Storm Highway by Dan Robinson
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                   Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Internet centralization: a bigger issue than net neutrality

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Net neutrality is a hot topic these days, but there is an even bigger issue facing the world: the centralization of the internet, and how vulnerable this makes us to a host of evils like manipulation, spying and the loss of free flow of - and access to - information.

With more people choosing to direct their use of the internet into an increasingly smaller number of corporately-owned-and-operated platforms, the potential for society to be exploited and manipulated both on collective and individual levels increases.

Facebook has amassed a user base bigger in number than the largest countries in the world. Being a corporation, Facebook has no binding accountability to their users or to society as to how their algorithm works and how they are permitted to manipulate their users' feeds. They have complete control over what you see in your timeline, and are under no compulsion to limit how far they will go to use this power to form and shape everything from commerce to political campaigns. Just about every advance Facebook has made in collecting personal data and controlling its user feeds has faced little opposition from either its users or governments.

Reddit has been overrun by corporate and political shills that control what makes it to the front page, as well as what comments get upvoted to the top and which get downvoted into invisibility. The site has ceased to become organically trustworthy, with virtually every popular post or comment deserving of suspicion.

Twitter, one of the last bastions of truly user-controlled information feeds, is facing increasing pressure to subvert the wishes of their user base and become more Facebook-like with an algorithmic timeline.

With the loss of more individual web sites and niche forums, the storing and catalogging of information and knowledge comes increasingly under the control of the aforementioned corporate interests. Search engines are becoming less useful due to more content - educational, news, videos and photos - being hosted in the "black hole" of social media instead of out on the open web.

Everywhere you look, the potential exists for internet users to lose what has made the online world great: the free and unlimited exchange of information, independent of evils like corporate control, restrictions, spying and censorship.

The centralization of our internet activity under corporate control should be a bigger concern than net neutrality. With the former becoming the norm, the latter becomes irrelevant. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it), personal choice is the key to moving away from this centralization. The only way those entities gain their power is if we grant it to them voluntarily by choosing to be their users.

So, the task at hand is mainly to encourage development and improvement of decentralized infrastructures (much like the internet of ten years ago), and convince others to choose these as solutions to our online wants and needs. For example, what if RSS/XML could be modernized, allowing easy subscription to individual sites, news outlets and niche forums? With individual and group dependence on mega-centralized entities like Facebook at an all-time high, all of this will be easier said than done.

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