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The internet, public health, and the globalisation of just about everything
  1. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Carrington Hall 7460, Chapel Hill, NC 27599, USA (

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    The internet links almost a billion computers. It is both a driver and a central component of globalisation. The web is also a symbol of globalisation, signalling promise and deep problems, hopes and forebodings. While some observers see vast gains in communication, information access, commerce and new wealth, critics point to big unresolved issues: elite control over rules in marketing, production, and labour; invasions of privacy; expansion of fraud and misinformation; the shredding of ties to family, friends, and local communities, and global corporate gatekeepers to the technology and its content.

    Who will be our webmeister? More specifically, will corporate commercial interests dominate the electronic world over the public interests of planet and peoples? Are we to be atomised consumers who simply buy goods, services, and information and accept whatever guarantees the sellers might offer? Or will we be global citizens participating in decision making and entitled to call decision makers to account?

    Recent headlines confront us with attempts by transworld corporations to control both the tools for information access (the Microsoft antimonopoly ruling) and content (the mammoth merger of the entertainment giant Time-Warner with Internet Service Provider AOL, and French Vodafone with Canadian Seagrams), profitising the net. To counter this trend, critics have proposed a reserve province on the internet of the same quality and usability as that of its enlarging commercial counterpart, a cyberspace preserve for public institutions—where governments can (and should) improve the transparency of their own decision making and information systems; where non-profit service, educational, and public interest organisations can offer internet services free or at low cost with a publicly subsidised rate similar to “old media” public radio, TV, telecommunications and press.1

    In the fascination of searching through limitless worlds, the new electronic tools have so absorbed the day span of human beings, that …

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