PONAR: Introduction

Internet | Accountability

Machines and humans see the Internet differently. At the machine level, two systems which are communicating are able to do so reciprocally. One system can send a message to the other with the expectation that it can get a response. At the human level, however, this does not hold: one person can send a person a message without any return address. This basic asymmetry has been at the heart of most of the abuse on Internet.

Originally, administrators focused on “network abuse,” whereby network resources were overburdened by delivering large quantities of unsolicited commercial email (spam). Efforts like the Network Abuse Clearinghouse have been focused on spam. As the Internet grew in popularity in the 1990's the domain of abuse expanded to include interpersonal torts (harassment, stalking, exploitation) as well intellectual property concerns (copyright, trademark). Any petitioner seeking redress for abuse had to rely on the simple expectation that the Internet WHOIS database contained a working email address (and other contact information) for the domain administrator– and that the administrator would address the complaint.

With the growth of usage– in the number of users, in the diversity of usage, and in the intersection of communities– it is possible the range of complaints has expanded as well. In particular, there may be claims of harassment may not be perceived as litigious, and thus these do not receive the necessary prompt attention of an administrator or publisher.

We consider here that the use of email alone may be inadequate for managing complaints. Since the growth of the web, software architects have developed higher-level content and workflow standards for the exchange of business or other structured information. There are two leading advantages to this approach. First, data is well-formed by the original petitioner, without requiring third-party formatting. Second, the structured format lends itself to being stored in a database for convenient perusal. Thus a tardy administrator or publisher who has in the past sat on emails now can face public pressure – whether from community members, advertisers, or other press institutions – to respond to complaints.

We call this the Protocol for Online Abuse Reporting, or PONAR, and describe it within.