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How much activity on the Internet is truly consensual?

A tweet from LondonCyber, presumably the official account for the London Conference on Cyberspace, attributes Roger Wilkins, Secretary General, Attorney General’s Department, Government of Australia with asserting that most activity on the internet is consensual.

At times, it does seem that Internet users are little more than an enormous population rushing about applying for or declining invitations to clubs, voluntarily. It's more, of course, and SG Wilkins no doubt made additional comments not conveyed in the tweet. 

I wish that SG Wilkins had made use of the superlative to describe other aspects of Internet activity that are decidedly non-consensual; for example,

  • Most user or behavior tracking is non-consensual. It's hard to claim tracking is consensual when there is no notice of tracking and no consent granted. 
  • Most transport and delivery of unsolicited commercial email is non-consensual. No ISP I know has a clause permitting transmission of spam in its terms of service/acceptable use.
  • Most malicious registrations are non-consensual. Again, registrars generally don't invite criminals or miscreants to register and misuse domain names.
  • Most infections resulting from drive-by malware downloads are non-consensual. You can arue that Harry gets what he deserves when he surfs indiscriminately for p0rn but it's not likely he was seeking or consented to have his computer pwned and botted.

SG Wilkins' assertion is, statistically speaking, true. His analogy, "it [the Internet] is like a club. if you don't like it, don't join it" is an intriguing observation. Consider:

  • Most users consent (expressly or implicitly) to disclosure of their personal data, opinions, photos, and more when they "join" social networks. 
  • Most users consent to whatever terms of service a social network imposes for the sake of membership.
  • Most users consent to any terms of service to obtain a free service or membership. 

Much of Internet activity is indeed consensual. Much is not. Think of the different impact SG Wilkins' tweet might have had if he'd said much of the activity on the Internet is consensual but uninformed. 


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