Designing the Internet

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David D Clark was involved in the designing the internet as it moved into the commercial sphere. He rose to prominence in the 1980s through to the mid-1990s. In the talk at Google’s Mountain View campus he goes over much of the process. The things he says about network economics and security is particularly interesting.


In the 1970s it was about getting the protocols right, they needed to debug both the code and the specification that went alongside.

1980s made hierarchies to make things scale as everything got bigger.

1990s brought in the commercial internet, the specific goal of specifications was to shape industry structure. Protocol boundaries define industry structures.

Quality of service development was compromised because it didn’t work economically for network providers. Specifically by concern about internet telephony. Standards adaptation was affected the internet service providers efforts to get value out of applications that run over the top (like Google).

His discussions on designing the internet with politicians are particularly intriguing. There are still unanswered questions about societal and political accountability. There is a space for anonymous actions and an accountable internet would fall back to sovereign states including authoritarian regimes.

Availability as well as integrity and cryptography (disclosure control) are important for security. The internet is insecure by design. Conscious decisions were taken to put risky actions into the internet. This gave us Flash, Acrobat and the Chrome browser.

Embedding risky actions to provide attractive features for users, versus ensuring that these are only between people who you know. Trustworthiness is key.

Protocol features affect industry power, adding more features may give power to the wrong people. The prime example of this is the work that the Chinese government have been doing with Huawei to try and define real ID, censorship and cyber sovereignty into next generation standards. More related content here.