Power, Information Technology, and International Relations Theory


By the time of World War I, therefore, the basic dilemma of American
foreign policy was clearly defined. Its generous humanitarianism
prompted it to improve the lot of less fortunate peoples, but that side
of its diplomacy was undercut by two other aspects of its policy. On
the one hand, it defined helping people in terms of making them
more like Americans. This subverted its ideal of self-determination.
On the other hand, it asserted and acted upon the necessity of overseas
economic expansion for its own material prosperity. But by
defining such expansion in terms of markets for American exports,
and control of raw materials for American industry, the ability of
other peoples to develop and act upon their own patterns of development
was further undercut. (Williams 1972 [1959]: 88) 5

In short, there is variation in the ways in which authoritarian states
control the Internet. The poorest, low-trade, least market-oriented
authoritarian regimes deploy the most draconian policies (complete
blockage). Less poor authoritarian regimes have an economic interest
in the Internet, so they supply it cautiously (i.e., restricting access
and content). High-income, high-trade authoritarian regimes that are
growing fast and pursuing market-oriented policies (such as China),
on the other hand, have the largest appetite for internet technology,
so they supply it (i.e., have lax access restrictions) while spending
heavily on restricting content. (Corrales and Westhoff 2006: 928; see
also Howard 2010: 10)

Underdeveloped states that adopt the Internet to realize economic
benefits face an unequal playing field. It remains the case that the
network is dominated by economically powerful actors. This power
ranges from the capacity of ‘Tier-1’ networks – of the 12 such networks,
8 are American – to shape peering arrangements (Singh 2008: 35–181;
Wade 2002: 454–455) to the dominance of Internet traffic by large corporations.
While the former is distinct from the technically embedded
norms of the network, the latter is very much created and maintained by
the purely formal equality of the end-to-end principle. American companies
remain dominant in the provision of web browsers, applications,
and content. Outside of China, which has created a strong domestic
profile for its web companies via discrimination against foreign competitors,
American companies are strikingly dominant. A few examples are
illustrative. In India, the top 25 Internet sites by traffic are dominated
by American corporations, with Google, Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn,
Twitter, and Ebay featuring (Alexa 2013). Brazilian and South African
traffic is similarly constituted, with over 50 per cent of their top 25 sites
owned by American companies (ibid.). Google, Facebook, Apple and
Amazon – the Internet’s ‘giants’ – dominate the global digital economy,
with Apple’s market capitalization alone accounting for 1.1 per cent of
the global equity market ( The Economist 2012). Global media ownership
figures from 2011 note 16 of the top 30 global media companies by
revenue are American, with Google again top (Zenithoptimedia 2013).
MSN, Google, Facebook, Yahoo! and Amazon dominate Internet traffic
to the extent that they seem to be altering the configuration of the
network, potentially eroding the dominance of Tier-1 networks (Shavitt
and Weinsberg 2012) while enhancing their oligopoly of content provision
(Palacin et al. 2013).
Web content is dominated globally by large media conglomerates
with their headquarters in the United States and Europe


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