Zuboff’s conclusion that surveillance capitalism is a new “rogue” form of capitalism leaves us with little recourse but to regulate the ills that surveillance capitalists bring about. Not unreasonably, Zuboff’s prescription for this predicament is to protect, trust, and utilize democratic processes–to collectively push back. To not let our cynicism dissuade us or cause us to lose hope.
But, merely regulating a big monopoly only further entrenches it, locking the world into the status quo. If we want to destroy surveillance capitalism, Cory argues, we have to break it up and decentralize, making “big tech small again.” Ultimately, the choice is to fix Big Tech or fix the internet. Cory argues for the second and I’m on board.
Fixing the internet is hard, but not impossible. Cory references Lawrence Lessig
, saying “our lives are regulated by four forces: law (what’s legal), code (what’s technologically possible), norms (what’s socially acceptable), and markets (what’s profitable).” We can bring all four to bear on this problem.
Antitrust, post Reagan, has lost its teeth and come to focus only on consumer harm instead of other anti-competitive behaviors like buying up large rivals and new competitors. If the problem with “Big Tech” is that it is “big” then restructuring antitrust laws to break up large tech companies is a critical tool.
Many will fear that breaking up big tech will diminish the fruits of the digital world we’ve come to enjoy, and even rely on. Centralization, they will say, is the only way to safely and efficiently build messaging platforms, app stores, social networks, and other features of Web 2.0 that we’ve come to enjoy.
This is where Lessig’s other three forces come into play. As I’ve written, in numerous ways
, the means exist to decentralize most of the centralized Web 2.0 platforms (i.e. it’s “technologically possible” in Lessig’s words). The internet itself and more recent decentralized networks like Bitcoin and Ethereum show that large, decentralized systems can achieve legitimacy to accomplish global goals.
Beyond tech, I have hope that norms are changing. People are more aware and wary of the dangers of surveillance and the need for better online privacy. Collecting data is becoming less socially acceptable. Security breeches affect more and more people, waking them up to the problem of companies collecting and holding large caches of personal data. And competitors to big tech with decentralized solutions are always emerging. A little antitrust help could be what it takes to make them viable.
There’s no single act that’s going to change the way things work now. Getting Congress to act on antitrust requires a big shift in norms. Changing norms requires new technical possibilities, new applications, and, frankly, more privacy problems. Change is predicated on a web of interrelated actions that we must iterate over.
Returning to Zuboff’s opening question: “Can the digital future be our home?” Fixing Big Tech just leaves us where we’re at, with a few less problems. It’s a dead end road that doesn’t lead to a digital home. But fixing the internet, redecentralizing it, promises a future where we can live authentic digital lives that compliment our physical lives. I choose to fight for that future.