latin : « Nous espérons des temps meilleurs, elle renaîtra de ses cendres » ; devise de Détroit (Michigan, États-Unis) inscrite sur le drapeau de la ville après l’incendie ayant ravagé la majeure partie de la ville en 1805. []
  2. Le Monde avec AFP [18 juillet 2013], « La ville américaine de Détroit se déclare en faillite » []. []
  3. Données Brookings, Metropolitan Program, Allan Mallach, d’après le Census American Community Survey, 2010 [] []
  4. Sur ce point, voir VANHEMERT, K. [26 août 2013], Wired, « The Best Map Ever Made of America’s Racial Segregation » []. []
  5. Sur ce point, voir KLEINE, R. [4 août 2013], Detroit Free Press, “How the State of Michigan helped bankrupt Detroit” []. []
  6. Capacité d’une ville à faire face à un traumatisme, à l’affronter et à trouver les moyens nécessaires pour se reconstruire. []
  7. Sur ce point, voir 2012 Detroit Strategic Framework Plan, Detroit Future City []. []
  8. Infrastructures de télécommunications, agricoles, pédagogiques, gestion des déchets, etc. Cf. EGYEDI, T. M. and MEHOS, D. C. (2012), Inverse infrastructures. Disrupting Networks from Below, Edward Elgar, Northampton. []
  9. Metro Scale Ad-Hoc Network, protocole de routage et d’établissement de réseaux locaux sans fil décentralisés où chaque nœud du réseau devient relais pour les autres pairs (« peer-to-peer » mobile, réseaux d’antennes autonomes et/ou d’appareils communiquants tels qu’ordinateurs, smartphones, routeurs Wi-Fi, etc.). Le réseau ainsi établi ne comporte donc pas de point central et est ainsi plus résistant aux coupures et/ou aux contrôles extérieurs. On pourrait comparer ce type de d’infrastructures de communication à un réseau d’utilisateurs connectés entre eux via ondes radio courtes portées (une sorte de réseau bluetooth élargi). Cette technologie à l’origine militaire permet de déployer un réseau de communication robuste et indépendant entre ordinateurs ou téléphones ou terminaux de communication, en circuit fermé, ou connecté au moins en un point à un réseau Internet ou GSM. []
  10. Sur ce point, voir COSME, C. (2012), Politique de la ville, l’expérience américaine, Centre d’analyse stratégique, la documentation Française, Paris. []
  11. Sur ce point, voir GOËTA, S. [1er juin 2012],, “Détroit n’est pas une silencieuse ville sauvage. [La critique, par Aaron Handelsman] []. []
  12. []
  13. Sur ce point, voir : GLANZ, J. & MARKOFF, J. [12 juin 2011], The New York Times, « U.S. Underwrites Internet Detour Around Censors » []. []
  14. & []
  15. Activiste et philosophe originaire de Détroit, militante du Black Power dans les années 60. []
  16. Militant et sociologue américain originaire de Chicago, généralement reconnu comme le père fondateur du « community organizing ». []
  17. Sur ce point, voir ALINSKY, S. (1971), Rules for radicals : a practical primer for realistic radicals, Random House, New York. []
  18. Référentiel qui insiste sur la nécessité pour les pauvres de pourvoir à leurs intérêts, même « bourgeois » et « décadents » ; ce qui n’est pas le cas de Lee Boggs évoquée précédemment ni même des personnes interrogées ici qui se définissent proches du référentiel politique des Black Panthers et du Black Power. []
  19. « Prendre soin, prêter attention à ». []
  20. Par « reliance », et à la suite d’Edgar Morin (2004), nous entendons un acte par lequel l’individu se relie aux autres. Morin qualifie effectivement cet acte individuel de « reliance ». Il utilise le concept de reliance dans un sens actif qui met en évidence le lien vivant entre le « bien-penser » et le « bien-agir » : « La pensée complexe est la pensée qui relie. L’éthique complexe est l’éthique de reliance ». []
  21. CLERVAL, A. [17 octobre 2013], L’Humanité.fr, “À Paris, le discours sur la mixité sociale a remplacé la lutte des classes” [] []


AKRICH, M. (1987), « Comment décrire les objets techniques ? », Techniques et Culture, vol. 9, p. 49-64.

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François Huguet

PhD student in Communication Studies at the Codesign Lab & Media Studies at Telecom ParisTech. Supervisor: Annie Gentès / Co-supervisor: Jérôme Denis

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Architectures de réseau et (comme) gouvernance d’Internet

Cet article, en anglais, est paru en octobre 2013 sur l’Internet Policy Review. Merci à Frédéric Dubois, Uta Meier-Hahn, Andrej Savin et Rikke Frank Joergensen pour leur relecture et leurs commentaires.


Network architecture as internet governance

The architecture of a networked system is its underlying technical structure, designed according to a “matrix of concepts” (Agre, 2003). It constitutes the logical and structural layout of a system, including transmission equipment, communication protocols, infrastructure, and connectivity between its components or nodes. This article introduces the idea of network architecture as internet governance1, and more specifically, it outlines the dialectic between centralised and distributed architectures, institutions and practices, and how they mutually affect each other.

Technical architectures, as argued by several authors discussed in this article, may be understood as alternative ways of influencing economic systems, sets of rules, communities of practice – indeed, as the very fabric of user behaviour and interaction. The status of every internet user as consumer, sharer, producer and possibly manager of digital content is informed by, and shapes in return, the technical structure and organisation of the services she has access to. It is in this sense that network architecture is internet governance: by changing the design of the networks subtending internet-based services, and the global internet itself, the politics of the network of networks are affected – the balance of rights between users and providers, the capacity of online communities to engage in open and direct interaction, the fair competition between actors of the internet market.

Architecture, “politics by other means”

“Study an information system and neglect its standards, wires, and settings, and you miss equally essential aspects of aesthetics, justice, and change,” once wrote science and technology studies (STS) scholar Susan Leigh Star (Star, 1999, p. 339). Indeed, the history of internet innovation suggests that the shaping of technical architectures populating the network of networks is, in the words of philosopher Bruno Latour, “politics by other means” (Latour, 1988, p. 229). The ways in which architecture is politics, protocols are law, code shapes rights (e.g., Lessig, 1999; DeNardis, 2009), are explored today by a number of different authors in relation to networked and online media; in particular, internet-related research has contributed to foster the debate on the intersection and overlap of governance by architecture with other forms of governance. This section, while not pretending to be exhaustive, discusses some key approaches to the question.

Interested in the relationship between architectures and the organisation of society, Terje Rasmussen (2003) has argued that there is a structural match between the development of the technical model of the internet (such as packet switching and distributed routing) and the transformation of the societies in which it operates. In this account, the technical infrastructure of the Internet suggests that ours is a distributed society, based on the ability to handle risk, rather than on central control. On the other hand, information studies scholar and internet pioneer Philip Agre suggests that “Decentralized institutions do not imply decentralized architectures, or vice versa. […] Architectures and institutions inevitably coevolve, and to the extent they can be designed, they should be designed together” (Agre, 2003, p. 42), but they are not “naturally” related.

IT law scholar Barbara van Schewick seeks to examine how changes, notably design choices, in internet architecture affect the economic environment for innovation, and evaluates the impact of these changes from the perspective of public policy (2010, p. 2). According to her, this is a first step towards filling a gap in how scholarship understands innovators’ decisions and the economic environment for innovation. After many years of research on innovation processes, we understand how these are affected by changes in laws, norms, and prices; yet, we lack a similar understanding of how architecture and innovation impact each other, perhaps for the intrinsic appeal of architectures as purely technical systems (ibid., p. 2-3). Traditionally, she concludes, policy makers have used the law to bring about desired economic effects. Architecture de facto constitutes an alternative way of influencing economic systems, and as such, it is becoming another tool that actors can use to further their interests (ibid., p. 389).

The relationship between architecture and law-making for networked media has been an increasingly central interdisciplinary preoccupation since the late 1990s/early 2000s. Early uses of the metaphor “code is law” can be found in William Mitchell’s City of Bits (1995) and in Joel Reidenberg’s article on lex informatica, the formation of information policy rules through technology (1998). However, legal scholars Yochai Benkler and Lawrence Lessig have arguably been the “scene-setters” in this field, with their work on sharing as a paradigm of economic production in its own right (2004) and technical architecture as politics (1999), respectively. While the former argued for the rise of a “networked information economy” as a system of “production, distribution, and consumption of information goods characterized by decentralized individual action carried out through widely distributed, nonmarket means” (Benkler, 2006), the latter introduced technical architecture as one out of the four main (and interconnected) society regulators, the other three being law, market and norms. The application of this principle to the text of computer programmes led to what remains, perhaps, the most striking incarnation of the famous “code is law” label (Lessig, 1999).

Among the scholars that have since been inspired by this line of inquiry, Niva Elkin-Koren is especially relevant. In her work (e.g., 2006, 2012), architecture is understood as a dynamic parameter in the reciprocal influences of law and technology design, in the field of information and communication systems. The interrelationship between law and technology often focuses on one single aspect, the challenges that emerging technologies pose to the existing legal regime, thereby creating a need for further legal reform; however, the author argues, juridical measures involving technology both as a target of regulation and as a means of enforcement should take into account that the law does not merely respond to new technologies, but also shapes them and may affect their design (Elkin-Koren, 2006).

The work of Tim Wu adds layers to the conceptualisation of code’s relationship with law, moving from Lessig’s concept that computer code can substitute for law or other forms of regulation, to code as an anti-regulatory mechanism tool that certain groups will use to their advantage to minimise the costs of law – the possibility of “using code design as an alternative mechanism of interest group behavior” (Wu, 2003).

Architecture and the future(s) of the internet

The current trajectories of innovation for the internet are making it increasingly evident by the day: the evolutions (and in-volutions) of the network of networks are likely to depend in the medium-to-long term on the topology and the organisational/technical model of internet-based applications, as well as on the infrastructure underlying them (Aigrain, 2011).

This is illustrated by what has been this author’s main research focus over the past few years: the development of internet-based services – search engines, storage platforms, video streaming applications – based on decentralised network architectures (Musiani, 2013b).

The concept of decentralisation is somehow shaped and inscribed into the very beginnings of the internet – notably in the organisation and circulation of data packets – but its current topology integrates this structuring principle only in very limited ways (Minar & Hedlund, 2001). The limits of the concentrated and centralised urbanism of the internet, which has been predominant since the beginning of its commercial era and its appropriation by the masses, are sometimes highlighted by the same phenomena that has contributed to its widespread success, as best illustrated by social media (Schafer, Le Crosnier & Musiani, 2011). Examples of incidents caused by “excessive concentration” are, for example, the global consequences of the Pakistani YouTube re-routing in 2008 or the repeated failures of Twitter infrastructure (e.g., in 2012). These incidents have put into the spotlight some of the possible limits of the concentration model: excessive control, technical and/or legal, by a single commercial entity; the opaqueness of the modalities of this control vis-à-vis the users; the vulnerability to single-point failures of centralised architectures.

