The recent deplatforming events have reignited a much needed debate on big tech monopolies and freedom of speech. Regardless of political affiliation or ideology, tech monoliths like Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Google have too much unchecked power over our digital lives.
The Internet is the most powerful and dominant form of communication infrastructure the world has ever known. The access points, and public platforms that exist on this infrastructure cannot be controlled by traditional corporations that are ultimately making decisions that put the interests of their shareholders, executives or worse, a single founder ahead of the public’s welfare.
The promise of Web 3 is an Internet more free, transparent, and user-focused. At Figment, we actively support the investors and builders of this new Internet. While acknowledging it will take time to achieve mainstream adoption after recent events, it is obvious that these current issues need to be addressed sooner rather than later.
Internet Infrastructure is Public Infrastructure
Infrastructure, in its most simplest definition, is the fundamental facilities and systems serving a country, city, or area, such as transportation and communication systems, power plants, and schools. In a free society, access to this infrastructure should be non-discriminatory. As blockchain infrastructure providers ourselves, we abide by this statement when supporting stakers or developers on networks. Recent actions by Amazon Web Services and the Apple and Google app stores have proven they do not.
Public infrastructure is exactly that, public. Most of what we consider public infrastructure is either controlled exclusively by public institutions (federal, state or local governments) or via a public utility that is heavily regulated. Internet services at the end-consumer level are becoming increasingly included in that definition. What isn’t included is what Internet they have access to.
Gate Keepers of the Internet
Amazon, Microsoft, and Google collectively own more than half of the cloud computing market. They could legally refuse service or halt current service to any of their customers, and Amazon did just that last week. Sure, there are plenty of other Internet access points to choose from, but by abruptly turning off service, Amazon effectively cost a company a large portion of their user base, time, and money. In comparison, it is illegal in the US for telephone companies to abruptly halt services without giving at least 30 days’ notice.
Innovation is not enough
A more worrisome issue is the Apple and Google duopoly on smartphone applications. Apple iOS and Google Android own over 99% of the mobile operating system market share. This means that two companies have virtually full control over what applications are accessible to mobile phone users. Over 50% of Internet usage occurs via mobile phone, and that number is even higher in developing countries.
What’s worse is that there are plenty of decentralized applications that are completely reliant on being available to download in the Apple or Google Play App stores.
Technical innovation alone cannot solve this problem. Decentralized cloud computing networks like Akash are looking to disrupt the cloud computing industry, but you can’t build a mobile phone on a blockchain.
Defining Internet Access Points as Public
As mentioned before, defining infrastructure as a public utility protects the accessibility of said infrastructure. Now, the Internet as a whole should not be defined as a public utility. Individual websites and applications should have the freedom to choose who exists on their platforms. What is important to define as a public utility should be Internet access points.
Cloud providers and smartphone application marketplaces should be indiscriminate when providing cloud services or listing applications on their marketplaces. These providers and marketplaces should not be responsible for the actions of websites and applications using their service to connect to the Internet.
As a public utility, end users (voters) would have a say in determining the rules for participation within constitutionally protected boundaries in contrast to a single CEO/founder being accountable to no one while making arbitrary self interested censorship decisions.
Innovation, Collective Action, and Public Support
The vision of a more free, transparent, and user-focused Internet inspired the first generation of Web 3 builders. The foundations being built today have the potential to dramatically change how we interact and exchange value online. I am confident that these tech monoliths will lose market share over time due to the better, more accessible, and inclusive decentralized systems we support, but collective action and public support is needed now more than ever.
We must lead by example, organize, and provide quality alternatives for Internet users, but these alternatives are not free. We have grown accustomed to a free Internet riddled with ads resulting in a bad user experience because we are the commodity. These tech monoliths have more data points on us than the majority of our governments, which has resulted in an algorithmically “catered” experience which encourages some of our worst traits, resulting in profit for them.
You cannot condemn corporations for taking advantage of an opportunity that is clearly beneficial to them, but there is a proper balance between centralized and decentralized systems that has yet to be discovered. That balance of power will not come to fruition easily, but it is absolutely necessary if you believe in a publicly accessible, neutral, and censorship resistant Internet.
If you are just as tired of this as we are, start building the alternative and investing in change. It’s time to take back the Internet and build it better.