Our Consumer Internet has been Co-Opted by Govt & Big Business

Posted Thursday, July 9, 2015 in Online, Mobile & IT by Peter Horne

I am an optimist; but I am also a realist. And as a realist I am not optimistic about the form and direction of the beast we have all worked so hard to unleash over the last 20 years: the Consumer Internet.

When we started our internet projects last century, we were all wide eyed and bushy tailed about what we could do. We saw the internet as an enabler of service, a democratizer, a breaker of the big and an empowering force for the small.

Remember when no one knew you were a dog on the internet? Well, now the internet means that mega-corps know your dog's name, and what you fed him for dinner.

We failed.

Service is not better, we are not more free, we are not increasing democracy, we are not increasing our choices, and we are definitely not increasing our freedom from the dis-empowerment of large corporations and governments.

China, the US (and other govts) have Linked with Corporate Interests to Destroy our Freedoms

As an Australian, my perspective is as a westerner living in Asia. I live in a country that has little power; we are barely in the G20. But we have Western traditions, and the power and strength of established democratic institutions and alliances, and we also have the power of the growth of the region, as millions upon millions join the global economy. So while we have little power, we get to observe it closely. The power of the US as the most powerful economy and military in the world, and the power of the Chinese who are irrefutably lifting their people into the economic world and creating a new power.

To me, one is a democratic state whose national power is being co-opted by those controlling the means of production, i.e., business interests, and the other is a communist state whose national power co-opts the means of production. One came from the right, the other came from the left, but both end up in the same place: government and enterprise in alliance to control and grow their common interests. Both form a conga line, dancing in a circle, where each is covering the back of the other.

Internet technology is the armament that these mutant government enterprises use to increase their power. All hack each other, all abuse their positions of power, all co-opt the individual and their data as resources into their fight. In order to capture the power, they need to control the money, and so the triumvirate of government, finance, and technology are combined in to one unified power structure.

Govt Spying via the Internet

Illustration courtesy of: The Security Blog, Jammer-Store.com

This is Not the Purpose of the Tech Infrastructure We Created

When we started in our careers, we didn't talk about dysphoric, dystopian worlds. We dreamt about progress enabled by our technology. But I do not see the increase in features of rented cell phones and their nuclear-like radiation of information as being progress.

I think the chips progress, I think the screens progress, and I think the batteries progress, but I also think the utility regresses inside walled garders, and our choices even more so. Our ability to have our own agency in the world, independent of government and corporation, regresses even faster.

We now read that we are living in a world where agencies want to co-opt our personal technology, that WE fully pay for, BACK into their sphere, when we didn't even know that it had gotten there. If we work in Asia, we assume our information is there [co-opted by govt. agencies] already, and it was the western tech companies such as Cisco that got them there. Business uses technology to increase the power of their capital; governments use technology to increase the power of the information that they control; and the working poor collect food stamps and stand in line to get food from food banks as they play dumb games on their smart phones.

Technology is not empowering the individual. It is not increasing democracy. It is not increasing the leisure time of the working class. It is not heralding a new era of opportunity that we can pursue with wide eyes and bushy tails.  It has done the opposite. And a silver burnished case or a device with round edges and a nice hand feel does not make up for the fact that they are provided to us by rent-seeking technology monopolists. We need to wake up and call these technology firms what they are... technology rent-seeking monopolists working with government and other corporations to further their own interests. We need to seek alternatives. I am optimistic that they can be found, but I am grumpy that I cannot see them yet.

In the meantime, I will call out what I see.

Call me a grumbling optimist.

1 comment


  • sjordan
    Scott Jordan on July 9, 2015 at 12:40 p.m.
    At the risk of oversimplifying, it seems your issue is with the smartphone as a concept, and the cloud as a concept. Smartphones, because they're omnipresent, sensor festooned and inextricably linked to a location-aware network. The cloud, because it offers portholes for state surveillance. Other eavesdroppers have gone unmentioned. But post-Snowden, some of those portholes are closable. Increasing default usage of encrypted channels stymie non-state eavesdroppers and at least inconvenience the three-letter people. It's not necessary to trust a provider; I can send anyone a PGP-encoded email via gmail, for example. Post-Snowden, the chances have increased that my recipients will know what to do with a PGP-encoded email. Meanwhile more and more web sessions are SSL encoded; more and more server-to-server connections are encrypted, and so on.
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