While internet users have become, at least potentially, not only consumers but also distributors, sharers and producers of digital content, the network of networks is structured in such a way that large quantities of data are centralised and compressed within large data centers and server farms. At the same time, such data is most suited to a rapid re-diffusion and re-sharing in multiple locations of a network that has now reached an unprecedented level of globalisation. The current organisation of internet-based services and the structure of the network that enables their delivery – with its mandatory passage points, places of storage and trade, required intersections – raises many questions, in terms of the optimised utilisation of resources, the fluidity, rapidity and effectiveness of electronic exchanges, the security of exchanges, the stability of the network.

Beyond technology, these questions are deeply social and political, and affect the “ramifications of possibles” (Gai, 2007) the internet is currently facing for its close future. Resorting to decentralised architectures and distributed organisational forms, constitutes a different way to address some issues of management of the network, in a perspective of effectiveness, answer to vulnerabilities, digital “sustainable development” (better resource management), and of maximisation of the Internet’s value for society.

Architectures shaping user rights: decentralisation and privacy by design

Systems based on distributed, decentralised, peer-to-peer (P2P) architectures seek their place today in an IT landscape that is mostly one of concentration and removal from users’ machines. From the viewpoint of informational data, personal data and exchanged content, this implies that sharing, regrouping and stocking those data in the most popular, and widespread internet services of today means promoting a model in which traffic is re-directed towards an ensemble of machines, placed under the exclusive and direct control of the service provider. Thus, exchanges between users are made by “copying” data that one wishes to share on one or more external terminals, or by giving these external machines the permission to index this information. The ways in which data circulates, is stored and written in these machines is often uncertain; moreover, the rights that the service provider acquires on such data are often excessive with respect to those maintained by the end user – in such a way that is often opaque for users themselves2.

When the operations of data treatment and handling are conducted, partially or totally, on users’ terminals directly linked together, this choice of network architecture contributes to building specific definitions of privacy protection. It modifies the ways in which the control on informational data, and the responsibility of their protection, are spread out to the users, the service providers and the developers who have created the service.

Three cases of internet services based on a decentralised network architecture – a search engine, a storage platform and a video streaming software, studied between 2009 and 2011 – have shown how a definition of privacy “by design,” more specifically by architectural design, takes shape in internet services (Musiani, 2013b). With this alternative, “techno-legal” way of defining privacy, a central role is attributed to the constraints and the opportunities of privacy protection that are inscribed into the technical model chosen by developers (Schaar, 2010).

Faroo, a P2P search engine developed first in Germany, then in the United Kingdom, displays a “six-levels” distribution model that must prevent the traceability of queries by a central entity; this model is supposed to preserve personal data within the user’s own terminal and the P2P client installed on it – unless they are encrypted on that very terminal before leaving it. This feature also allows the developers to work towards reducing the tension – which is a priori very difficult to eliminate – between the confidentiality of personal information and the personalisation of search queries, the latter being the “added value” that social dynamics add to the search engine and, which is based on the very collection of this personal information.

The case of Tribler, a P2P video streaming tool first developed at the Technical University of Delft (The Netherlands), is another occasion to follow this tension, as the logic underlying the system is that the history of downloads made by a user are shared by default with other users so as to nourish the software’s “recommendation” algorithm. The solution envisaged by the developers has, once again, to do with an idea of “privacy by architectural design”, as it builds on the decentralised and distributed model to mitigate, in the eyes of users, the impression of exposure and revelation of themselves that the system’s social features may provoke: not only can the feature be disabled, but it only sends the download history to other users – it doesn’t keep the information on any server controlled by the service.

Finally, Wuala 3, a (formerly) distributed storage platform developed in Switzerland, displayed similar attempts to protect user privacy via architecture. The heart of this service was the user’s terminal, where, thanks to a dedicated P2P client, the operations of encryption and fragmentation of stored data could take place. These two operations, conducted before any other (e.g., sharing, downloading or circulating data in the network), were meant, in the vision of Wuala’s developers, as evidence given to the users that the service provider, regardless of its intentions, did not even possess the technical means to break user trust in the system.

While developers, across all three case studies, consider that a more articulate protection of privacy is one of the core comparative advantages of their systems (and they “sell” it as such), users wonder, in turn, about the implications of a decentralised architecture for the protection of their data. What does the fact of making available to the whole P2P network a part of one’s own computing resources imply, for the “invisible” data collected there? In the cases of Faroo and Wuala – where the P2P model merges, in a peculiar way, with a proprietary software logic, this question is the occasion to make explicit the difficult articulation between the decentralising philosophy subtending the systems, and a closed source code. Pioneer users – for the most part, users-innovators or users-developers themselves – see the closed code as a lack of transparency, even a lack of respect, that prevents them from delving into this aspect with the tools they have available. It is good to have privacy by architecture, these users point out, but we need to have a direct knowledge of this technique on a case-by-case basis, to, eventually, allow for direct modifications of the architecture.

Decentralised models challenge “by architecture” the extent, the balance and the very definition of the rights obtained by service providers on users’ personal data, vis-à-vis the rights that users maintain on such data. With a trade-off: on the one hand, the user sees her privacy reinforced by the possibility of an augmented control on her data, and its handling by the P2P client. However, simultaneously and for the same reasons, her responsibility for the actions she undertakes within and by means of the application is increased proportionately, as the provider surrenders voluntarily some of his control over the data and content present on the service. The collective dimension of this responsibility is also emphasised, inasmuch as the infraction to the collective behaviour has not only individual but collective consequences- be it the storage of inappropriate content, the introduction of unreliable information or spam in a distributed search index, or a “selfish” management of the bandwidth shared by a P2P streaming system.

Conclusions: how architecture matters

“Arrangements of technical architecture have always inherently been arrangements of power,” writes STS scholar Laura DeNardis (2012): the technical architecture of networked systems does not only affect internet governance, but is internet governance. This governance by architecture, or “governance by design” (De Filippi, Dulong de Rosnay & Musiani, 2013), has important implications at a number of levels, of which the previous section has given but one example.

Changes in architectural design affect the repartition of competences and responsibilities between service providers, content producers, users and network operators. They affect forms of engagement and intéressement (Callon, 2006) in networked systems, of users first and foremost, but also of other actors concerned by the implementation and the operation of internet services. They shape the sustainability of the underlying economic models and the technical and legal approaches to digital content and personal data. They make visible, in various configurations, the forms of interaction between the local and the global, the patterns of articulation between the individual and the collective.

Changes in network architectures contribute to the shaping of user rights, of the ways to produce and enforce law, and are reconfigured in return. A number of legal issues, that go way beyond copyright (despite having often been reduced to this aspect, notably in the case of peer-to-peer systems), are raised by architectural configurations of internet services. To preserve the internet’s “social value,” it is important to achieve reliable forms of regulation – technical, political, or both – without impeding present and future innovation.

Changes in architecture do, finally, contribute to shift the boundary between public and private uses of the internet as a global facility: they are a crucial factor in defining intellectual property rights, the right to privacy of users/clients, or their rights of access to content. They contribute to define what is a contributor in internet-based services, in terms of computing resources required for operating the system, and of content.

In the end, technical architecture appears as one of the strongest, if not the strongest structuring element of internet governance: what is shaped into architecture and infrastructure can seldom be undone by institutional negotiation and dialogue alone, and institutions find it increasingly complicated to keep up with “creative” governance by architecture and by infrastructure4. In this sense, future evolutions of internet governance as a field would do well to take into account Michel van Eeten and Milton Mueller’s suggestion to expand and include innovative areas such as the economics of cybercrime and cyber security, network neutrality, content filtering and regulation, copyright enforcement, and interconnection arrangements among ISPs (van Eeten & Mueller, 2013).

In the digital world, it is possible to design in detail the architecture of the world users interact with – and as a consequence, it is possible to design the architecture of our global communication infrastructure in order to promote specific types of interactions over others (De Filippi et al., 2013). With important consequences for the ways in which the future internet will be governed, and for the extent to which its users will be not only customers, but citizens.


1. Internet governance (IG) today is a lively, emerging field, and its definition relentlessly contested by different groups across political and ideological lines. A “working definition” of IG has been provided in the past, after the United Nations-initiated World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), by the Working Group on Internet Governance – a definition that has reached wide consensus because of its inclusiveness, but is perhaps too broad to be useful for drawing more precisely the boundaries of the field (Malcolm, 2008): “Internet governance is the development and application by governments, the private sector and civil society, in their respective roles, of shared principles, norms, rules, decision-making procedures, and programmes that shape the evolution and use of the Internet” (WGIG, 2005). This broad definition implies the involvement of a plurality of actors, and the possibility for them to deploy a plurality of governance mechanisms. IG has been described as a mix of technical coordination, standards, and policies (e.g., Malcolm, 2008 and Mueller, 2010). See also (DeNardis, 2013) and (Musiani, 2013a).

2. See this discussion of the terms of use of several social sites, among which Facebook and Instagram:

3. The decentralised mechanism subtending the Wuala system, a trade between local storage space and space in a “P2P storage cloud” spread out to the users, was discontinued in September 2011.

4. An example is the Domain Name System and its co-optations. See (DeNardis, 2012) and (Musiani, 2013).


Agre, P. (2003). “Peer-to-Peer and the Promise of Internet Equality.” Communications of the ACM, 46 (2): 39-42.

Aigrain, P. (2010). “Declouding Freedom: Reclaiming Servers, Services and Data.” In 2020 FLOSS Roadmap (2010 Version/3rd Edition),

Benkler, Y. (2006). The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Benkler, Y. (2004). “Sharing Nicely: On Shareable Goods and the Emergence of Sharing as a Modality of Economic Production.” The Yale Law Journal, 114 (2), 273-358.

Callon, M. (2006). “Sociologie de l’acteur-réseau.” In Akrich, M., Callon, M. & Latour, B. Sociologie de la traduction. Textes fondateurs. Paris : Presses des Mines, 267-276.

De Filippi, P., M. Dulong de Rosnay & F. Musiani (2013). “Peer production online communities, distributed architectures and governance by design.” Communication presented at the Fourth Transforming Audiences Conference, September 3, 2013, University of Westminster, London.

DeNardis, L. (2013). “The Emerging Field of Internet Governance”, in W. Dutton (ed.) Oxford Handbook of Internet Studies. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

DeNardis, L. (2012). “The Turn to Infrastructure for Internet Governance”, Concurring Opinions, 2012,

DeNardis, L. (2009). Protocol Politics. The Globalization of Internet Governance. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Elkin-Koren, N. (2006). “Making Technology Visible: Liability of Internet Service Providers for Peer-to-Peer Traffic.” New York University Journal of Legislation & Public Policy, 9 (15), 15-76.

Elkin-Koren, N. (2012). “Governing Access to User-Generated Content: The Changing Nature of Private Ordering in Digital Networks.” In Brousseau, E., Marzouki, M., Méadel, C. (eds.), Governance, Regulations and Powers on the Internet, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Gai, A.-T. (2007). “Web 3.0: une autre branche pour l’arbre des possibles.” Transnets,

Latour, B. (1988). The Pasteurization of France. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Lessig, L. (1999). Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace. New York: Basic Books.

Malcolm, J. (2008). Multi-Stakeholder Governance and the Internet Governance Forum. Wembley, WA : Terminus Press.

