Protecting Your Online Identity

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Ottawa residents have been privy to an interesting, if not heated, exchange over the past week related to  If you aren’t in the loop, Lowell Green is an outspoken small “c” conservative Ottawa talk-radio host who recently revealed that someone registered and pointed it to the Morgentaler abortion clinic.

The fact that Green failed to register this domain name himself is a cautionary tale for all Canadians.  It is one of how to protect your identity in this ever-expanding online world.

Most of us take pains to protect our identities by guarding against identity theft and scams.  We shield the ATM machine when we type in our pins.  We shred private documents before we put them in the recycling.  We keep our Social Insurance Number in a safe place.  But when it comes to our online presence, we are far more liberal about sharing personal information.  In fact, many Canadians don’t give much thought to how they might be impersonated online and the far-reaching implications this can have.

A key way that we can stake an online claim to our identities is by registering .ca domain names.  Domain names speak to who we are and/or what our business is all about.  Some Canadians only think of reserving their .com.  In fact, Lowell Green did register a .com.  For those of us in Canada, a .ca is an essential part of who we are – Canadian.

.ca domain names are issued on a first-come, first-served basis. The only way to ensure that you get the domain name you want is to register it before someone else does.  It’s a good idea to register your domain name as soon as you choose it. You don’t have to have a website or an agreement with a hosting service before you register the name.  It’s very simple to start this process.  Just choose a .ca domain name and check its availability using the .ca WHOIS search tool.

Not only have I registered my name, but I have also registered the names of my children.  I regard this as advance for when they want to have their own online presence.  It’s a bit like an insurance policy – pay into it now; perhaps you won’t see the benefits for some time to come, but you know it is there when it counts.

How do you protect your identity online?  Is registering a .ca part of the picture for you?

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Internet Governance Forum Reflections

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The four-day IGF conference was, for those interested or involved with the governance of the Internet (and that is a big qualifier), a packed agenda on an incredibly wide array of subjects.  There was so much on the official agenda, it was impossible to participate in it all.  There were 10 separate steams of working groups or sessions, so until cloning happens, one had to pick and choose what would provide the most benefit for any given organization or person.

The conference dealt with topics as diverse as IPV4 depletion, ICANN’s new Affirmation of Commitments, cybercrime, privacy vs. securit, net neutrality, human rights regarding the Internet, developing country needs, WSIS, IPV6 adoption, censorship, the future of the IGF itself, and many, many more – from the sublime to the ridiculous.

The thing to remember about the IGF is it is a multi-stakeholder environment, which means that from a speaking perspective everyone is equal.  In other words, everyone from governments to organizations to individuals can all get the same amount of airtime.  This is a very unique environment.  As one can imagine, some participants – read certain governments – are none too keen on being “equal” to individuals.

I can’t begin to cover it all in one blog post, but some interesting moments include…

Rod Beckstrom, CEO of ICANN, in the main session (picture a room with 1000+ people) getting into a full- scale verbal battle with a courtier of the International Telecommunication Union.  I first mentioned this dynamic in my inaugural blog post.  It got so heated that the moderator literally had to pull them apart.  This is not something one sees everyday at a UN-based conference.  It certainly spoke to the undertone of the entire conference.

There was significant attention paid to the depletion of IPV4 addresses and the adoption, or lack thereof, of IPV6.  Considerable debate about how to foster adoption of IPV6 as IPV4 addresses will run out in about two years.  Milton Mueller, constant Internet governance contrarian, and ARIN’s John Curran squared off about address scarcity and what to do about it.  Mueller hypothesizes that IP addresses should be “sold” in a market environment, unlike today where they are handed out in blocks to those who require them.  This is fairly heretical and it was based on lots of economic theory.

An interesting metaphor – IPV4 address space is to IPV6 as a golf ball is to the sun.  Although this gives a perspective on how much IPV6 space is available, the argument was still being made that in order to allocate it efficiently a “market” should do it.

Net Neutrality continues to be a big issue on the global stage.  The discussion is getting much more intelligent and sophisticated (on all sides) about this issue.  Too bad we could not have brought some CRTC commissioners to this.  Pretty much all sides of the debate agree that some network intelligence is required, but the issue is getting considerably more refined about discrimination of applications and pricing strategies, which is where most of the differences in opinion lie.

Some facts to consider in this discussion:

- Internet traffic has increased six-fold in five years.
- Significant shift away from P2P traffic (which was catalytic in this debate) and into streaming technologies.  This is what is really driving demand for bandwidth.
- The average connected household is watching 1.1 hours a day of Internet delivered video – right now!
- By 2013, video will be responsible for over 60% of mobile traffic.
- One percent of users consume 20% of bandwidth; the top 20% consume 60%.
- Not all “bytes” are the same (email vs. streaming video), so should they be treated exactly the same?

I think the issue is inching towards a more productive place. What are your thoughts?

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The Internet Governance Forum: Talk Shop?

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The UN sponsored Internet Governance Forum (IGF) begins its fourth annual meeting next week in Egypt. It is a bit of an unwieldy and esoteric entity – a forum without a mandate for any specific outcomes, nor any operating role. It is often criticized as nothing more than a “talk shop”, which to some degree is true.

