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Weekend Roundup: Internet "under threat" at UN conference, Obama eyes Schmidt, Nokia plots revival through China

The net under threat?

When I attended RSA Security Conference in London back in October, the keynote that really stuck with me came from journalist Misha Glenny, who discussed the future of the Internet as countries across the world fight for a say in its governance. With the net facilitating an uncontrollable rise in online crime, increasingly damaging cyber-attacks from nation states, and the continuing destruction of traditional social boundaries, anxious governments are keen to assert some authority over the chaotic cyber-sphere.

And their opportunity to do so began this week, as the UN-run World Conference for International Telecommunications (WCIT) commenced in Dubai. Glenny warned that the WCIT negotiations could cede too much power to political bodies and potentially lead towards the Internet fragmenting into separate intranets operated by different nations – something that could kill the invaluable powers of communication and sharing that we currently enjoy.

The US has put these arguments at the forefront of its agenda heading into the negotiations in Dubai, though its stance will also be motivated by the fact that its own Department of Commerce harbours considerable power when it comes to Internet regulation. From our side of the pond, selfless web founder Sir Tim Berners-Lee this week echoed scepticism over the UN’s involvement in Internet regulation, arguing that handing power over to new bodies “would be a disruptive threat to the stability of the system.” The latest word is that the US proposals are meeting strong opposition from the likes of Russia, so who will prevail in the war over our web? I've been speaking to attending delegates this week and will be keeping close tabs on WCIT through to its conclusion on 14 December, so keep checking the site for the key developments as they unfold.

Schmidt in the news

There were a few interesting news strands surrounding Google’s Eric Schmidt this week. First, we had rumours of the executive chairman possibly becoming part of Barack Obama’s cabinet reshuffle, with roles as commerce, treasury or business secretary mentioned. The theory has substance too, as Schmidt has maintained a close relationship with Obama which evens pre-dates the President’s 2008 election to the White House. The Google chief has played down the reports, but he may well have the Oval Office chewing his ear to see if he could yet be persuaded. “Nobody’s better positioned for a Cabinet job, if he wants one,” said a Democrat strategist this week. What could the US government want out of closer relations with Google folk? Do they have access to some useful data or something?

Schmidt was soon back in the headlines, this time over comments about Apple. The rampant lawsuiters from Cupertino have taken many an industry rival to court in recent times with patent complaints, but it has been Google’s manufacturing partners rather than the company itself that have been targeted thus far. Schmidt called it "extremely curious", and he has a point. Perhaps the unending courtroom duels with Samsung have dissuaded Apple from taking on even bigger players, and you couldn’t blame them given the news that its real patent trial success story – the $1.05 billion triumph over the Koreans in San Jose – is now being reconsidered.

Finally, Schmidt cropped up again on Friday, as the irrepressible John C Dvorak directed his considerable ire at the Googler over his comments on user privacy. Dvorak was provoked by Schmidt’s regurgitation of the classic argument offered by those on his side of the privacy fence – i.e. ‘if you have nothing to hide, you should not worry about your privacy.’

Like so many have stated, and indeed feel very strongly about (just ask our managing editor Jay Werfalli), this rather misses the point and ignores the very principal behind the issue; as ITProPortal reader Richard Artes commented, “Privacy is a right, not a privilege.” Dvorak offers some compelling arguments and questions what Schmidt’s view would be when the shoe is (or was, in one instance) on the other foot. So I’d certainly recommend following the link and checking out the full article.

Nokia: The rise, fall, and possible resurrection

In between feigning enjoyment of champagne and winning a remote-controlled helicopter at a very pleasant Christmas drinks catch-up with various tech sorts in London this week, I engaged in some interesting conversation with an ex-Nokia employee. Having recalled the excitement of joining the firm in its boom era around the turn of the century, he/she said just a few years later that the writing was already on the wall for the company’s decline. The key, the ex-employee said, was that Nokia’s top brass were so caught up in their own success that they believed they were invincible. Resting on their laurels, poor decisions were made as the bosses were adamant that mobile success was simply about the device itself. Apple and others soon proved that mobile technology could, and should, go far beyond that, and the Finnish firm has been in free-fall ever since – something we were reminded of again this week, with it now being forced to sell its head office in Espoo.

Other Nokia news did provide reasons for cautious optimism, however. The company has struck a potentially lucrative deal with China Mobile, which will see a special version of the new Lumia 920 smartphone launch on the network. This may not sound overly significant, until you consider that China Mobile is the world's biggest mobile operator with a staggering 703 million subscribers, and the fact that it currently runs no deals on Apple’s iPhone. Providing the headline phone on a network reaching so many could well be the kick-start Nokia has been craving.