Minar, N. & Hedlund, M. (2001). “A network of peers – Peer-to-peer models through the history of the Internet.” In A. Oram (Ed.), Peer-to-peer: Harnessing the Power of Disruptive Technologies, 9-20. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly.

Mitchell, W. J. (1996). City of Bits. Space, Place and the Infobahn. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Mueller, M. (2010). Networks and States: The Global Politics of Internet Governance. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Musiani, F. (2013a). “A Decentralized Domain Name System? User-Controlled Infrastructure as Alternative Internet Governance”. Presented at the 8th Media In Transition (MiT8) conference, May 3-5, 2013, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA. Available as draft at

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Francesca Musiani

Chercheuse postdoctorale, MINES ParisTech Yahoo! Fellow in Residence, Georgetown University

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La gouvernance des algorithmes

Cet article, en anglais, a également paru sur l’Internet Policy Review. Merci à Frédéric Dubois, Uta Meier-Hahn, Madeline Carr et Johan Soderberg pour leurs commentaires et relectures.

Governance by algorithms

09 Aug 2013 by Francesca Musiani

Note on title [1].

Algorithms are increasingly often cited as one of the fundamental shaping devices of our daily, immersed-in-information existence. Their importance is acknowledged, their performance scrutinised in numerous contexts. Yet, a lot of what constitutes “algorithms” beyond their broad definition as “encoded procedures for transforming input data into a desired output, based on specified calculations”[2] is often taken for granted. At the same time, they are “invoked as powerful entities that control, govern, sort, regulate, and shape everything from financial trades to news media”[3]. Recently (May 16-17, 2013), an interdisciplinary event organised at New York University has addressed this issue through an interesting lens: that of governance – governance by algorithms in addition to governance of algorithms.

Taking stock of the event, which this author attended, the article seeks to contribute to the discussion of “what algorithms do” and in which ways they are artefacts of governance, providing two illustrative examples drawing from the internet and ICT realm: search engine queries and e-commerce websites’ recommendations to customers. Indeed, the question of the relationship between algorithms and rules is likely to occupy an increasingly central role in the study and the practice of internet governance, in terms of both institutions’ regulation of algorithms, and algorithms’ regulation of our society.

The omnipresence of data, the consequences of their organisation

The role of invisibility in the classification processes that order human interaction, the procedures through which categories are made and kept invisible, the ways in which people can change this invisibility when necessary, and the extent to which systems of classification are crucial to the building of information infrastructures have been core preoccupations of science, technology and society scholars for several years.[4] Yet, the issue of information classification and organisation has perhaps never been as relevant as in our current times of “information overload”[5] and internet-mediated access to the vast majority of the information surrounding us.[6] Indeed, digital data seem to proliferate in the complex world of today, building on the variety of platforms and supports that allow for dematerialisation and rapid circulation and distribution. They serve different purposes, from trading to surveillance, from evaluation to recommendation; they are listed, regrouped and organised by means of many supports and devices, from search engines to e-commerce websites. While companies leverage traces left by consumers on the web so as to better target, customise (and take advantage of) their next purchases and interactions, some users worry about the portraits that such traces allow others to paint of them, and of the impossibility to modify or erase them, left to the perusal of generations to come[7].

Arguing that we are currently entering in the era of big data and algorithms, several authors argue that this “is a major breakthrough in the development of digital services (as it) gives decisive importance not only to the owners of data, but also and especially to those who can make them intelligible”[8]. The algorithms subtending the information and communication technologies we daily use, the internet first and foremost, are (also) artefacts of governance, arrangements of power and “politics by other means”[9].

The power of algorithms

By naming a conference held at New York University last May “Governing Algorithms”, its organisers were making a deliberate choice of ambiguity – hinting at both the governance of algorithms, the extent to which political regulation can affect the functioning of the instructions and procedures subtending technology, and the governing power of algorithms themselves.

The ways in which the pervasiveness of algorithms into human society has political implications appear as a core issue of our times; they are a key feature of both today’s information ecosystem[10] and underlying cultural norms[11], as they contribute to the shaping of the information we access and of its organisation. In a recent paper, communication scholar Tarleton Gillespie highlights six dimensions of political valence for algorithms that have public relevance, i.e., those algorithms that are used to select what is most relevant from a corpus of data composed of traces of our activities, preferences, and expressions”[12]. These six dimensions are:

  • patterns of inclusion, the choices behind the constitution of an index, what is included and excluded in it, and how data is “prepared” for the algorithm;

  • cycles of anticipation, the consequences of attempts, by those creating the algorithms, to have information about their users and make predictions on their future behaviours;

  • the evaluation of relevance, the criteria by which algorithms determine what is not only relevant, but appropriate and legitimate;

  • the promise of objectivity, the way the technical nature of the algorithm is presented as a guarantee of impartiality, particularly in the case of controversy;

  • the entanglement with practice, the processes by which users reshape their practices to suit the algorithms they depend on, and turn algorithms into terrains for political contest;

  • finally, the production of calculated publics, the process of algorithmic presentation of publics back to themselves, and how this shapes a public’s sense of itself.[13]

These six dimensions bring to the fore two main consequences of the “computation” of our information society. By delegating to algorithms a number of tasks that would be impossible to perform manually, the process of submitting data to analysis is automated; and in turn, the results of these analyses automate decision-making. This double automation, in turn, poses the question of agency and control[14]. By asking questions such as: who are the arbiters of algorithms? Is algorithm design an assertion of authority over more than the algorithm itself? What is the autonomy of algorithms, if any? – it is the accountability and the responsibility of algorithms as socio-technical artefacts that is examined, that of their creators and users, and ultimately, of the balance of power facilitated or caused by algorithms.

Algorithmic governance: Part I. Web search

The ways in which the web gives more visibility to some information and content than to other is at the very heart of the recurring debate on the defining features of the digital space as a “public space.”  According to Jürgen Habermas, the “father” of the public sphere concept, two conditions are necessary to structure a public space: freedom of expression, and discussion as a force of integration. The architecture of the “network of networks” seems to articulate these two conditions. However, if the first is frequently recognised as one of the widespread virtues of the internet, the second seems more uncertain[15]. In his book The Wealth of Networks, legal scholar Yochai Benkler argues for a global “order” intrinsic to the web, whose core feature is the fact that the selection of information is no longer the monopoly of gatekeepers, journalists, librarians and editors, but is delegated to internet users, now publishers in their own right. By citing and quoting one another in conversational niches, these individuals and groups single out quality information for algorithms, which, in turn, order and classify them and make them available in search engines.[16] Thus, the ordering of web-hosted information appears as a co-production and co-construction of internet users and computational tools.

Algorithms are delegating the integration of conversations and discussions taking place at the micro level. The aggregated arguments that result from this integration are perceived as “implicit universal consensus”; they have both the strengths and the weaknesses of any information that cannot be traced back to any specific individual, and at the same time, results from a wide assemblage of opinions.[17] Search engines, and the multiple measures underlying the internet hierarchise the visibility of information by proposing it at the very beginning of search result lists, or dissimulating it at the end. By de facto deciding “what must be seen,” they are susceptible to encourage or discourage controversy and discussion – while constructing the public agenda of political and social priorities in the process, as well as selecting interlocutors that matter.[18]

In particular, thanks to the current quasi-monopoly that Google holds on web search practices, its PageRank algorithm has been widely examined as the new gatekeeper[19] and “benevolent dictator”[20] of the digital public spaces and spheres. The algorithm implements, according to a “recipe” that partly remains an industrial secret, different sets of measurement criteria that assess authority (according to the number of citations), audience (according to the number of visits or clicks), proximity and affinity (according to recommendations) or speed (according to real-time aggregation and relay of “hot” topics). PageRank, as the “master switch” of the internet,[21] centralises and organises the circulation of information in the network of networks, and for every search interrogation and request, arbitrates on what’s important and relevant.

Algorithmic governance: Part 2: Recommendations in e-commerce[22]

For some years now, online seller Amazon has been “a remarkable prescriber”, whose prescriptions are based on the recommendations of its readers/buyers. The vendor’s website makes it possible for each of its subscribed users to know, in a single click, about other purchases made in the past by users who have acquired the same title[23]. Personalised recommendations are not something new in the world of book publishing and selling, be they digital or not. Simply, a librarian remarks ironically, they historically have been “the exclusive purview of booksellers, librarians… and friends. Now your best friend for advice on reading is called ‘recommendation Al Gorithm’… and it loves you very much!”[24]

Indeed, it is on the systematisation and automation of a very widespread and very social phenomenon – the exchange of advice and guidance among users, sharing preferences and affinities – that Amazon and other online sellers base their recommendation systems. Drawing from methods based on both content (considering two books “similar” if they share a large number of words) and collaborative filtering (the intersection of lists containing particular books and lists based on previous records of books purchased or borrowed by readers), Amazon has developed an algorithm called “item-to-item collaborative filtering”. Its details remain an industrial secret, but the algorithm displays every day its effectiveness in “personalising” recommendations according to the interests of each of its consumers. As its name suggests, rather than match a user with similar users, this algorithm relates each item ordered and purchased by users with similar items, and eventually combines them in a recommendation list.[25]

Behind this algorithm – and causing readers/buyers to think that Amazon knows very well, perhaps too well, their tastes – lie years of research and experiments in a recent subfield of computer science whose practical applications are increasingly widespread, albeit discrete: data mining, in particular affinity analysis and market basket analysis.[26] For readers looking for new things to read, suggestions similar to their previously purchased articles are constructed by relying on a mix of several sources of information about them, feeding a large database where they are combined with other shopping histories. This information can range from the most obvious demographics about oneself and close relatives, to more complex assessments based on the sites one consults before arriving at Amazon, or one’s “habit of clicks.” The entanglements within this large database about the purchasing behaviour of users, activated in accordance with Amazon’s patented algorithm, are the basis of the suggestions familiar to the user, such as “Recommended as you bought…” or “Recommended because you add X to your wish…”, and influence book purchases on Amazon every day.

Algorithms and rules, rule by algorithm

We live in an increasingly algorithmic world. This article has examined, in particular, two cases related to web-based information and communication technologies where the importance of algorithms is high and their presence pervasive. However, the invisible computational structures that guide our search results and our online purchases extend to a number of other contexts, in which algorithms are deployed and regulatory work has been insistently called for in face of recent crises, from facial recognition software to financial markets.[27]

The question of the relationship between algorithms and rules is likely to occupy an increasingly central role in the study and the practice of internet governance, and more generally, of the governance of the complex, automated systems that permeate today’s world.

The academic landscape in the interdisciplinary fields of communication studies, internet studies and science and technology studies reflects a thriving and increasing interest for this question. As an additional path towards answering the key question, “who does the algorithm serve?”, scholars also investigate the historical process from which the algorithm has emerged as a key topic of our times and attempt to situate it in the larger context of political economy.[28]

As not only academic research but current news show ever more frequently,[29] two faces of the algorithms/rules relationship are currently under scrutiny, and are likely to be even more in the close future. On the one hand, there is the issue of institutions’ ruling of algorithms. Should the locus of legal reasoning related to these systems shift to the coding of algorithms? Should regulation, or further regulation, of algorithms be pushed or advocated for in specific contexts? What would this regulation look like, would it even be possible, and what effects would it cause?[30]

On the other hand, the extent to which we live in a world ruled by algorithms has to be assessed. We need to research not only the extent to which, given the ubiquity of algorithms, they regulate us in a sense, but also “what it would mean to resist them”.[31]


[1] This article is partially a recollection and account of the Governing Algorithms conference held at New York University on May 16-17, 2013.

