Here’s an article that uses the billing problems Pandora Blake ran into (“No talking about consent next to your porn!”) with her Dreams Of Spanking website to illustrate what’s becoming a broader problem for internet freedom generally:
Most media coverage of the Internet focuses on how much privacy we’ve lost. What we sometimes miss is that we’ve also lost public space. The web is almost entirely privatized: the servers, the network cables, the sites themselves are all privately owned. You might have a right to walk and talk on public streets, but your right to do so on the Internet is entirely dependent on those who own the hardware and software running the web. As Pandora Blake found out, even money has been thoroughly privatized on the Internet. The money that we use for transactions on the Web is minted by Visa, Mastercard, American Express, and Paypal.
Government censorship becomes redundant in such an entirely privatized environment. The concept of free speech is one that developed alongside the assumption of a public commons, open to all. But while the Internet appears to have expanded the public square — sometimes even to have made it universal — it has in fact shrunk. The hidden nature of speech on the Internet is that even after you publish your ideas, the paper and ink they’re on still belongs to someone else. Journalist A.J. Liebling famously said that “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.” In the age of the Internet, who actually owns the printing presses?
The fact that getting paid over the internet is subject to the vague and shifting whims of the payment companies (and subject to their private rules) is a bigger issue than is generally recognized. Bacchus’s First Rule pretty much demands that you be paying for your web hosting (so you can be a customer instead of a product) but for most non-wealthy people, that means you’ve got to generate some revenue if you want your stuff to stay up over the long haul. Leasing a server in the private market doesn’t unduly limit freedom of expression because (so far) there are still many competing hosting providers happy to have your business, but it does take some subjects off the table (like, say, where to find good torrents). But there’s apparently not the same level of competition between online payment services; most won’t allow adult transactions at all and all the rest maintain a suite of broad and vague speech-chilling restrictions on them. Sadly, I don’t expect the situation to improve, not unless somebody finally figures out how to boot up a true digital bearer currency.
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