The Public and Private Internet

“Information wants to be free. Information also wants to be expensive … that tension will not go away.”

(Philosopher, writer, and editor Stewart Brand, 1987)1

The first sentence of Brand's quote is widely cited as the part of the essential mantra of the Internet. The second part of the quote is rarely addressed, but serious attention should be paid to it. Information that has strategic and economic value to corporations, organizations, and nations can be very expensive to acquire and often provides a competitive advantage to the holder. A classic case would be the information required to build the first atomic bomb, coupled with the great lengths to which the US government went to keep that information secret, and the subsequent initiatives by the USSR to steal the weapon's construction details. In a more recent example, I gather data annually on digital television (DTV) set sales in the US and other nations as part of my research concerning the global diffusion of DTV. Key US data in this area is collected by the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), and the sale of its annual reports on consumer adoption represents a significant source of income for the organization. While some generic electronics sales figures are issued in press releases, the complete data set is available to nonmembers of the association for $2,000.2 Most marketing data ...

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