[2] Gillespie, Tarleton (2013). “The Relevance of Algorithms”. Forthcoming in Media Technologies: Essays on Communication, Materiality, and Society, ed. Tarleton Gillespie, Pablo Boczkowski, and Kirsten Foot. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Available at…


[4] Bowker, Geoffrey C. & Susan Leigh Star (1999). Sorting Things Out: Classification and Its Consequences. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

[5] Flew, Terry (2008) New Media: An Introduction (3rd Ed.). Oxford : Oxford University Press.

[6] Cardon, Dominique (2013). “Présentation”. Dossier Politique des algorithmes, Réseaux, 177 (1): 9-21.

[7] On the Internet’s “persistent memory” and the so-called “right to be forgotten”, championed by the EU in the recent past, see e.g. Beckles, C.-A. (2013). “Will the Right to Be Forgotten Lead to a Society That Was Forgotten?”, Privacy Perspectives,… or the critical Harris, L. (2013). “How to fix the EU’s ‘Right to be Forgotten’”, The Huffington Post,…

[8] Cardon (2013), p. 10.

[9] Latour, Bruno (1988). The Pasteurization of France. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press , p. 229.

[10] Anderson, C. W. (2011). “Deliberative, agonistic, and algorithmic audiences: Journalism’s vision of its public in an age of audience”. Journal of Communication, 5: 529-547.

[11] Striphas, Ted (2009). The Late Age of Print: Everyday Book Culture from Consumerism to Control. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.

[12] Gillespie (2013), p. 2.

[13] Ibid., pp. 2-3.

[14] Barocas, Solon, Sophie Hood & Malte Ziewitz (2013). “Governing Algorithms: A Provocation Piece”. Discussion Paper for the Governing Algorithms conference, NYU, May 16-17, 2013. Available at SSRN: or

[15] Cardon (2013), p. 11.

[16] Benkler, Yochai (2006). The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. (pp. 33-35).

[17] Geiger, Stuart (2009). “Does Habermas Understand the Internet? The Algorithmic Construction of the Blogo/Public Sphere”. Gnovis: A Journal of Communication, Culture and Technology, 1 (10).

[18] Cardon (2013), p. 11.

[19] Smith, Dan (2013). “Google: Gatekeeper of the Internet’s Grey Area”. The Telegraph, June 10, 2013. Available at…

[20] Masnick, M. (2008). “Google As Benevolent Dictator: The Gatekeeper and the Data Collector”. TechDirt, December 2008. Available at

[21] Wu, Tim (2010). The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires. Random House Digital, pp. 279-280.

[22] This section is partly based on an article I wrote in French in March 2012: Musiani, Francesca (2012). “‘Bienvenue sur votre Amazon’: les systèmes de recommandation d’ouvrages”, Labs Hadopi. Available at…

[23] Benhamou, Françoise (2012). “3e étape de la stratégie verticale d’Amazon”. Blog L’Eco(nomie) des Livres, October 24, 2012. Available at

[24] Lemaire, Alexandre (2011). “Madame Machine, pouvez-vous me conseiller un bon livre? Les nouveaux outils Web de recommandation de lectures”. Association des Bibilothécaires de France, June 27, 2011. Available at

[25] Linden, Greg, Brent Smith & Jeremy York (2003). “ Recommendations: Item-to-Item Collaborative Filtering”. IEEE Internet Computing, 7 (1): 76-80. Available at…


[27] Hardt, Moritz (2013). “Occupy Algorithms: Will Algorithms Serve The 99%?” Response Paper for the Governing Algorithms Conference, NYU, May 17, 2013. Available at

[28] Berry, David (2012). “The relevance of understanding code to international political economy”. International Politics, 49: 277–296.

[29] E.g. BBC News (2011). “Disappearing tycoon Souter blames Google”, September 12, 2011. Available at

[30] Barocas, Hood & Ziewitz (2013), see supra note 14.

[31] Ibid.

Francesca Musiani

Chercheuse postdoctorale, MINES ParisTech Yahoo! Fellow in Residence, Georgetown University

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Un regard critique sur les architectures décentralisées

Un article de 2012, par Arvind Narayanan, Solon Barocas, Vincent Toubiana, Helen Nissembaum and Dan Boneh, librement disponible en ligne sur la plateforme ArXiv, porte un « regard critique » sur les architectures de réseau décentralisées dans des contextes d’application qui impliquent un traitement des données personnelles.

Le problème central auquel se confronte le papier est la distance entre la promesse des architectures décentralisées, face à la centralisation progressive des fournisseurs de service, et le  manque d’application à large échelle, sauf exceptions, de ces architectures. En parallèle aux avantages, le papier discute les inconvénients de la décentralisation, qui restent, d’après les auteurs, souvent cachés sous la promesse d’une plus grande liberté et protection.

« …for all these efforts, decentralized personal data architectures have seen little adoption. This position paper attempts to account for these failures, challenging the accepted wisdom in the web community on the feasibility and desirability of these approaches. »

« for the most part decentralized social networking appears not to have anticipated the success of mainstream commercial, centralized social networks, but rather developed as a response to it. »

« we present some underappreciated drawbacks of decentralized architectures. Not all of these apply to all types of systems, nor is any of them individually a decisive factor. But collectively they may help explain why decentralization faces a steep road ahead, and why even if adopted, decentralization will not necessarily provide all the benefits that its proponents believe will automatically flow from it. »

« We hope to kick off a more tempered discussion of the future of personal data architectures in both scholarly and hobbyist/entrepreneurial circles, one that is informed by the lessons of history. There is much work to be done along these lines — application of economic theory can shed light on questions such as the relative strength of network effects in centralized vs. decentralized systems. Empirical methodology such as user and developer interviews would also be tremendously valuable. »

On est ravis d’apprendre qu’on est en train de contribuer à une démarche intéressante.  ;-)


Francesca Musiani

Chercheuse postdoctorale, MINES ParisTech Yahoo! Fellow in Residence, Georgetown University

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Réinventer l' »annuaire téléphonique » de l’Internet? Institutions, Industries, Infrastructures

Image 2Le 19 Avril 2013, Francesca Musiani, en sa qualité de Yahoo! Fellow à l’Institut d’études diplomatiques de la School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University (Washington, DC) a organisé une conférence intitulée «Réinventer l' »annuaire téléphonique » de l’Internet? Institutions, Industries, Infrastructures ». Depuis la création de l’Internet, l’utilisation de noms de domaine, adresses, protocoles et autres infrastructures sous-jacentes au « réseau des réseaux » comme instruments de pouvoir et de gouvernance a joué un rôle crucial dans le maintien de sa stabilité, face à toutes ses évolutions. Dans l’Internet d’aujourd’hui, ces outils sont de plus en plus mis à profit par des entités politiques à des fins différents de ceux pour lesquels ils ont été initialement conçus. Cette conférence, dont on présente un compte-rendu détaillé en anglais, a abordé plusieurs thèmes chers à ADAM dans son exploration des implications politiques, sociales et techniques du « turn to infrastructure » dans la gouvernance de l’Internet. Les participants à cette conférence se sont concentrés sur un aspect particulièrement controversé de l’infrastructure Internet: le système de noms de domaine (DNS), ou l' »annuaire téléphonique » de l’Internet. Une version PDF du rapport est disponible sur le site de l’Institut d’études diplomatiques.

Reinventing the Internet’s Phone Book? Institutions, Industry and Infrastructure

A Conference Account

Francesca Musiani (2012-13 Yahoo! Fellow in Residence, ISD, Georgetown University)

With the collaboration of Chris Haley & Allison Maranuk (2012-13 Yahoo! Junior Fellows, MSFS, Georgetown University)

Note to the Reader: This account is intended as a follow-up resource for conference participants, for individuals who expressed interest but were unable to attend the conference, and more broadly for people interested in Internet governance, particularly DNS governance, issues. While we have paid a great deal of attention in being as accurate as possible, in no case portions of this text should be considered as direct quotes from the speakers’ remarks. Thank you to all the speakers and moderators for sharing their insights, and to Chris and Allison for the diligent note-taking. I take full responsibility for whatever inaccuracy is left. FM

On April 19, 2013, the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service hosted a conference entitled “Reinventing the Internet’s Phone Book? Institutions, Industry and Infrastructure”. Since the Internet’s foundation, the use of domain names, addresses, protocols, and other underlying infrastructures as instruments of power and governance has been crucial in maintaining stability throughout its evolution. In today’s Internet landscape, these tools are increasingly being leveraged by political entities for purposes other than those for which they were designed. This conference set out to explore the political, social, and technical implications of this tendency, by focusing on a particularly controversial aspect of Internet infrastructure: the Domain Name System (DNS), or the Internet’s “phone book.” Three organizations and institutions co-sponsored the event: the Yahoo! Fund on Communications Technology, International Values, and the Global Internet; American University’s School of International Service; and the Global Internet Governance Academic Network (GigaNet).


Internet governance by infrastructure: the case of the Domain Name System

Francesca Musiani, Yahoo! Fellow in Residence at the ISD for 2012-13 and the event’s host, first introduced the topic of the day’s discussion. This required, initially, to briefly touch upon the definition of Internet governance, which she described, based on the 2005 definition by the Working Group on Internet Governance, as the development and application, by relevant actors in their respective roles, of shared principles, norms, rules, decision-making procedures, and programs that shape the evolution and use of the Internet. This definition, despite its inclusiveness, has been contested by differing groups across political and ideological lines. One of the main debates concerns the authority and participation of certain actors. In particular, the role of governments is central and ambiguous, and other aspects of internet governance are controlled by transnational organizations. One should be careful about simplifying ideological extremes in discussing IG: the public is sometimes under the impression, fostered by media, that IG is entirely performed by a handful of institutions – which is not the case. All of this often leads to neglect or disregard what is, instead, a crucial aspect of Internet governance: there are a number of components of the Internet’s infrastructure and technical architecture in the design of which are embedded, to some extent, arrangements of governance. These are technologies and processes beneath the layer of content and inherently designed to keep the Internet operational: Internet Protocol addresses are an example, and there are many more, but the one the conference wishes to address is the Domain Name System, or DNS.

The DNS translates between alphanumeric domain names and their associated IP addresses necessary for routing packets of information over the Internet. For this reason, it is oftentimes called the Internet’s “phone book”. It is a wide database management system, arranged hierarchically but distributed globally, across countless servers. The Internet’s root name servers contain a master file known as the root zone file, listing the IP addresses and associated names of the official DNS servers for all top‐level domains (TLDs). The management of the DNS has always been a central task of Internet governance, and ICANN is ultimately responsible for managing the assignment of domain names (delegated through Internet registrars), and for controlling the root server system and the root zone file.

