The Internet belongs to us all. It is distributed across a decentralized network of computers that no single authority can own. That’s the dream. The reality is different.
Outside of China, the world’s experience of the Internet is dominated by five companies from the United States. These companies have built technologies used and enjoyed by billions of us. But their consolidation of power, and business models that demand to know everything about everyone, are a threat to the health of the Internet.
In 2017, Google was fined a whopping $2.8 billion USD by the European Commission after a seven year process. And the outsized influence of a handful of social media companies only became more evident as Facebook, Twitter and Google were officially called to task for use of their platforms by Russia to spread misinformation during the US presidential election the previous year.
In China, the dominance of mobile app giant WeChat will reach new heights if small scale trials for the accounts of 900 million daily users to double as national IDs are deemed successful by the government.
Telecom companies pose a threat to decentralization when they offer sponsored deals on specific online content, like messaging or music, that puts smaller players at a disadvantage. For those of us who believe all content should be treated equally, this is unacceptable. Some battles for net neutrality have been won, but the fights are far from over.
Today, the air is thick with this question: How do we rebalance the power between the biggest Internet companies and the billions of us who use their services every day?
How should we govern in a world where a handful of companies have more wealth than many nations? Can we distribute more control of Web technologies, using peer-to-peer, blockchain and new organizing principles for social media? There are no easy answers, but we can demand open and interoperable services, more ethical business practices and a market that is favorable to competition, innovation and a diversity of services for all.