Mozilla Took the Internet’s Vitals. And the Results Are Concerning.
2020 was a big year for the internet. As Covid-19 spread worldwide and many countries descended into monthslong lockdowns, much of daily life moved online. Racial justice, mass surveillance, and America’s contentious elections took center stage, too — both online and off. Each year, the Mozilla Foundation takes the internet’s vital signs and publishes a report on its health. This year, it’s not looking good.
If you feel like you were online all the time in 2020, you’re not alone. According to the Foundation, use of the Firefox browser (a proxy for overall internet use) increased almost 15% overnight as many countries entered lockdowns in March of 2020. In the Foundation’s words, during Covid-19, “people all over the world depend more on the internet” to “learn, work, connect with family” and “survive.” The internet’s health, Mozilla concludes, is reflective of human health more broadly.
Control of the internet, though, has become increasingly concentrated. According to the Foundation, only seven companies (Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Google’s parent company Alphabet, Facebook, and China’s Tencent and Alibaba) control the vast majority of the internet’s traffic and much of its infrastructure. Together, they’re among the largest companies in the world by market cap — beaten only by Saudi oil giant Aramco. The internet is a huge driver of financial value — and that value is increasingly concentrated.
This control is often hidden, too. Most people, the Foundation says, assume that when they use an independent web-based service, they’re interacting directly with that service. In many cases, though, popular apps, software platforms, and websites rely on infrastructure from the internet’s Big Seven. In the Foundation’s words, if you’re using “Netflix or Zoom, for example, you’re using Amazon Web Services” because both companies rely on Amazon to make their products work. Because so many other companies rely on them, the Big Seven’s control is probably broader-reaching and more impactful than most people realize.
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