There have been a number of controversies in this area, involving institutional and international power struggles over DNS control, and issues of legitimacy, democracy, and jurisdiction. Notably, debates have addressed the historical ties between ICANN and the United States government in face of increasing internet globalization; this controversy continues to be a heated topic in Internet governance discussions. There are additional policy implications in the DNS: it was originally restricted to ASCII characters, precluding the possibility of domain names in many language scripts such as Arabic, Chinese or Russian. Internationalized domain names (IDNs) have now been introduced. Furthermore, in 2011, ICANN’s board voted to end most restrictions on the generic top-level domain names (gTLD) from the 22 currently available.Companies and organizations will now be able to choose essentially arbitrary top-level Internet domains, with implications for consumers’ relationships to brands and ways to find information on the Internet. Further DNS issues concern the relationship between domain names and freedom of expression, security, and trademark dispute resolution for domain names.

While this covers quite a lot of ground already, this conference aimed at taking one further step. In recent years, we witness a number of (more or less successful) attempts, by political and private entities, to co-opt infrastructures of internet governance for purposes other than the ones they were initially designed for. Not only is there governance of infrastructure, but governance is carried out by infrastructure… using infrastructure in “creative ways”, so to speak. As DeNardis (2011) explains: “Forces of globalization and technological change have diminished the capacity of sovereign nation states and media content producers to directly control information flows. This loss of control over content and the failure of laws and markets to regain this control have redirected political and economic battles into the realm of infrastructure.” Examples of how content mediation controversies have shifted into the realm of Internet governance infrastructure can be found, for example, in the intentional outages of basic telecommunications and Internet infrastructures, enacted by governments via private actors, whether via protocols, application blocking, or termination of access services. The government-initiated Internet outages in Egypt and Libya, in the face of revolution and uprisings, have illustrated this and may have set a dangerous precedent.

However, the domain name system is perhaps, nowadays, the best illustration of this “governance by infrastructure” tendency. Domain name seizures that use the domain name system to redirect queries away from an entire web site, rather than just the infringing content, have been considered as a suitable means of intellectual property rights enforcement. DNS-based enforcement was also at the heart of controversies and Internet boycotts over the legislative efforts to pass the Protect IP Act (PIPA) and the Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA). Governance by infrastructure enacted by private actors was also visible during the WikiLeaks saga, when Amazon and EveryDNS blocked Wikileaks’ web hosting and domain name resolution services. The conference addresses these controversies, with the aim of understanding the extent to which matters of Internet governance using infrastructure entail not only issues of economic freedom – but of Internet freedoms.


The DNS today: enforcement, security and mobilizations

The first panel, moderated by Derrick Cogburn, Associate Professor, School of International Service, American University, featured panelists Steve Crocker, CEO, Shinkuro, Inc. & Chair, ICANN Board, Matthew Schruers, CCIA & Adjunct Professor, Georgetown University, Scott McCormick, Consultant, McCormick ICT International, and Luke Pelican, Consultant, Ammori Group.

Dr. Steve Crocker, an internet pioneer and author of the first Request for Comments of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), has been involved in the development of internet since its startup in the late 60s and 70s. His opening remarks, he suggested, would probably be a counterpoint to the introductory talk and most of the day’s discussions.

It is interesting to see how attractive the idea of Internet governance has become to such diverse groups, and the range of issues it covers. It could be useful to ask again the question: what is it that has to be governed? There are three main sets of issues.

First of all, we all have a shared interest in the system. A threat to its security is bad for the public as a whole, and maintaining operation of it is important to everyone: the system has to continue to work. Contrary to popular belief, many threats are in fact not malicious, they are accidents or otherwise caused by the overloading of the system or some of its components, and its disruption via single or multiple points of failure. Secondly, some coordination of scarce resources is needed; however, the extent to which there are scarce resources on the Net is, in fact, debatable. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is responsible for maintaining unique identifiers in the domain name space. Originally there were 4 domains, and eventually, it was decided to attach human-friendly names to those numbers. In the beginning, the majority of the connections were in the US, with only a  few international connections; since the beginning, however, there was the idea of a system as distributed as possible and over time, pressures increased to expand it. Originally, there were about 4 billion IP addresses available. In the DNS’s early days, it was thought that this number would last forever – now, the IPv4 system is close to depletion. We will now see a rise of the IPv6 system, which will take some transition, and in this transition period, there may be some issues as IPv4 and IPv6 are not born interoperable. Thirdly, some governance is needed for the suppression of undesired behavior, from impolite speech to identify theft, from espionage to extortion and of course, child pornography. This is a controversial area, of course, because “one man’s freedom is another man’s pain”.

As the Internet began to grow, there was some conversation about who would be in charge of all this. First, Jon Postel single-handedly managed the system, simply updating the hosts.txt directory when needed. Of course, this quickly became too much, so ICANN was created and incorporated as a non-profit in California. It has relations with the US government due to the renewal of its contract with the Commerce Department to perform the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) functions. Today, Internet governance brings in a lot of people who want to use the Internet as a pawn in their own objectives, but are not acting in the internet’s best interest. What has made the Internet blossom is to make it as unrestricted as possible (in stark contrast to the telephone system), leaving innovation at the edges, and the same principle applies to the DNS. As there is no technical reason to either change the structure or to prohibit additional domain name systems from being created, ICANN’s last “big decision” has been to lift most restrictions on gTLDs and opening up an application process.

Law scholar Matthew Schruers centered his remarks on the relationship between copyright and Internet architecture. As the internet expands, the scope of government power is far more limited. Governments found it easier to regulate information intermediaries, rather than the source itself. The scope of the power of the government to regulate the Internet is more about its ability to regulate the intermediaries rather than the specific sources of information. There are four regulation forces, or tools: law, norms, architecture and markets. We are increasingly witnessing attempts to regulate architecture in order to regulate something else. SOPA and PIPA were the extension of Congress strategies to regulate intermediaries, and this included the DNS. Within these debates, and given the very different levels of technical competence on the Hill, the phone book model became really important, because it could clearly convey the idea that these laws were like removing pages from the phone book. As we will see later, SOPA and PIPA did not come into force because of widespread public outcry. These law projects would have allowed law enforcement agencies to seize domain names as if they were physical property; by removing the domain name, users would still be able to get to the website by using the IP address, but wouldn’t be able to get to it by typing in the alphanumeric address – and for most people this is a big enough obstacle.

The way in which architecture regulates is not the same way in which law regulates. Norms for a particular type of conduct are very fluid, in terms of the community and how it applies; laws enforce themselves in a leaky way (especially IP law), and they need to be enforced by a judicial system. Architectural enforcement is, in this sense, “perfect”: with laws, compliance is voluntary, we comply with them by choice; while with architecture-based enforcement, compliance is coerced, there is no choice. Finally, law is inherently nuanced, and there are exceptions to it; architecture is absolute, it allows a possibility or it doesn’t, and there is no capacity for exceptions. The US Government is an example of this: recently, it used an intermediary, Go Daddy, to seize domain names in Spain; in Spain, this was lawful but in the US it was not. Another example is the Dajaz1 website, which sometimes let out pre-releases of songs (often leaked to the website by the music promoters), so the RIAA urged the US government to seize the domain via the Utah-based Fast Domain, Inc. It turned out that the legal basis, in both of these cases, was not sound, and the sites were reinstated, but in the end, free speech was suppressed a priori for two years.

Luke Pelican introduced the SOPA/PIPA controversy and the role of civil society in successfully putting a stop to the legislation. Both bills (the acronyms stand respectively for Stop Online Piracy Act and PROTECT IP, itself an acronym of Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act) were aimed at combating digital piracy, and presented to the public as legislation that would help protect US jobs and industries. Critics, on the other hand, said these bills undermined Internet freedom and threatened free speech, and could actually harm the US economy, as startup companies dependent on user-created content were more likely to be sued under the legislation.

Further complicating the controversy were challenges in explaining some of the technical problems to the general public. Companies, public interest groups, and technical experts reviewed the technical provisions in the bills and raised their concerns publicly, concerns which other groups turned into meaningful action. Fight for the Future, an activist group, led a campaign against a related copyright bill in October 2011, arguing that if the bill became a law, then people like Justin Bieber could have been sent to jail instead of becoming musical successes. The “Bieber in Jail” campaign received a lot of attention from various media groups and shows like the Colbert Report. During American Censorship Day, a protest of SOPA and PIPA held on November 16, 2011, several advocacy groups framed the issue of these bills as the imposition of an American censorship system rather than about the problem of piracy. The blogging platform Tumblr auto-censored its site as part of this awareness campaign and encouraged their users to contact Congress. Overall, the American Censorship Day protests resulted in 84,000 phone calls and over a million emails to Congress, one of the biggest public outcries over an Internet-related issue. It seemed to be a forgone conclusion that these bills would pass, so, on January 18, 2012, over 115,000 websites joined in a massive web “blackout” as part of a concerted effort to stop the legislation. DNS blocking provisions were included both in SOPA and in PIPA; eventually, the sponsor of the SOPA said he would remove these provisions, after talking with technical experts. The SOPA/PIPA case is likely to have encouraged more people, including lawmakers and regulators, to learn some of the technical aspects of the Internet’s daily workings, and have a better understanding of how this facility we use daily works in practice. And this is a positive outcome that exceeds the stalling of the bill.


New actors in Internet governance: privatization, infrastructure, alternatives

The afternoon panel, moderated by Nanette Levinson, Associate Professor, School of International Service, American University, broadened the discussion to evolutions in Internet governance and actor participation in it, from the private sector’s increasingly crucial role in content regulation, and in placing restrictions on freedom of expression, to peer production collectives proposing “creative disruption” as a response to infrastructure-based enforcement. The discussion featured panelists Fiona Alexander, Associate Administrator, Office of International Affairs, National Telecommunications and Information Administration; Matthew Hindman, Associate Professor, George Washington University; Francesca Musiani, Yahoo! Fellow, ISD, and Shane Tews, Chief Policy Officer, 463 Communications.

Francesca Musiani, Yahoo! Fellow at the ISD, presented preliminary findings from her current research project. She argued that, in a discussion about new actors and changing balances in IG, it was worth including a discussion about the people who think about “second-degree” governance by infrastructure: people who, instead of addressing the DNS in its current form, look for ways to build an alternative one.

Between 2010 and 2011, the WikiLeaks case prompts a new wave of discussions about a “new competing root-server”, able to rival ICANN. An alternative domain name registry is envisaged, a decentralized, peer-to-peer (P2P) system in which volunteer users would each run a portion of the DNS on their own computer, so that any domain made temporarily inaccessible may still be accessible on the alternative registry. Instead of simply adding a number of DNS options to the ones already accepted and administrated by ICANN and its registrars, this project would try to supersede ICANN in favor of a distributed, user infrastructure-based model. There are a number of issues and open questions with this project. There are two fundamental operations that are served by the DNS: name registration and name resolution, that are usually though of jointly, but one could foresee replacing just one of them. The function that a P2P DNS project would be tackling (alternative root? .p2p top-level domain?) needs to be stabilized. P2P architecture does not allow for simultaneous optimization of all needed features, but calls for compromises. Finally, even if the alternative takes hold, a long co-existence should be expected.