That said, stakeholders in the Internet community ignore it at their peril.

The IGF is the offspring of the World Summit of the Information Society (WSIS), a meeting held in Tunis in 2005. While this may seem a little dry, it is relevant because this was the time that governments were really waking up to the power (both positive and negative) and potential of the Internet, as well as the fact that they didn’t really control it.

The WSIS process was, for some, an attempt to assert increased government control and rearrange the bottom-up, multi-stakeholder model that had governed the Internet up to that point. This was particularly the case for governments that were less predisposed to the rights and freedoms of the individual. Fundamentally some wanted to take “the people” out of the process and make it a more traditional multi-lateral, government to government governance structure.

On the other hand, many of the more liberal democracies and Internet pioneers believed that the success of the Internet was in fact built upon the multi-stakeholder, bottom-up governance process. They argued against a more traditional multilateral structure.

Locked in a conference room in the heat of a Tunis night ( I am told there was no air conditioning provided), an arrangement was hammered out. It is called the IGF, a forum with a five year lifespan to discuss, in a non-threatening way, the major issues confronting the Internet, not the least of which is the very governance structure of the Internet itself.

It may just be a “talk shop”, but we better pay attention. I certainly am. I’m on my way to Egypt as I write this.

As a representative from the Canadian Internet community, what are the issues you think I should bring to the table?

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Media Literacy Week

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Are your kids more tech-savvy than you?  Often, the answer is yes.   I think this is a common reality for many parents in the developed world.  Even as the CEO of a progressive Internet-focused organization, I know my kids are communicating in ways that I couldn’t have even imagined when I was their age.    I knew this was true when my 8 year old walked up to me and out of the blue asked if he could “skype” his grandparents!

When kids reach out to friends and strangers in cyberspace, supervision can be tricky to say the least.  The best means of protecting this wired generation is to ensure they are properly educated about safe use of the Internet and that they are aware of the ways they can be targeted, from unscrupulous marketing companies to child predators.

This past week was Media Literacy Week in Canada.  This is an annual event lead by Media Awareness Network and the Canadian Teachers’ Federation. The week puts a spotlight on the importance of media literacy as a key component in the education of children and young people.   This is something that CIRA strongly supports, and I support as a parent. CIRA is proud to be a sponsor of Media Awareness Network in our shared goal of making the Internet a safer place for young Canadians.

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Latest ICANN Meeting

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The new CEO of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), Rod Beckstrom kicked this meeting off with an interesting metaphor for the power of the Internet. It was a bit hokey and all the tech folks grumbled about already knowing the power of the ‘net, but it did infuse the sometimes jaded audience with a renewed sense of enthusiasm for the business at hand…exactly what a “new guy” should do.

The hottest issue by far was the introduction of new generic top-level domains (gTLDs) and the status of the rollout. Currently there are a handful of gTLDs like .com, .net, .org, and others. ICANN is well down the process of throwing the gates open and letting anyone with a business plan and the $185,000 fee apply for a new gTLD. For example, .sport, .berlin, .gay, and .eco are all being applied for, among many others.

It is a very contentious issue with a number of different parties approaching it from their own perspectives. To begin with, ICANN has been working on this issue for years, so there is a combination of fatigue and impatience within the community. Fundamentally, the divide breaks down along the lines of those who are concerned about policy and technology – whether the Internet can safely integrate all these new TLDs – and those who see a huge business opportunity and want to seize it as quickly as possible.

The tension between the parties was palpable. Interestingly, one of the most vocal business interests proposed a path forward from the conference floor on Thursday morning that morphed into a Board of Directors resolution Friday morning. I happened to be sitting beside some key stakeholders at the moment the resolution was announced and their surprise was obvious. Who says the ICANN Board does not respond to stakeholder input!

The biggest step forward coming out of this meeting was regarding internationalized domain names (IDNs), more specifically the fast track IDN ccTLDs. This represents a massive change to the Internet whereby language scripts other than Latin character-based languages can be used for domain names, or urls. This is a huge step forward as it will really facilitate those using other scripts to get online, to truly globalize the Internet. Imagine for a moment that if all Internet addresses were based on the Chinese character set how difficult it would be for those of us who communicate in English and French to use the Internet…well, that is the position much of the world is in right now. Arabic, Chinese and Cyrillic based languages, among others, are in this predicament.

The good news is that ICANN’s Board approved a resolution to start accepting applications for new IDN ccTLDs starting on November 16, 2009. The challenge will be to integrate non-ASCII based characters into the root zone servers (and others) as well as the numerous policy elements that are associated with this issue.

The most surprising issue for me? The non-issue of the Agreement of Commitments (AoC), the new contractual arrangement between ICANN and the U.S. Government which barely seemed to get any attention or mention. The U.S. government now has an indefinite contract as the top watchdog for the overall ICANN process and hardly a mention was made of it. I guess it was a testament to the belief that an acceptable balance of tradeoffs was found.

The usual grumbling aside, this meeting was a very positive step forward for the Internet, and a very positive meeting overall for ICANN.

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