The Internet Must Be More Than Facebook
If Big Tech becomes synonymous with the internet, we could lose free choice, democracy, and even the ability to imagine a different world
Big Tech wants to be the totality of what we see and do online. From Apple’s carefully curated user experience to the sprawling empires of Google/Alphabet and Facebook, the tech firms’ ultimate goal is to own everything we do up and down the technological stack. And if they win, we’ll be living in a globe-spanning Truman Show, a tiny subset of possibility that we’ve been convinced to think is reality. We won’t notice we live in someone else’s stack any more than a farmed fish can taste tank water.
Thinking any big tech firm is the internet makes as much sense as thinking that the Salesforce Tower is San Francisco, or Heinz is the food chain, or that Disney World is Florida. But when a company’s dreams of domination come true, we all stand to lose things we can’t replace. To make active choices about which tech-future we want to live in, we need to understand that the interface is not the internet. The internet is deeper and richer than the theme park version many of us think is the real thing. It sounds counterintuitive, but to see the internet more fully, we need better ways to imagine it. After all, we can’t defend the invisible.
First, let’s look at what happens when a tech firm wins its battle to be the central place where society happens.
Since 2010, Facebook has paid mobile operators in developing countries to provide Free Basics, a bundle of simplified, low-data apps that users can access for free or low cost. It seems like a win all-round; mobile operators get their service subsidized and get more users, while users get free or cheap access to Facebook and other online services. In many developing and middle-income countries where universal access is a far-off dream, it’s seen as a good way to roll out the internet to everyone.
“For many users, Facebook is the internet.” — Facebook, 2014
Except it’s not actually the internet. Users tend to avoid following links out of Facebook, putting at a disadvantage any site not included on Free Basics, and corralling…