There are social and political conditions of feasibility for radical alternatives such as P2P DNS. In the case that any of the decentralized DNS projects matures to the stage of relevant user appropriation, the crucial issue may become trust of users in other users: users will need to rely on other peers in the network to direct them, and it is one thing to trust OpenDNS, Google etc. but completely another thing to do the same with a random computer. And finally, it is a matter of governance: the original questions that cause P2P DNS proposals to proliferate are deeply political: they are about control, freedom, and censorship. Technical solutions to controversial issues that have a political component to them should, at some point, be accompanied by evolutions of institutions, lest the governance of the Internet be reduced to a war of surveillance and counter-surveillance technologies, of infrastructure cooptation and counter-cooptation.


The “Turn to Infrastructure” and the future of IG

In the conference’s final keynote, Laura DeNardis, Associate Professor in the School of Communication at American University, tied together the themes discussed during the day, placing particular emphasis on recently raised concerns about the future of Internet governance, and on the need to preserve interoperability. Most of these issues are discussed in her book “The Global War for Internet Governance”, forthcoming with Yale University Press. The book describes the different layers of how internet governance works; outlines the current state of global debates, and the balance of global political and economic powers related to Internet governance, civil liberties and national security, innovation policies and the preservation of the decentralized nature of the Internet.

Internet governance functions, even though technologically complex and often outside of public view, are becoming political proxies for global political struggles and conflicting values. In this context, the DNS is one important (and relatively well-working) component of a broader Internet global ecosystem. The very definition of Internet governance is contested but it is generally referred to as the design and administration of the technologies necessary to keep the Internet operational, as well as the debates around those technologies, such as critical Internet resources, standards, and protocols needed to operate the network. There is an intersection between Internet architecture and content mediation; people’s Internet access is cut off (or access restrictions are discussed) to control content sharing and communication. The evolutions in Internet connectivity, a highly private area mostly under the control of Internet companies and their agreements, raise a number of concerns in terms of stability and censorship. The conference has addressed three main themes.

First, “arrangements of technical architecture are arrangements of power” And “Infrastructure is never just infrastructure,” and is also about some understanding of complex technical systems such as the DNS; large-scale debates and mobilization, such as  the SOPA and PIPA debates; the technical complexity is often paralleled by the complexity of institutions; political structures are often embedded technological hybrids. As science and technology studies Susan Leigh Star once said, we need to invert the common sense notion of infrastructure, taking what has often been seen as ‘boring’ and behind the scenes, bringing it to the floor. Internet governance scholars such as the organizers of this conference, all involved in GigaNet, embrace this perspective in relation to Internet governance.

Second, information technology infrastructure is becoming a proxy for power control, a move that is bound to have a number of unintended consequences. Corporate media producers have lost power over the monetization of their content and are looking to infrastructure as a means of reacquiring that power; some global choke points, despite the Internet’s overall decentralization, do exist and the extent to which they are subject to “stress fractures” deserves close consideration. While these control points – some virtual, some material, most often a hybrid of both – do exist, there is often not enough public understanding of how technology works.

Third, the multi-stakeholder discussion often reveals its limits, mostly in contexts of privatization of internet governance. Much Internet governance is being done through new forms, not governments; examples are regional internet registries and private telecom companies managing the Internet’s backbone. Privatized areas are enacting policies and we are often moving from governments to private sector as Internet governance’s crucial actor. From “delegated censorship” to “delegated law enforcement”, the spotlight is on private entities.

These three themes raise the question of what are the challenges to the future of Internet governance, and therefore, to Internet freedom. First, there needs to be a focus on issues of interoperability, which is easy to take for granted.  In many ways, we have more connectivity than ever. But there is not interoperability between social media platforms, Internet voice software, or cloud computing services in the same way there is in email or web services. For example, Skype, while an excellent application, is based in part on proprietary approaches. There is a shift from an open, unified web in which the publication of open standards has helped foster innovation and compatibility among products to an environment that de-prioritizes interoperability and places constraints on interconnection. Constraints on interoperability are constraints on innovation itself.

The DNS is a foundational technical system necessary for the Internet’s operation, handling billions of queries per day, and it is increasingly used for content blocking functions for which it was not designed. If DNS query resolution is not universally consistent, this may have serious implications for the universality and stability of the global Internet.

To conclude, the Internet is governed while being in a state of constant flux, and a very complex system; its governance entails issues of both private control and civil liberties; it requires technical design as well as new institutional reforms; this governance is not fixed, anymore than technical architecture is fixed. The consequences of changes to this system should be carefully examined as we move forward.



Francesca Musiani

Chercheuse postdoctorale, MINES ParisTech Yahoo! Fellow in Residence, Georgetown University

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Les nouveaux gTLDs: le défi de l’Europe

Cet article, en anglais, a également paru sur l’Internet Policy Review le 6 juin 2013. Merci à Frédéric Dubois, Uta Meier-Hahn et deux relecteurs pour leurs commentaires et retours.

New global top-level domain names: Europe, the challenger

06 Jun 2013 by Francesca Musiani

“There are roughly two dozens now, but soon, there could be hundreds[1],” writes the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the organisation responsible for managing and coordinating the system of unique identifiers and names on the internet – on its webpage dedicated to the creation and forthcoming implementation of the new generic top-level domain names (gTLDs).

gTLDs are the highest level of domain names in the domain name system (DNS), including .com, .net and .org; their number has been restricted to twenty-two for several years, and ICANN has implemented several restrictions on the ways in which they are operated. Thanks to the new gTLDs programme, businesses and organisations are now able to apply for their own customised top-level domain names, thereby greatly expanding their current number. ICANN’s move is the most recent controversial one in a subfield of internet governance, the management of the Domain Name System (DNS) of the “network of networks”, which is already rife with political and economic controversies. What are the implications of this “turn” to new gTLDs? This article attempts to outline them, and, it addresses the impact of the new gTLDs programme on Europe’s action-taking in the internet governance realm. The article also considers the likely impact of the new programme on ICANN’s governance and weight vis-à-vis other important internet governance actors.

The Domain Name System and ICANN: an internet governance “hot potato”

The Domain Name System of the internet establishes the domain name space in the same way that the Internet Protocol establishes the Internet address space[2]. The DNS translates between alphanumeric domain names and their associated internet protocol (IP) addresses necessary for routing packets of information over the internet. For this reason, it is oftentimes called the internet’s “phone book”.

The DNS, through this address resolution process, handles billions of queries per day. In a very simplified way, the DNS can be described as a wide database management system, arranged hierarchically but distributed globally, across countless servers. The internet’s root name servers contain a master file, the root zone file, listing the IP addresses and associated names of the official DNS servers for all top‐level domains. The management of the DNS has always been a central task of internet governance, and ICANN is ultimately responsible for managing the assignment of domain names (delegated through internet registrars), and for controlling the root server system and the root zone file.

There have been a number of controversies in this area, that continue to this day, involving institutional and international power struggles over DNS control, and issues of legitimacy, democracy, and jurisdiction. Notably, debates have addressed the extent to which the privileged historical ties between ICANN and the United States government continue to exist, despite the  increasing internationalisation of the internet, which may call for a more prominent role of other countries in ICANN governance; this controversy continues to be a heated topic in internet governance discussions. There are additional policy implications in the DNS: it was originally restricted to ASCII characters, precluding the possibility of domain names in many language scripts such as Arabic, Chinese or Russian. Internationalised domain names (IDNs) have been introduced in May 2010. Further DNS issues concern the relationship between domain names and freedom of expression, security, and trademark dispute resolution for domain names.

The DNS is perhaps, nowadays, the best illustration of governments’ and companies’ tendency to govern or manage the internet by co-opting infrastructures of internet governance for purposes other than the ones they were initially designed for[3]. Domain name seizures that use the DNS to redirect queries away from an entire web site, rather than just the infringing content, have been considered as a suitable means of intellectual property rights enforcement – to be carried out by internet registries, internet registrars, or even DNS operators such as internet service providers. DNS-based enforcement was at the heart of controversies and internet boycotts over the legislative efforts to pass the Protect IP Act (PIPA) and the Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA) (Ammori, 2011). Governance by infrastructure enacted through the DNS by private actors was also visible during the WikiLeaks saga, when Amazon and EveryDNS blocked Wikileaks’ web hosting and domain name resolution services[4].

Generic top-level domain names

Top-level domains are the highest level of domains in the DNS,  installed in the root zone of the name space; generic TLDs, a category of these highest-level domains[5], are familiar to the public as widely used internet addresses’ suffixes such as .com, .net, and .org. They can be either unsponsored – domains that operate under policies established by ICANN “on behalf” of the global internet community – or sponsored, proposed and funded by private agencies or organisations that establish and enforce the rules restricting the use of the domain. The number of gTLDs has been slightly increasing since ICANN’s inception, but has stabilised at twenty-two for several years.

Over the years, the demand for more gTLDs has been constant, just as has ICANN’s consideration of many proposals, by different actors, for practical ways to go about their implementation. These proposals range from adoption of policies for unrestricted gTLDs to chartered gTLDs for specialised uses by dedicated organisations. ICANN’s new gTLD programme, approved in June 2011 under the banner of “promot[ing] competition in the domain name market while ensuring internet security and stability[6]”, ends most restrictions on gTLDs and allows businesses and other organisations to apply for their own customised top-level domain names. This constitutes the first significant expansion of the system in existence today, and has the potential of carrying important implications for the future of the DNS, if not in the way the internet operates, in terms of potential changes in “the way people find information on the internet or how businesses plan and structure their online presence[7] ».

The unveiling of the new gTLDs programme

Roughly a year after its announcement of the programme, ICANN held a press conference in London to mark the “Reveal Day[8],” during which its Senior Vice President Kurt Pritz noted that over 500 companies and organisations had applied for nearly 2,000 TLDs. The announcement was not exempt from controversy, for a number of reasons. United States-based organisations and companies accounted for more than half of the applications, with the domain name registry Donuts applying for more than three times the number of gTLDs as the next largest applicant[9]. This US focus is possibly attributable to an issue of cost: ICANN set the fee for each TLD application at $185,000, while noting that financial assistance to organisations that wanted to register for TLDs but could not meet the applications fees was provided, and the geographical spread was, in fact, wider than it expected – ICANN’s CEO, Rod Beckstrom, was quoted as saying that “To have 17 applications from Africa is actually encouraging, it’s a significant expansion[10]”.

While emphasising the positive side of the programme’s goals (“enhancing competition and consumer choice, and enabling the benefits of innovation[11]”, in addition to increased control, innovative business models, and even community engagement and geographic celebration[12]), ICANN had been adamant about the responsibilities that applying for a new gTLD would entail. These include the preservation of some financial stability over a minimum of three years, compliance with all the obligations of the registry agreement with ICANN (with enhanced restrictions when running a community-based TLD), and employment of highly skilled technical operators. Thus, ICANN compared these responsibilities to those of Verisign[13], the American company currently operating two of the internet’s thirteen root name servers: “When you apply for a new gTLD you are applying to run a registry business. You will be responsible for a critical and highly visible piece of internet infrastructure. Just as Verisign is responsible for all the domain names registered in the .com top-level domain, so you would be responsible for all the domain names registered in your .something gTLD[14].” Additional risks were identified in unforeseen competition from unexpected sectors, and the “uncharted territory” that the new sector, with its lack of already-tested and proven business models, could entail for its pioneers.[15]

New gTLDs are just around the corner?

The first implementation within the new gTLDs programme – i.e., the actual insertion of a new TLD into the internet root to render them operational – may be happening within a few months. July 1st, 2013, has been proposed as the earliest possible date and a pilot program is currently underway. This is earlier than what had previously been anticipated, and for applicants as well as some users, it has been welcomed news; however, all dates remain tentative. In particular, ICANN has underlined – at the very moment in which a March briefing by the organisation was announcing the schedule of the first release – that priority will be given to its core mission of preserving the technical stability of the internet’s naming and addressing system, which seems to imply that the first implementation will be delayed if its broad impact cannot be thoroughly assessed or raises concerns. IT consultant and former ICANN member, Stephane Van Gelder, noted that “Security and Stability Reviews are ongoing as the program ramps up towards launch, with constant monitoring of the potential technical impact of new gTLDs going live. This will only happen once ICANN is satisfied that doing so carries no technical risk to the Internet[16]. »

Earlier this year, ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee – the body that provides advice and input from governments to ICANN on issues of public policy, especially where there may be an interaction between ICANN’s activities and national laws, or international agreements – gave the ICANN Board its thoughts on the first batch of applications. While two applications received outright objections[17], governmental advice came for the most part in the form of “safeguards”. The Governmental Advisory Committee noted that specific categories of TLDs require additional protections or restrictions to be implemented; for example, it asked for the singular and plural versions of the same basic string not to be considered separately (e.g., .game and .games). It also requested that the signing of any new gTLD contract be dependent upon the completion of the new registrar contract currently being finalised[18].

European perplexities on content and procedures

The European Commission (EC) is not elated by the ways in which the program is being carried out, and has expressed perplexities on both the content of some applications and the procedures with which ICANN has handled government objections to new gTLDs[19]. On November 29, 2012, the EC, in the person of Linda Corugedo Steneberg, Director at the Communications Networks, Content and Technology Directorate, issued a letter to ICANN[20] with a list of 58 applications deemed problematic, including .sex, .sexy, .free, .green, .eco, .health, .doctor, .baby, .sale and .security[21].

However, the letter also pointed out that the EC’s initiative should not be considered as an Early Warning, i.e., a notice from ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee members that an application is seen as potentially sensitive or problematic by one or more governments[22]; instead, the listing of a new gTLD was to be considered as a signal that further discussions between the EC and the relevant applicant were necessary. The letter has also been interpreted as an implicit critique of ICANN’s procedures, pointing out that even if the Governmental Advisory Committee does not officially advise against these applications, the EC may decide to take other action against them: “the fact that the letter […] explicitly states that the warnings are definitely not official Early Warnings […] sends a worrying signal that the EC is not in the mood to play by ICANN’s rules[23].” In addition, the EC expressed its disappointment about the limited number of applications coming from developing countries, making explicit that “this is clearly an area where ICANN needs to re-focus its efforts[24].”

In the larger context of the relationship between sovereign governments and ICANN, the European Commission’s action is considered quite significant, because by explicitly opting out of the Early Warning process and naming its own list of potentially problematic gTLD applications, the EC is bypassing the Governmental Advisory Committee as ICANN’s prescribed process for governments and intergovernmental bodies to provide input on domain name policy matters. FairWinds Partners, a digital strategy consulting firm, interestingly concludes in this regard that “the European Commission brought new gTLD applications into the legal realm of legislation and policy, quietly implying that ICANN has no jurisdiction in such matters. The European Commission has sent the message that it is not within ICANN’s purview to oversee issues that impact a nation’s (or in this case, a union of nations) economy, culture, freedoms of speech and expression, or industry regulations – this power rests with the sovereign governments of those nations[25].” FairWinds further states that, in addition to echoing past criticisms of ICANN processes, the EC’s action “raises issues of adjudication: if other governments follow the European Commission’s lead or even take a step further by deeming whether or not a new gTLD is allowed to exist independently of ICANN’s assessment, who holds the ultimate authority to determine the fate of the gTLD, ICANN or the government?[26]” The letter of the EC could set a critical precedent.

ICANN weighing even more in the internet governance arena?

In a number of ways, the new gTLD programme makes ICANN even more central an actor in internet governance. By framing the programme as a promoter of competition in the domain name market, while at the same time seeking to maintain internet security and stability, ICANN’s activities and policies also have the potential, as the organisation itself underlines, to influence the way internet users find information online, or the ways in which companies arrange and display their online presence.

As a consequence, ICANN is now, more than ever, under scrutiny of international actors, of which the European Commission is a notable example. Despite claims by ICANN that “this is a not-for-profit initiative [and if] the fee collection exceeds ICANN’s expenses, the community will be consulted as to how that excess should be used[27],” there are concerns that “what can’t be overlooked today is the fact that [the new gTLDs’] unveiling will be most beneficial for big business. Companies that don’t find themselves on or anywhere near the Fortune 500 list probably don’t have hundreds of thousands of dollars set aside for a rainy day, especially if that day approaches but the forecast is mixed[28]”. The fee set by ICANN may discourage most smaller businesses for applying, while it will not be a major issue for bigger players.

Moreover, the argument is made that the actual implementation of the new gTLDs, that ICANN is pushing for July, may be premature, causing problems for the very internet security and DNS stability that ICANN is claiming to preserve. The concern comes from one of ICANN’s long-time supporters, Verisign. The company notes in a recent report[29] the little consideration ICANN has given to registry operators that will need to prepare for the changes, including dealing with security implications that may affect the working of the whole internet[30]. Verisign appears to be implying that ICANN may be using the (excessively?) speedy implementation of the new gTLDs programme to reinforce its own powerful position in the internet governance landscape – and, to pursue this primarily political objective, may maintain this “neck-breaking” schedule to the detriment of internet stability, if necessary. Will the implementation of the new gTLDs reassure those who, as Verisign, feel that the programme displays an increasingly “ICANN-centric role[31]” in the governance of a critical area of internet infrastructure? Only the close future will tell, but one thing is certain: the new gTLD programme has important implications for both the stability and security of the internet’s infrastructure, and the ways in which users experience the internet daily – from online search habits to e-commerce. As such, it should be implemented gradually and cautiously; ICANN has fifteen years of experience on which it can build to ensure that this is the case.



[2] Laura DeNardis, “The Emerging Field of Internet Governance”, in William Dutton (ed.) Oxford Handbook of Internet Studies. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013 [pre-print version available here].

[3] The author has organised a recent conference on the topic at the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy, Georgetown University,

[4] Cfr. my recent article on the Internet Policy Review,

[5] Another one, perhaps the most popular among internet users, is ccTLD or “country code top-level domain”, including .us, .de and .fr.


[7] Id.


[9] Natasha Lomas (April 9, 2013). Donuts, A Register for New gTLDs, Raises Tens of Billions in Series B So It can Bid for More .Names. TechCrunch,

[10] Ingrid Lunden (June 13, 2012). Icann Applicants For New TLDs Revealed As Part Of ‘Reveal Day’: The Full List. TechCrunch,





[15] Id.

[16] Stéphane Van Gelder (27 March 2013). First new gTLDs could be seen as early as July. NetNames,

[17] The two are .gcc (contested by some of the Gulf countries, claiming similarity between this string and the Gulf Cooperation Council) and .africa, submitted by DotConnectAfrica (for lack of official support by governments from the region, given to another identical application)

[18] ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee (11 April 2013). GAC Communique – Beijing, People’s Republic of China.

[19] Kevin Murphy (November 27, 2012). Europe rejects ICANN’s authority as it warns of problems with 58 new gTLDs. Domain Incite,

[20] European Commission (November 29, 2012). Interim position of the European Commission concerning the applications for New gTLDs.

[21] Murphy, ibid.


[23] Murphy, ibid.

[24] European Commission, ibid. and David Goldstein (December 4, 2012) Europe Lists gTLD Applications of Concern Plus Disappointment in Developing Countries Applications (

[25] FairWinds Partners (December 3, 2012). As the GAC’s World Turns. gTLD Strategy,

[26] Id.


[28] Jonah Berger (29 June 2011). ICANN Approves New gTLDs: SEO Implications.

[29] United States Security and Exchange Commission (March 28, 2013). Form 8-K Current Report, Verisign, Inc.

[30] Id. and Loek Essers & Grant Gross (April 2, 2013). Groups say ICANN unprepared for gTLD launch. InfoWorld,

[31] Id.

Francesca Musiani

Chercheuse postdoctorale, MINES ParisTech Yahoo! Fellow in Residence, Georgetown University

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SMSI+10: l’auto-éloge du « multi-parties prenantes » dans la gouvernance de l’Internet

Cet article, en anglais, est également paru sur l’Internet Policy Review le 12 avril 2013. Merci à Frédéric Dubois, Uta Meier-Hahn et deux relecteurs pour leurs commentaires et leurs retours.


WSIS+10: the self-praising feast of multi-stakeholderism in internet governance

12 Apr 2013 by Francesca Musiani

The World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), two United Nations-sponsored conferences about information, communication and the establishment of a 21st century “information society”, took place in 2003 in Geneva and in 2005 in Tunis. “We, the representatives of the peoples of the world, assembled in Geneva […] declare our common desire and commitment to build a people-centred, inclusive and development-oriented Information Society [1],” began the Geneva Declaration of Principles, one of WSIS’ founding documents, setting the foundations for a “multi-stakeholder” approach to global governance of information and communication technologies (ICTs).

Ten years after the Geneva meeting, the first review meeting of the Summit, nicknamed WSIS +10, was held in February 2013 at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) headquarters in Paris, France. UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova inaugurated the meeting with the following words: “New technologies are opening tremendous possibilities for mutual understanding, for creating and sharing knowledge – everyone, everywhere, should have the skills and opportunities to participate in building this inclusive, knowledge society[2].” With the exception of the shift from “information society” to “knowledge society”, a change we will come back to later in the article, not a lot appears to have changed content-wise in the ten years of existence of the WSIS process. Nonetheless, the WSIS+10 review meeting has provided an interesting occasion for scholars of internet governance arrangements like this author, who has started her career as a researcher investigating the WSIS process and its offspring, the Internet Governance Forum (IGF). It has been an occasion to assess, with more knowledge and experience at our disposal, the present state of what was ten years ago – and still is – a set of experimental formats, procedures and processes for the governance of ICTs, seeking to reunite the private sector, governments and inter-governmental institutions, and civil society, under the auspices of “multi-stakeholderism”.

WSIS, the landmark for multi-stakeholderism in internet governance

Arguably, the WSIS can be considered the first large-scale instance of the multi-stakeholder doctrine’s application to the governance of ICTs. As defined by the Earth Summit Forum in 2002, multi-stakeholder processes “aim to bring together all major stakeholders [in a complex issue] in a new form of communication, decision-finding (and possibly decision-making) on a particular issue. They are also based on recognition of the importance of achieving equity and accountability [and] on democratic principles of transparency and participation, and aim to develop partnerships and strengthened networks between stakeholders [3].” The requirement that internet governance should be conducted according to multi-stakeholder principles was first stated at the WSIS summit, “arguably setting a new norm of customary international law [and marking] a departure from the earlier prevailing norm—expressed even by some governments (most notably the United States) — that internet governance was predominantly a private sector responsibility[4].”

WSIS’s “summit” status (thus, not that of a permanent intergovernmental organisation), only enabled it to make recommendations crafted by consensus. However, because of the novelty of its approach and the vocabulary used to convey the urgency of addressing ICT issues in the global political arena, WSIS is widely regarded as having introduced, in the first half of the 2000s, a shift in the understanding and the appropriations of ICT-related changes and the development of the internet. In terms of procedures, the entry into the discussions of organised civil society was noteworthy, and was considered by many as the first instance in which this relevant stakeholder for the future of ICTs had reclaimed its right to be heard (and even listened to!), alongside governments and private companies. In regard to internet governance, the most notable outcome of the WSIS process was the creation of the WGIG, the Working group on internet governance, and eventually, the Internet Governance Forum – both entities embodying the principle of multi-stakeholderism, albeit in different ways.

WGIG and the Internet Governance Forum

The WGIG, a multi-stakeholder group itself, which had among its mandates the development of a “working definition of Internet governance[5]”, further detailed the definition of multi-stakeholderism during its proceedings, identifying three main groups of actors and actions that they found to be particularly suited for policy development. Governments fit the “coordination and implementation” of public policy; the private sector’s role expands beyond the “technical and economic fields” that the Geneva Declaration of Principles had talked about, to participate in the development of policy proposals. Finally, civil society’s role is to engage in, and contribute to, “policy processes and policies that are more bottom-up, people-centred and inclusive[6]”. In addition to producing the above-mentioned working definition of internet governance, which is still one of the most widely agreed upon and, which sets that “Internet governance is the development and application by governments, the private sector, and civil society, in their respective roles, of shared principles, norms, rules, decision making procedures and programmes, that shape the evolution and utilization of the Internet[7]”, the WGIG further detailed that internet governance included, as well, important issues related to global politics, such as critical internet resources, security and safety of the global network, and issues related to its development and use. The implication that these critical issues, primarily technical but with important political implications, should fall under the multi-stakeholder approach, was not exempt from controversy – especially when, noting that “no global multi-stakeholder forum [existed] to address Internet-related public policy issues[8],” the WGIG report proposed the creation of a multi-stakeholder IGF linked to the United Nations. The establishment of the IGF, whose first meeting was held in Athens, Greece in 2006[9], can still be considered as one of the most prominent outcomes of the early WSIS processes. The Forum has since then met six other times, the last being Baku, Azerbaijan in 2012[10], and has seen its mandate renewed after the fifth meeting. The renewal of the mandate has been approved despite very tepid assessments by some governments, China first and foremost, of what the multi-stakeholder approach has been capable to achieve beyond its alluring label [11]. A detailed discussion of the controversial appraisals of the IGF would go beyond the scope of this article, but will be the subject of a future one.

WSIS+10: the multi-stakeholder feast of non-binding recommendations

Several UN instances left their stamp on the WSIS process – but coming from different standpoints and promoting different ideas. The organisation of the WSIS was assigned in 2003 and 2005 to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), a UN agency of technical standardisation for the telecommunications sector, gathering states and private entities. In this context, the UNESCO – at the time a competing UN agency, more open to civil society participation and focused on “soft” themes of education, empowerment and communication rights – had maintained a low-profile, highlighting the limitations of the concept of “information society”, widespread at the time, preferring to speak of “knowledge society”.

Ten years later, for the recent WSIS+10 meeting in Paris, UNESCO’s wish has been granted as, taking the lead in the organisation of WSIS’s ten-year review meeting, the Organisation set the official theme of the gathering as “Towards Knowledge Societies for Peace and Sustainable Development”, aimed at surpassing the emphasis placed on information itself, and going on to address aspects related to its structure, organisation and circulation. The final intended outcome of the meeting? A UNESCO statement, “Information and Knowledge for All an Expanded Vision and a Renewed Commitment”, that would incorporate inputs from all parallel sessions, with the idea to inform and contribute to the WSIS review process. The major events in this process will be an evaluation in 2014, coordinated by the ITU, and the final review by the UN General Assembly, in 2015. The WSIS+10 participants’ input to this process would take the form of “a non-binding recommendation grounded on a broad multistakeholder support[12]”.

Highs and lows of the WSIS +10

Proceedings opened on February 25, 2013, and in the UNESCO headquarters’ hallways, conversations between a few academics that had witnessed with interest the beginnings of the WSIS/IGF process (and a few that, like this author, were born as researchers by witnessing them) revealed curiosity and expectation vis-à-vis both the content and the format of the meeting.

In particular at the end of the first, very formal day, the sensation of living a solemn moment could not prevent this author and her colleague[13] from feeling that they were simply been brought ten years back, when WSIS discourses were unveiling a somewhat naïve penchant for the digital as the vector of all utopias and hopes. The plenary sessions contributed to this impression, as well as the so-called “high-level debates”, a misleading label actually indicating declarations by government officials, representatives of the private sector and organised civil society following one another’s steps on the stage, with no time for questions and answers among them, or by the audience.

Columbia University professor Jeffrey Sachs’ keynote introductory speech, about the necessity to bridge the inequalities of current ICT development, did little to mitigate this impression of déjà-vu, by repeatedly hammering the “digital revolution” label on the UNESCO Auditorium attendees. Even commentators more optimist about the overall relevance and usefulness of this gathering, like Humanity in Action Fellow Amy Hong – whose assessment is that WSIS+10 “drove home several central messages about the impact of information and communication technologies on our everyday lives and on our future prospects as a global society of interconnected citizens, […and] helped explore is the progress the world has made in the last decade” – note that the meeting was “heavy on buzzwords such as ‘the mobile revolution’ and ‘digital native’”[14].

Those delegates hoping for a more determined entrance into a renewed debate, where the diversity of the multi-stakeholder gathering could be fully leveraged, had some partial satisfaction during the next two days of the meeting, 26 and 27 February 2013, when dozens of parallel sessions took place to illustrate the hopes contained in ICTs, but also the challenges they bring about. Multilingualism, cultural and linguistic diversity, the promotion of freedom of expression, development of cyberscience, online privacy, digital security, ethical and societal current and emerging challenges of the information society: the parallel sessions explored in a more detailed and at times original way the issues and challenges, as well as the promises, of ICTs. Some of them, including one on “Contested Governance” organised by internet governance scholar Divina Frau-Meigs[15], and for which this author was a speaker, occasionally delved into a much-needed meta-reflection about the role of different stakeholders in global governance, and emphasised that one of the main goals for internet governance scholars and academics today should be to increase the awareness, by other stakeholders, that the definition of internet governance needs to be broadened beyond a handful of very codified and somewhat repetitious international gatherings, to take into account current core issues (transparency, openness, diversity, interoperability) and incorporate new central ones (infrastructure-based copyright enforcement, ownership, labour, content regulation, accountability)[16].

Multi-stakeholderism or “HappyTown”?

“I did at least expect that there would be some attempt at a ‘stocktaking’ […] What we are having instead is three days of ‘happytalk’ folks talking ‘happy’ about this that and the other[17],” community informatics scholar Michael Gurstein commented with sour irony at the end of the meeting. Even without going so far as defining WSIS+10 a Disneyland revival, or a HappyTown artificially preserved for the good of the “usual suspects”[18] who are materially able to visit Paris “on expense accounts”[19] – something that is, however, a serious barrier to in-person attendance to international gatherings for several stakeholders, one that should not be dismissed – the UNESCO-led meeting does not paint a very bright future for the multi-stakeholder format of engagement in global governance of the internet.

Opening up the dialogue to several, if not all[20], internet governance stakeholders, and codifying formats and procedures to do so, was in itself an important achievement of the WSIS/IGF process, and the answer to its shortcomings is certainly not to dispose of it entirely. Yet, the most important lesson we should take home from the Paris WSIS+10 meeting is that, ten years later, reaffirming the worthy existence of the arrangement is not enough.

As internet governance scholar Bill Drake has recently pointed out, “a substantial chunk of the actual decision-making that shapes the Internet and its use at both the national and global levels remains outside the ambit of the model of multistakeholderism […] as such, that model is best conceived of as a critically important component of the distributed institutional architecture of Internet governance, rather than the embodiment of a ‘paradigm shift’[21]”. Hailed as such in the early days of the WSIS/IGF process, multi-stakeholderism in ICT governance is now in sore need of a realistic and thorough assessment, one that gets down to the “nitty gritty” details, day-to-day struggles, and material constraints of who participates, when, for what reasons, and how the practical results of this participation can be measured and leveraged for concrete next steps. This may entail, among other things, revisiting the “categories” of stakeholders outlined by WSIS, in favour of a more nuanced approach (what actors are regrouped under the label of civil society particularly comes to mind) that would acknowledge, in turn, the gap between “nominal and effective participation”[22] and devise creative tools to address it. Otherwise, as internet governance researcher Françoise Massit-Folléa and this author wrote a few years ago after having attended the fourth IGF in the fashionable Sharm-el-Sheikh, “the considerable weight of decisions taken elsewhere [is likely to] soon reduce this international forum” – as well as the broader processes shaping tomorrow’s information society – “ to a friendly conversation between true and false naives, under the disguise of enlightened debates[23]”.




[4] Malcolm, Jeremy (2008). Multi-Stakeholder Governance and the Internet Governance Forum. Wembley, WA: Terminus Press. (p. 322).

[5] Geneva Plan of Action.|0

[6] WGIG (2005). Report of the Working Group on Internet Governance, p. 18.

[7] WGIG, ibid.

[8] WGIG, ibid.





[13] Schafer, Valérie (2013). Première réunion d’examen du SMSI+10. Institut des Sciences de la Communication du CNRS.

[14] Hong, Amy (2013). WSIS+10: The Global Information Boom Leaves Billions Behind. MediaShift,

[15] “Contested Governance: Exploring the Evolving Policy‐making Environment and Considering Collaborative Solutions from the Netroots”, WSIS+10 session organised by Divina Frau-Meigs, February 27th, 2013.

[16] Author’s notes from the session, February 27th, 2013.

[17] Gurstein, Michael (2013). Making HappyTalk in Paris; Disneyland and the WSIS+10 Review.

[18] Drake, William (2011). Multistakeholderism: External Limitations and Internal Limits. MIND: Multistakeholder Internet Dialog, Co:llaboratory Discussion Paper Series No. 2, Internet Policymaking, 68-72, Berlin: Co:llaboratory.

[19] Gurstein, ibid.

[20] Hintz, Arne and Stefania Milan (2009). “At the Margins of Internet Governance: Grassroots Tech Groups and Communication Policy”, International Journal of Media and Culture Policy, 5 (1-2): 23-38.

[21] Drake, ibid.

[22] Drake, ibid.

[23] Massit-Folléa, Françoise and Francesca Musiani (2009). Recollections of Egypt. Comments on the Fourth Annual Meeting of the Internet Governance Forum, Vox Internet,

Francesca Musiani

Chercheuse postdoctorale, MINES ParisTech Yahoo! Fellow in Residence, Georgetown University

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